It is common for humans to struggle with winter weight gain. Whether the struggle is in preventing it, or losing the weight after the fact, seasonal weight gain is a fact of life for a lot of animals that live in seasonal climates. With the onset of colder temperatures — a time when food items become scarce in the wild — activity levels drop, metabolism slows down, and hibernation mode sets in. This is not limited to animals in the wild, however. There is not always a plethora of seasonal vegetables available to some pig parents during the colder months. This makes it more difficult to find nutritious choices for your pigs diet. The fact that it gets darker earlier in the day makes feeding times one of the keys to prevention. As with people, eating right before you go to bed leaves unburned calories leading to weight gain. Changing the time you feed the last meal of the day can also allow your pig to have the opportunity to burn off those excess calories by means of playing, digging or just moving around after a meal. Darkness means bedtime. If it gets dark at 530pm, most pigs are ready for bed at 530pm. Feeding the last meal of the day a couple of hours before darkness sets in allows your pig the opportunity to burn off some of those calories versus eating a big meal and going right to bed a short time later. If this is possible for you to feed your pig an earlier dinner, and you haven’t been, try doing it 30 minutes earlier each day until you reach your desired time instead of feeding your pig 2 hours early one evening and their bellies telling them its time to eat much earlier the following morning. I personally feed at 6am and 3pm. These are times that work for me. Occasionally there are days that I am a few minutes late with dinner, and my pig lets me know. But overall, I believe allowing the time to burn off the calories does impact winter weight gain.
Even though we have devised ways to stay warm and active, and to stockpile plenty of food to get us through the winter months, our bodies still react with the age-old evolutionary methods for preservation. This is as true for humans as it is for our domesticated pets, and this is where that struggle lies. Luckily for us, pellets are available year round usually, but the selection of foods to add to these pellets are not. Determine what winter veggies are available to you beforehand and check the nutritional content to be sure you aren’t compounding the problem by adding high calorie or non-nutritious items to your pigs diet. We have added a link to our nutrition section to a search engine for ALL foods and this site can tell you the nutrition content of practically any food. This is a great tool for those of us who aren't nutrition experts and don't necessarily know which foods are best. Click here to view our pig nutrition page and look for the USDA.gov link for the nutrition link.
When a pig that is used to being outside all day digging in the yard is now only outside for speedy breaks, or a pig that is accustomed to a sunbathing outdoors is now reluctant to spend much time outdoors in the cold, it naturally follows that the food that has been consumed is not being burned as energy resulting in weight gain. Click here to see our recommended product page with a list of treat dispensers that can be used for feedings.
Meanwhile, we are eating more at home, making large meals for family get-togethers and I am sure there are some at the dinner table who may “accidentally” drop or even purposely slip a few human food items to your pig. NIP THIS IN THE BUD! Make sure you tell your guests that your pig is NOT to eat human food unless you have prepared some in special way just for him/her.
Prevention is Key
If you don’t start, you’ll never have to stop. This is a motto to live by. If you don’t gain weight, you won’t have to lose weight. If you never start feeding sugary treats, you will never have to find alternative treats for your pig, etc. If your pig is normally active and in good physical shape, create an exercise plan for the winter months so that he or she can continue to be active. This might be games with indoor rooting boxes, or other enrichment items, a romp through the snow in the backyard, once you have shoveled a path of course, and a brisk walk with your pig when the weather allows for it. Just be sure to get out as often as possible so that both your pig and you can work off the excess calories. Click here to see our enrichment page with ideas of things you can do to keep your pig busy or entertained. Enrichment is important for many reasons, but one of them is to prevent boredom and a second is to encourage activity.
If it is too difficult to maintain a regular exercise routine during the coldest months, consider cutting back on calorie intake to compensate for the lowered physical and metabolic activity. Fewer treats with a gradually decreased amount of feed being fed should cover the difference.
