Common Health Problems Affecting Mini-Pigs - Part 1
Like other pets and people, mini-pigs can suffer from numerous health problems. This handout covers obesity, foot abnormalities, ear infections, upper and lower respiratory tract diseases, and gastrointestinal problems. For conditions associated with the urinary and reproductive tracts, eye health, melanoma, accidental poisoning, and a common bacterial disease called erysipelas, see handout: “Common Health Problems Affecting Mini-Pigs – Part 2”.
What are the most common health problems in mini-pigs?
Pigs like to eat and, as a result, many become obese. Mini-pigs, particularly those housed predominantly inside, are prone to obesity, as they often do not have the same opportunity to run around and exercise like pigs that live outdoors.
Mini-pigs should never be fed “free-choice”, as they will consume more food than they need and ultimately become obese. Diets meant for regular “farm pigs” should not be fed to mini-pigs, as they are meant for rapid growth and will cause obesity in a mini-pig. Instead, feed your pet pig a high-quality miniature pig food formulation.
A pig’s daily ration should be divided into a minimum of 2-3 meals per day and should be no more than 2% of their total body weight. For example, a 50-pound pet pig should have a total of 10 pounds of food split into 2 -3 meals per day.
Overweight pigs are prone to joint injury and arthritis, especially of the elbow joint. They also may develop fat rolls around their eyes that cause problems with their vision. Pigs with arthritis become lame, may try to walk on their knees, and eventually become unable to walk. Treatment involves weight loss, the provision of soft bedding and solid flooring, hoof trimming, and medication prescribed by a veterinarian for joint pain.
In addition to arthritis, mini-pigs are prone to developing foot abnormalities, including elongated toes, overgrown claws, fused toes, foot pad abrasions, and spiral-shaped abnormalities of the hoof wall (corkscrew claw). Foot abnormalities may be genetically based or may develop from obesity, inappropriate flooring, or inadequate hoof care. Arthritis may develop from foot abnormalities. Treatment of foot abnormalities involves frequent hoof trimming, prevention of obesity, and provision of appropriate flooring.
Middle and inner ear infections are the most common causes of neurologic conditions in mini-pigs. Ear infections are typically bacterial and usually caused by an infection that originates in the mouth. These infections are sometimes associated with inflammation of the mouth or with pneumonia.
Signs in affected pigs include head shaking, head tilt, involuntary eye movements, facial paralysis, and lying down with the head on the ground. Treatment involves an ear examination under sedation by a veterinarian. A CT scan may be necessary to assess the inner ear and inside the skull, which is not visible by an examination of the ear canal. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs are typically prescribed.
Upper Respiratory Tract Disease
Perhaps the most common upper respiratory tract disease in mini-pigs is atrophic rhinitis, caused by an infection with a combination of different bacteria, including Bordetella and Pasteurella. Young pigs are affected and initially show mild nasal discharge and sneezing. These symptoms may worsen, particularly when pigs are kept in unsanitary conditions, progressing to violent episodes of sneezing with profuse eye and nasal discharge that occasionally becomes bloody.
In severe cases, the nasal and upper jaw bones become deformed and infection spreads to the lungs, causing pneumonia. Your veterinarian will diagnose atrophic rhinitis based on clinical signs and X-rays or a CT scan of the head. Treatment is with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory agents. Vaccinations are available to prevent this disease.
Lower Respiratory Tract Disease
Mini-pigs commonly get lung infections (pneumonia) caused by bacteria, viruses (including influenza virus), or bacteria-like organisms called mycoplasma. Young pigs are affected more often than older pigs. Clinical signs include lethargy, difficulty breathing, coughing, fever, decreased appetite, and in severe cases, swollen joints, lameness, purple discoloration of the skin, and death. Pigs with any of these signs should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Chest X-rays and blood tests will be recommended to assess the severity of the infection. Treatment involves antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and oxygen, if necessary. Prevention includes proper ventilation and nutrition and, for some bacterial causes, vaccination.
Mini-pigs suffer from many different types of gastrointestinal (GI) problems. Since many mini-pigs live inside people’s homes and are not selective in what they eat, they may ingest inappropriate objects that lead to obstruction of the GI tract. Many of these objects pass through the stomach and get lodged in the narrow small intestine, requiring surgery to remove.
Foreign objects often eaten by mini-pigs include rubber, fabric, fruit pits, string, furniture cushions, and aluminum foil. Affected pigs vomit repeatedly, stop passing stool, stop eating, have painful bellies, and appear weak and lethargic. Pigs with any of these signs are at risk of intestinal tract rupture and death and should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Mini-pigs can acquire GI infections with intestinal parasites, although they are not as common in mini-pigs as in farm pigs, since most mini-pigs are housed in sanitary conditions in people’s homes. Pigs can carry these parasites in their GI tracts without any signs, or they may have diarrhea, decreased appetite, lethargy, weight loss and, in severe cases, vomiting and GI obstruction. Some parasites are transmittable to people. Your veterinarian should check your pig’s stool at least annually for the presence of parasites and prescribe appropriate deworming medication if your pig is infected.
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