Pet pigs need the same veterinary care as dogs and cats. Annual physical examination, vaccinations, fecal checks, and routine dental care is the minimum standard of care. Piglets should be examined and start their vaccines at 3 to 4 weeks of age.
Pot Bellied Pigs should be vaccinated against erysipelas and tetanus. Two initial vaccinations 3–4 weeks apart are followed by boosters yearly at the time of annual physical examination. Routine vaccination against various pathogens not only minimizes sickness but helps prevent disease from being passed on to humans. No rabies vaccine is approved for use in PBPs because of the extremely low incidence of rabies in swine in the USA.
Erysipelas can cause fever of 104-108°F, respiratory signs or diarrhea. Sick pigs often have reddened or cyanotic skin, especially about the ears, snout, jowls, throat and abdomen. There may be discrete, raised, and red to purple areas of skin. These often have a diamond shape and are more obvious on white pigs. Large patches of skin may have sloughed or still be attached to underlying, healing areas. Sloughing of the tip of the tail or tips of the ears can occur with chronic erysipelas. The joints are painful but may or may not be swollen. Affected pigs resist getting on their feet but are alert. When forced to rise, they often have to be assisted, squeal with pain, stand with their feet close together and soon lie down again. Some pigs will develop lesions in the valves of the heart and have no signs of the disease unless exerted. They then may show respiratory distress, and sometimes collapse and die.
Localized stiffness, often involving the masseter muscles and muscles of the neck, the hind limbs, and the region of the infected wound, is seen first. General stiffness starts about 1 day later with seizure like activity and hypersensitivity of the skin. The reflexes increase in intensity, and the animal is easily excited into more violent, general spasms by sudden movement or noise. Spasms of head muscles cause difficulty eating. General spasms disturb circulation and respiration, which results in increased heart rate and rapid breathing. Pigs will often fall to the ground and have muscle spasms, arching their head, neck and spine when startled.
Sarcoptic mange is the most important external parasite of pigs as it can be transmitted to humans. Other external parasites include demodectic mites, lice, and ticks.
Piglets should be checked for internal parasites several times and then at least yearly. Roundworms and whipworms are common in pigs and both are transmissible to humans.
The four deciduous lateral incisors and four deciduous canines of newborn PBPs should be trimmed to prevent injury to littermates and laceration of the mom during nursing. The four permanent canine teeth erupt at 5 to 7 months of age and are first trimmed at or after 1 year. Elongated permanent canine teeth may cause discomfort, malocclusion, and persistent chewing motion and salivation. In PBPs, the canine teeth grow continually and should be cut about once a year. Sedation or anesthesia is required. The teeth can be cleaned of tartar buildup at the same time if necessary. Routine dental care is very important for pigs, if a tooth abscess develops, the tooth will likely need to be extracted. Removal is challenging even for skilled surgeons and may result in fractures of the jaw. However, PBPs seem to recover well after tooth extraction and antibiotic treatment.
Spay and Neuter
Intact pigs suffer from the hormones surging through their body. Their hormones are so overwhelming they become frustrated and aggressive, causing damage to their homes, furniture, and sometimes their humans. Pigs become sexually mature at a very young age. This makes keeping intact piglets together beyond 8 weeks of age risky as siblings can easily impregnate each other.
The recommendation for spaying female pigs between 4-6 months of age. When girls are not spayed they can become sexually frustrated and aggressive due to heat cycles every 21 days. While in heat, they will mark their territory by urinating wherever they stand and anywhere in the house. They may generally be in a foul mood or be destructive in the house. Many girls also become aggressive to family pets while in heat, causing potentially dangerous fights between animals. The girls try to mount and hump anyone they get a desire for, including children. Some find this cute with a 7 or 8 pound piglet, but it becomes dangerous as she matures to 40, 60, 100 pounds. You cannot train this behavior out of the pigs because the hormones are overriding their common sense and appreciation of repercussions. It doesn’t matter if they *know better* than to bite, lunge, charge, jump on people, when her hormones rage she simply can’t control herself. Female pigs, when left intact, are at high risk of developing reproductive cancers, including ovarian, mammary, and uterine. Intact females will also be at high risk for pyometra, a life threatening uterine infection. Not only will her behavior be affected by being intact, she will be in danger of serious health risks.
The recommendation for neutering boys between 8-12 weeks of age or as soon as possible. Intact male pigs are called boars. Boars DO NOT make good pets. Boars are constantly raging with hormones. They will hump, ejaculate (on you, furniture, clothing, carpet, other pets, guests, toys, stuffed animals), they become aggressive and are more prone to escaping or roaming as their hormones drive them to find a mate and reproduce. Their tusks will grow fast and will need frequent trimming as they can use them as weapons against you. Tusks have also been known to grow into the face of the pig causing pain and infection. The more hormones surging through the pig, the faster the tusks grow and the more frequently they will need trimmed. Even the occasional mild mannered boar will have a wretched musky smell. They can emit a horrendous odor if they are scared or excited, or just because. Their urine will also stink very strongly. They most likely will not potty train because they want to leave their mark or scent, just in case a female passes by. Even if a male is the rare well behaved boar, he is prone to testicular cancer, increased risk of prostate infections, preputial ulcers, and other health conditions.
Please Spay and Neuter, for the sake of your beloved pig. Any surgery, whether animal or human, will have associated risks. However, the risks of not spaying or neutering are far more dangerous for your beloved pig. Not spaying or neutering the pet pig is the leading cause of behavioral problems which leads to them being abandoned or re-homed.