Weight Loss Plans
If your pig is already overweight, a bit more work is going to be required, since you will most likely need to maintain the current weight, even as it is over the ideal. Unless your veterinarian has advised a specific weight loss plan with indoor exercise, you will need to take care in how much you exercise your pig or decrease your pig’s meal intake. Treats should be eliminated, but food should not be cut back dramatically — again, unless your vet has specifically advised it as a course of action. Pigs do not lose weight from exercise; they can’t physically keep their heart rate in the desired “cardio” range to burn enough calories to actually lose weight. So you must be creative. You can use treat dispensers to feed your pig forcing them to move around to get their breakfast. If there isn’t snow on the ground, you can put their pellets directly on the ground so they have to find them. (I am not a big fan of putting food on the ground/dirt for any pet, but to encourage exercise, I find this to be appropriate)
Before embarking on any weight loss or exercise plan it is important to have your pig checked for underlying conditions that may be contributing to the weight gain. Only then can you and your veterinarian construct a sensible diet and structured, achievement oriented exercise program. We will try our best to give you individualized tips to help you on your journey to weight loss with your pig. We can tell you nutritious foods to add into the diet as well as appropriate amounts of pelleted feed to aid in the weight loss you desire. You must be consistent and you must be accurate. Click here to view our page regarding how to balance activity with the foods you chose to feed your pig. Please check your feed for any signs of spoilage as well. Winter months bring about a lot of moisture and with moisture comes mold. Sometimes mold is at the bottom of the feed and by the time you see it, the spores have been in ALL the feed and possibly have affected your pigs health. Click here to learn more about spoiled or bad feed.
Monitoring your pigs’ weight
If you are concerned about your pig gaining weight during the winter, schedule a visit with your veterinarian before the start of the winter season. Your doctor will record your pig’s weight so that it can be gauged with any further gains or losses.
Ask your veterinarian to show you how to check for certain landmarks signs that your pig is overweight or obese. The belly and neck are two of the spots on the body that are most likely to indicate abnormal weight gain, when it does occur. Your pigs belly shouldn’t be close to the ground. There should be plenty of clearance between the dirt and the “potbelly” your pig may have. Some pigs do not have that potbellied appearance at all, so in these pigs, a sudden increase in the size of the belly could indicate something more going on.
If your pig has a history of weight issues, it is also important that you measure him or her once-a-month to make sure the pounds/inches aren’t creeping up and that the current weight is being maintained as needed. You can click here to see how to measure a pig and use the farmer’s almanac method of estimating your pigs weight. This has been a fairly accurate tool to estimate weight.
As a healthcare professional, we use algorithms quite often. We thought it would be fun to create one for pigs. Enjoy! (By the way, the answer is always yes!)
Find a pig rescue or sanctuary by clicking here. There are so many avenues to help others, you just need to find your pathway to do it!!!! Research. Rescue. Foster. Adopt. Educate. Transport. Donate. Volunteer. Advocate.
As strange as it may seem the most commonly reported deficiency disease is inadequate protein and energy intake, a polite way to describe starvation. Whether through ignorance or indifference on the part of their owners, there are a lot of animals maintained in a state of malnutrition, particularly in the winter months when outdoor pigs need to have their feed brought to them. Pigs do not lose weight through exercise, they do not do cardio, and even when they have a case of the “zoomies”, it’s very short-lived and not enough to truly burn off excess calories.
There is no “one amount of feed fits all”. Each pig is unique in his or her activity and circumstance, so each pig will get a varying amount of feed. When animals are fed adequate quantities of a variety of feedstuffs, such as hay or pasture, grains and silage, deficiency diseases are generally not a problem. Occasionally, however, specific mineral, trace element or vitamin deficiencies will occur as a result of such things as a deficiency in the soil, feed spoilage or weather damage, oxidation in the storage and/or overabundance of one element tying up another to make it unavailable.
