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Care of Miniature Pot-Bellied Pigs

Veterinary Practice STAFF Vol. 5, No. 6 November/December 1993

 

Miniature pet pigs have become popular exotic pets in North America. Many different varieties are found throughout the world, but the Vietnamese Pot-Bellied Pig is most frequently chosen as a pet. These animals have short legs, a swayed back, erect ears, a straight tail, and a pronounced pot-belly thus, their name. First domesticated 6,000 years ago in Indochina primarily as a source of food today they are more common as pets because of their intelligence, trainability, friendliness, and diminutive size.

Size

In general these pigs are of a as miniature in that they are smaller than the normal commercial pig. For the pet owner, this connotation may be deceptive, because some of the animals may attain a size of up to 200 Ibs. Most female Vietnamese Pot-Bellied Pigs reach puberty between 3.5 to 4 months of age, and the males usually reach puberty at 90 days. Age, genetics, housing, weight, and growth rate are some of the factors that affect the onset of puberty.

Diet

Pot-bellied pigs will eat a wide range of foods but, for good health, should be fed a balanced diet developed especially for pigs. Dry dog food, table scraps, and fruits and vegetable diets have all been fed to these animals, but they do not meet the specific needs of the pig. Several commercial companies make complete rations for pigs based on their stage of development generally called starter, grower and breeder (or maintenance) diets manufactured for commercial pigs have incorrect feeding instructions for miniature pigs. are In general, consumption levels for miniature pigs are 2-2.5% of body weight for sows and barrows 3% for sows during late gestation, and 2-3% for boars In many cases this works out to only a cup or less of feed per day. There are specially formulated instructions (Mazuri Porcine Mini-Pig Diets, Purina Mills, Inc., St. Louis, Mo. ). Pigs are omnivorous and, if given the chance, will eat almost anything. The occasional piece of fruit or vegetable may be used as a treat or as a positive reinforcement when teaching them tricks. Raisins are also handy as a reward. Care must be observed to not overindulge in treats, as the pig may rapidly become a beggar. This behavior may be quite persistent and annoying. Miniature pigs also have the tendency to become obese, a condition that may adversely affect their health. The obese pet is prone to heat stress and other problems. Some owners restrict the dietary intake of their pigs in the mistaken belief that it will prevent these pigs from becoming overly large. While this may check obesity in the adult pig, a restricted diet should never be used in the young, growing pig.

Housing and Handling

Housing requirements for the pig kept as a house pet are much the same as for the pet dog. A sleeping area with a blanket or some kind of cushion and a bowl of fresh water available at all times is all that is needed. When not directly supervised in the home, it is best to restrict the pig to an area of the house where it may do little harm. If left alone, their inquisitive nature may get them in trouble with their owners. Pigs given access to the outdoors should be provided with an area that is conducive to their needs. Housebroken pigs need a suitable bathroom area, typically grassed, on which to relieve themselves.

Young pigs may be picked up and held just like puppies. Older pigs will usually be too heavy to comfortably pick up and carry. A harness and leash are suitable for restraint and walking the pig. A dog collar will slip off the head of a reluctant pig, but a harness that goes around the neck and behind the front legs will properly restrain the pig. For trips in the car, to go to the veterinarian, or to go to pig shows, travel is best accomplished in a pet carrier similar to one used to transport dogs of similar size.

Regulatory Considerations

For owners not accustomed to dealing with the state and federal regulations covering farm animals, the restrictions on pig movement may be a new phenomenon. Governmental agencies consider pot-bellied pigs the same as regular commercial swine. They are subject to various serologic testing and require health papers signed by a veterinarian in order to move from state to state, and often within the same state. Typically, pigs need to be blood tested negative to pseudorabies (not related to rabies found in dogs or cats) and to swine brucellosis. Some owners have found municipal ordinances either forbid or restrict keeping pigs within city limits. It is prudent to check local ordinances before acquiring a pet pig.

Breeding

Pigs reach puberty, or the time that they become sexually active, at an early age - 3.5-4 months for young females (gilts) and 3 months of age for young males (boars). The estrous cycle of the pig averages 21 days with a range of 18-24 days. This means that they enter estrus or come into heat and are sexually receptive every 3 weeks. Estrus will last 2-3 days, during which time the female will exhibit a swollen, reddened vulva. If hand pressure is placed over her lumbar (back) area at this time, she will stand rock solid.

Owners may notice changes in their female pigs when they come into season; they may break litter training or chew on various objects. This will pass when she is over estrus, or the pet female may be spayed to eliminate this behavior.

The boar pig makes a poor pet unless neutered. The intact boar will chomp his jaws and produce a foamy saliva with an objectionable odor. A similar odor may emanate from his prepuce. Owners may find these odors objectionable, but the sow in heat finds them irresistible. Breeding boars are therefore kept in outdoor pens. The neutered male (barrow) makes an excellent pet, either indoors or outdoors. Pregnancy (gestation) lasts about 114 days. A few days before or after parturition, colostrum, a thin, yellow fluid containing up to 20% protein, may be secreted by the mammary gland. Some first litter gilts may give birth farrow a few days earlier. The average litter size is 6-8, but 12-15 may be born. An uncomplicated delivery may take 1-2 hours to complete with 15-30 minutes between the birth of individual pigs. Baby pigs weigh less than a pound at birth. Veterinary assistance should be sought if farrowing is prolonged, the female strains without producing pigs, or if a foul discharge develops.

Dystocia or difficulty in parturition may be maternal or fetal in origin. Signs of dystocia in the miniature pet pig are outlined in Table 1.

