There aren't many things like the smell of that obnoxious bad breath that some pigs get. Halitosis is a relatively common complaint in pig world, but more importantly, why do they get it and how do you get rid of it?
Most of the time, bad breath is a result of periodontal disease- which is found in about 85% of all pets! As bacteria build up on the teeth and form plaque, the resulting smell can get very noticeable indeed. As untreated periodontal disease progresses, the smell only worsens. Combine the inability to brush the teeth with a pelleted diet that is recommended to be soaked first and you have nothing substantial to even help remove the plaque from the teeth. (As in, nothing hard that can help scrape the build-up off the teeth). . Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) is one of the first changes to occur. However, the majority of dental disease occurs below the gumline, where a pet owner is unable to actually see the damage being done to their pet’s teeth.
In these cases, treating the periodontal disease helps the symptoms resolve. The most beneficial treatment is a full cleaning at the veterinarian, though home care such as toothbrushing and dental chews can help preserve dental health in between cleanings. You should start this excellent dental hygiene when your pig is a piglet (preferably) and continue for the rest of your pigs life. Once a routine has been adopted, your pig will be much less likely to resist that type of care. Whimzee's are a popular "dental chew" type of treat many pig parents use. However, because pigs tend to swallow and not always chew food, it is imperative that you find the correct size treat for your pig, if swallowed whole, it can cause a host of other problems like choking or potential obstructions. Keep in mind, teeth can decay and become infected, when this happens and left untreated, these infections can become systemic and spread throughout the body. This is the perfect spot for bacteria, which love moist, dark, nutrient rich places to thrive. Look in your pigs mouth, feel around for anything unusual, smell your pigs breath to be sure you do not to intervene in any way. Dr. Curt Coffman’s wrote a research report on the emerging data confirming the serious negative health implications for pets' internal organ systems as a result of the movement of oral cavity bacteria from the mouth into the bloodstream, much the same as humans. Evidently, periodontal disease can shorten your pigs life by affecting vital organ systems, again, just like humans. For instance, bacteria can migrate to the heart affecting the endocardium, which is the lining within the chambers of the heart, resulting in growth of bacteria to the valves which affect the blood flow, atrial kick, back flow and the overall pumping of the heart. These heart murmurs (which is what this causes) over time can cause significant damage to the heart. The compromised heart is required to work harder to meet the body’s demands for blood flow and oxygen, so heart failure ultimately ensues.
Aside from the periodontal disease, halitosis can also result from other medical conditions. Conditions of the mouth and throat such as bacterial infections, fungal overgrowth, or cancer can create bad breath. Systemic diseases such as diabetes or kidney disease are also known for affecting the breath. An experienced veterinarian can often differentiate the uremic breath of kidney disease from the ketone breath of diabetes, but for most of us that diagnosis requires bloodwork. For example, a sweet fruity smelling breath may indicate ketoacidosis which can be deadly if not treated promptly in humans. (I assume pigs aren't any different) There have been cases of abscesses along the lining of the throat that weren't discovered early on that could have possibly been identified earlier had bad breath been an issue. So pay attention to everything. Since pigs can not talk, we rely on their body language and our ability to identify a potential problem in order to catch these kind of things early on.
Lastly, bad breath can be diet related, especially if the pet is on a strong-smelling fish based diet or has a habit of eating poop (a condition we call coprophagia.) In mini pigs specifically, they have "pockets" in the mouth that can collect different substances from dirt to grass and anything else that has been ingested, so be sure to check the mouth as well. You can do this by getting your piggy down for a belly rub just before bedtime. Put a little sugar or jelly on one finger, and feel around inside piggy's mouth. Pigs jaws do not open very wide (a cat or dog can open theirs' really wide), so don't push too hard. Feel for anything that doesn't belong inside the mouth. There's often a pocket behind the last molar that collects bits of food and other stuff. Be sure to check the gemlike above the teeth as well, this is also an area that commonly collects bits and pieces of food. Or, if your piggy is young and has recently lost a baby tooth, the gap may be filled with food or dirt. Do this every night for several nights in a row, then keep at it at least once a week.
If the breath is bad enough to bother you, it’s probably something that will need a vet exam to solve. If you decide to try brushing your pigs teeth, use a pet toothpaste and a traditional toothbrush or one of the finger brushes (assuming your pig is not a biter). The good news is, most cases of halitosis are highly treatable.
To read more regarding dental health, click here to view our page that discusses tooth and tusk care.
Talk to your vet about your pigs dental hygiene, determine if your pig needs a routine cleaning done by a veterinarian dental specialist, and be sure to discuss any symptoms your pig may be having. (such as bad breath or broken teeth, etc)
Our names are Brittany Sawyer and Nicole Cox and we are pig parents, pig advocates and also the authors of the "Dear Pig Whisperer" blog. Follow our blog that will feature topics to help you become the best pig parent you can be...along with some other fun things. We will also feature guest bloggers from time to time who want to share their life experience or knowledge with anyone who is interested in learning.