Parakeratosis is a skin disease that occurs in pigs that are fed exclusively a commercial diet. It does not occur in pigs with access to pasture normally. The cause is an actual zinc deficiency in the diet or a relative deficiency induced by an overabundance of calcium. It usually responds well to the addition of zinc as a supplement. What is Parakeratosis? The principle effect of the disease is less efficient feed conversion. The skin lesions first appear as red areas. These areas become papules, which develop crusts that may coalesce. There is typically a symmetrical involvement of the limbs, ears and head. The crusts become quite think and crack easily. Secondary bacterial infection of the affected skin is not unusual. Zinc added to the diet in the form of carbonate or sulfate relieves the symptoms rather rapidly. This can be avoided by ensuring the diet you are feeding your pig contains adequate amounts of zinc, by supplementation if necessary.
Rickets is a disease of young animals caused by a dietary deficiency of calcium or phosphorous or a variety of both in addition to inadequate vitamin D, resulting in the failure of mineralization of long bones. The lesions can be noted, most pronounced as enlargements at the ends of the long bones, which are called epiphyses, where the bone growth occurs. (This needs to be confirmed by x-ray for a definitive diagnosis) This results in lameness and fractures, however, that alone isn’t sufficient for an accurate diagnosis because other diseases can also have similar signs. Rickets isn’t common, but is most likely to be found in young animals raised in confinement in an area where there is little to no sunlight. Specialized cells in the skin produce vitamin D under stimulation of ultraviolet rays from the sun. Although vitamin D can be added in the diet as milk replacer or grain, it does not occur naturally in sufficient quantity to prevent deficiency signs from developing if an animal is deprived from sunlight. Prevention of rickets is contingent on adequate phosphorous and calcium intake and regular exposure to the sunshine or vitamin D supplementation.
Water deprivation is not commonly addressed as an actual deficiency because it is common sense that all animals need water. Most animals could go as long as a week without feed (though, let me add, we do NNOT recommend you test this theory) but ONE day without water and they are very uncomfortable, 2 days and they’re obviously sick and in 3 days, most will be dead. Hot weather hastens the onset of clinical signs. These include restlessness, bellowing, depression of appetite, dehydration and constipation. Convulsions and coma may occur prior to death. Similar signs occur when there is an overconsumption of salt with restricted or limited water intake. (Salt toxicity)
Anemia is another deficiency disorder but can have many causes- hemorrhage, parasitism and diseases of red blood cells to name a few. Nutritional deficiencies can also result in depressed hemoglobin formation. Iron deficiency in piglets is probably the most common. Piglets are born with virtually no iron reserve and the iron in the mothers’ milk is usually inadequate to sustain them. Signs of iron deficiency anemia begin to appear at about 1 week of age, gradually increasing until the piglets are 1 month old. Affected piglets do not grow well, are prone to develop enteric infections and usually show signs of respiratory distress. This deficiency is most common in piglets who are raised indoors without access to soil. If they are allowed outside on the ground, it rarely occurs and one of the early and still effective procedures to control this is to place a shovel full of dirt in their pen or area for them to root around in.
Goiter is the enlargement of the thyroid gland due to a deficiency of iodine. Soils in some areas, notably the Midwest and west coast, are deficient in iodine and animals (as well as people) raised in these areas may have a goiter. Severely deficient animals will be weak at birth or stillborn. Those that survive, if untreated, fail to grow and develop normally due to thyroid hormone deficiency. The disease is easily recognizable by the obvious enlargement of the gland located in the neck. Frequently, the skin is thick, edematous and flabby. This can be treated with great success to the supplementation of the diet with iodine.