Baby pigs are at risk for hypothermia and need special care at birth. They require an environmental temperature of 95° F for the first week of life, which may be lowered 3-5° F per week thereafter. This may be accomplished with rigid heating pads (especially made for pigs), heat lamps, or other supplemental heat. They have sharp little needle teeth (canines) that need to be cut off in the first few days of life, or they May injure the sow during nursing or use them when fighting with their littermates. Little pigs grow rapidly and may become anemic. To prevent this, they are given iron injections. Consult your veterinarian for the proper product and amount to administer.

Baby pigs typically nurse the sow until they are 4-6 weeks of age. They will be eating solid feed by that age. The neonatal pig is dependent on a steady stream of nutrients in the form of colostrum or milk. They are introduced to a starter ration at about 2 weeks of age and this is their feed until about 1 week after weaning at which time they are switched to a grower ration. Pigs should not be placed as pets until they have been weaned and are on solid feed.

 

TABLE I

Signs of Dystocia and Indications for Intervention

Sow over 115 days in gestation.

Signs of imminent parturition, but no progress.

Straining, but no piglets delivered.

Few piglets delivered, but labor stops.

Extended interval between birth of piglets (> 1/2 hour).

Foul discharge or decaying placenta at the vulva.

Close to the due date, the sow has labored breathing,

weakness and inability to rise.

 

Medical Considerations

SPAY OR NEUTER

Pet pigs should be neutered just as cats and dogs are. Males need to be neutered before they are 3 months of age or some residual boar taint may be left; however, they may be neutered as early as 3 days old. Neutering will also subdue the growth of tusks which may become several inches long in the intact boar. Little females have been spayed as early as 6 weeks of age. Age is not as critical a factor in spaying the female as it is in neutering the male. The gilt may be spayed any time after 6 weeks of age.

SKIN

Baby pigs will literally outgrow their skin. At 1-2 weeks of age, one will notice, especially on black pigs, that the babies have developed dry, flaky skin. This is a normal part of their development. They are merely shedding the outer layer of their skin. Older pigs will develop dry skin that will also flake off from time to time. Moisturizers and various shampoos may be utilized to help alleviate this dry condition. Occasionally, hair loss may be noticed on the pigs. Your veterinarian may recommend a supplement if your pig has persistant flaky skin and hair loss. This condition seems to be related to times of stress for the pig, pregnancy, lactation, heat stress, etc., with the hair coat eventually growing back.

Pigs may have external parasites that affect the skin. Mites and lice have both been found on pet pigs. Lice are large enough that they can be seen walking around on the pig with the naked eye. The pig's skin is usually not affected by lice infestation, but it should be treated anyway. Skin will become thickened and the pig become pruritic with mite infestation, especially around the ear margins and the legs. These parasites are microscopic, so your veterinarian will perform a skin scraping and prescribe medication if necessary. In some cases, these mites may transfer to the owner, causing an itching sensation and slight rash. Pigs will not get fleas. They may, however, have an occasional transient flea if dogs and cats are also in the household.

DIARRHEA

Baby and weaned pigs are the most likely to have diarrhea. In the younger pigs, it may be a fatal disease. The stool characteristic should be closely monitored for signs of a watery, unformed stool. Pigs may become dehydrated quickly. Oral electrolytes and fluids should be given. Your veterinarian can culture the stool for the causative organism and recommend proper therapy. Pigs that overeat or eat the wrong food - garbage eaters - may have soft, pasty stools. These conditions are self-limiting and rapidly correct themselves when the offending food is removed.

RHINITIS

Pigs are susceptible to a particular problem of the upper respiratory system, particularly the nose. Rhinitis or atrophic rhinitis is an infection of the nasal passage that may cause a nasal discharge or, in severe cases, a bloody nasal discharge or deformity of the nose. This is a condition better prevented than treated. Vaccination against the organisms commonly found in rhinitis should be started early in life. If the condition develops, consult your veterinarian for proper treatment.

PARASITES

Pigs will get internal parasites, as do other household pets. These parasites are pig-specific and, for the most part, dogs, cats, and pigs do not share common parasites. These may cause diarrhea or cause the pig to look unthrifty. A fecal examination by the veterinarian will identify the problem, and a suitable dewormer can then be recommended.

RABIES

Pigs are extremely resistant to the rabies virus. They are susceptible to the virus pseudorabies. These two maladies are not related and should not be confused. Pigs rarely contract rabies. There is currently no pig vaccine in this country approved for rabies. Even though other household pets (e.g., cats and dogs) are vaccinated against rabies, the pet pig should not be vaccinated for rabies. For more information on rabies or pseudorabies, consult your veterinarian.

VACCINATIONS

Vietnamese Pot-Bellied Pigs are closely related to commercial swine; thus, the vaccines used on them are similar to those used in commercial swine. There have been reports of adverse reactions in neonatal pigs, however, possibly due to their miniature size. Your veterinarian will know how to adjust doses to avoid such reaction.

Glossary:

Barrow - A castrated male pig

Colostrum - Thin, yellow milky fluid containing up to 20% protein secreted by the mammary gland a few days before or after parturition

Dystocia - Abnormal labor or birth

Estrous cycle - Portion or phase of the sexual cycle of female animals characterized by a willingness to permit coitus

Farrowing -To give birth Hypothermia - Low body temperature

Lumbar - Region lying between the last rib and the point of the hip

Parturition -The act or process of giving birth

Placenta - Fluid-filled sac which is the organ of metabolic interchange between the fetus and mother

Prepuce - Foreskin; a fold investing the clitoris Pruritic - Itchy

Pseudorabies - Virus-borne disease characterized by intense itching

Rhinitis - Inflammation of the nose

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