Osteomalacia, sometimes called adult rickets, is the deficiency of calcium in the diet, but the clinical signs are attributable to overactivity of the parathyroid gland. When the calcium in deficient in the diet over period of weeks to months, parathyroid hormone pulls compensating amounts out of the bones. Eventually the bones become sufficiently demineralized that they become deformed or fracture. Clinical signs include reluctance to move, lameness in general and overall unthriftiness. This is common in pigs because of them being maintained on high grain diets. Given a choice, most animals would prefer grain type feed over hay because it tastes better/good. This is likely why adult rickets is seen more often in “pet pigs” whose owners think feeding more grain is a kindness. After a diagnosis, treatment consists of rest and supplementation of calcium in the diet. Restoration of the normal calcium levels will NOT correct bone deformities but will restore normal bone strength, reducing the potential for future fractures.
With all that being said, we have more and more messages about diets than ever before. Most feed a pelleted feed from companies who have targeted the mini pig community and that is what we recommend, in addition to the “extras” like veggies and/or the occasional fruit. However, there are pig lovers worldwide and not every country has access to mini pig feed. After doing A LOT of research, we have decided to add a natural diet section to the website. We are still gathering ALL the information to make it as inclusive as possible, and we still recommend you enlist your vet or someone with a nutrition degree to help you come up with a diet plan for your pig. Pigs have a lot of nutritional requirements that need to be met daily; leaving something out, especially over time, can affect your pig in a big way.
Click here to view the natural diet page recently created. We ask that you speak to your vet and/or consult a professional nutritionist before attempting to provide your pig with a natural diet versus commercial feed.
Is your pig itchy and you don't know why? Pigs often have dry skin. This is something most pig parents battle or have battled at one point or another. Let's address some of the common issues that cause dry flaky skin with our pet pigs. (Enjoy this video of sweet Oreo scratching his rear end and remember, nothing you have is off limits to a pig butt)
1. Pigs love to sunbathe. In the summertime, it is paramount that you use sunscreen on all pigs that are outside no matter what the skin pigmentation is. Laying in the sun=dry skin.
2. Hydration. Some of us have pigs that aren't big drinkers, in turn, they don't have the proper amount of water and that leads to dry skin. How can you correct this? Entice your pig to drink more water. Some add a small amount of juice to water, some add flavored water drops, some offer ice or sugarless Popsicles to their pigs in order to maintain a healthy level of hydration. Wet your pigs pelleted feed. Why you ask? 2 reasons. First, any additional water source is a good thing. Although it's not a lot, adding water to the feed does, in fact, add water to the diet. Second, the pellets are designed to swell giving your pig that "fullness" that they never seem to get. When pellets are left dry, you have to reply on them drinking enough water to swell the pellets internally. Why make them wait to feel full? Wetting the pellets beforehand gives you the opportunity to feed the pellets in the fuller state and in turn, your pigs belly will signal a fullness that they have enough to eat. ALWAYS make sure your pig has plenty of fresh water available to them. If necessary, have several water bowls outside in different areas and check them often to be sure they're not contaminated or dirty. Pigs will turn their nose up to a dirty water bowl. (And the biofilm that forms can pose a health threat)
3. Vitamin/mineral deficiency. This actually isn't a common thing if your pig is eating a manufactured diet from one of the major feed brands. These are companies who have spent time and effort formulating a diet specifically made for mini pigs. They have taken into account that owners will supplement the feed with fresh veggies and occasionally fruit and designed a formula of feed to match that algorithm. During a conference call I personally had with the head nutritionist at Purina, (who also owns the Mazuri brand of feed), they informed me that their raw ingredients are tested on a daily basis and slight modifications to their formulary is done daily; based on those results. They also constantly review emails they get and adjust the formulary based on customer satisfaction, such as adding more soy oil because of the complaints of dry skin in the mini pig population. If your pig is being fed a diet that mainly consists of a manufactured feed from a well known company, such as Purina/Mazuri, Manna-Pro, Champion by Ross Mill Farms, or any other brand name feed, in addition to fresh vegetables and fruits that you add, a vitamin or mineral deficiency is unlikely. You should always follow your vets advice regarding the type and amount of feed for your mini pig. If you do have questions, use the contact us link on the feed company's website. For Mazuri, this link sends an email that will go straight to the head of nutrition, not a customer service rep. I know this is factual because I have used the link and they contacted me back within 4 hours with a response for my question.
4. Pigs like to rub on things. They have tough skin. Most pigs have some areas of "hard" skin and in order to feel that relief from the itchiness, they will rub on corners of houses, tables, steps, buildings, tree trunks, or objects laying in the yard. We recommend a product called Scratch N All as a relief tool that can be used inside or outside (click here to learn more about scratch n all) "Forking" is another method used to help relieve your pigs itchiness that you, as the pigs owner, can do to build a great relationship with your pig. (Click here to find out more about forking) Coconut oil can be extremely helpful for dry skin as well. (Given orally or rubbed directly on the skin) So, don't be surprised if you come home and there is skin all over your floor from your pig rubbing on random things inside your home.
5. Parasites. External parasites can sometimes be seen. Louse or pig lice CAN usually be seen by the naked eye. You may even see these insects crawling on your pigs skin if you look closely. Mange can NOT be seen. Mange is a parasitic disease of the skin caused by one of two mites either Sarcoptes scabiei or Demodex phylloides. Sarcoptic mange (sometimes called scabies) is by far the most common and important because it is irritant and uncomfortable for the pig, causing it to rub and damage the skin which becomes unsightly. Demodex mange doesn't look the same as Sarcoptic mange mites. These mites get into the hair follicles and sebaceous glands and build nodules that can become infected with secondary bacteria. The life cycle takes about 3 weeks, but is poorly understood. Infestations often start around the nose and the eyelids to later spread throughout the whole body. Pig demodectic mange is usually rather benign, unless in cases of very heavy infestations. The skin typically has an brownish-oily like appearance as it sheds.
6. Internal parasites are another common issue that can create dry skin for your pig. Some worm infestations are so severe, that it causes secondary issues like diarrhea or liver damage. Its best to be sure you proactively treat every 4-6 months and stay on top of preventative measures. Click here to learn more about parasite control.
7. Pigs can have allergic reactions or even lesions that abscess and can itch. As the body's natural reaction to a foreign entity entering, whether that be an insect bite or an open area that has allowed bacteria to enter, the skin will swell as the white blood cells rush to the area to fix the underlying problem. Sometimes the body's natural immune response is enough to correct it, while other times, a veterinarians skills are needed to drain or treat these areas of concern. If you notice a lump or bump during a routine inspection of your pigs skin, mark the area to see if it grows, feel the area for redness, check for unusual shapes or patterns. Check your pigs temperature. Take pictures. Document in your pigs journal what was going on beforehand and anything you can remember about the situation. Was your pig playing in hay? Do you remember a large ant hill nearby? Things like this can lead to a definitive diagnosis and help your vet eliminate other possibilities. Food allergies are, by far, the most common allergen followed by contact allergies such as the case below.
8. Do not bathe your pig too often...this strips away any natural oils they may produce actually exacerbating the dry skin situation.
Cathy Zolicani, DVM, who we have come to know and trust, wrote an excellent guide to healthy skin for pet pigs worldwide. She set a standard of best practice for pig owners to follow in order to keep their skin as healthy as possible. You can review that by clicking here. Always check your pigs skin for unusual marks or lumps and bumps. At the first sign of a problem, call your vet. Most of the time, a hands on exam along with a discussion about the history of the problem, can help you and your vet develop a treatment plan for your situation.
Myths about pigs
We have all heard people say “Gross!! You let a pig live in your house??” Pig parents usually chuckle to themselves and think, boy, there are a lot of stereotypes out there about pigs. So we are trying to set the record straight now!
1. Pigs are dirty, stinky and disgusting
Ok, no they're not. Pigs are actually very clean animals to be honest. They don’t like to potty where they eat or sleep and they do not have an odor like some other species of animals. Pigs WILL get muddy or wallow around in mud and muck to cool themselves off in the summertime though. They will also get in a kiddie pool to achieve the same result, if given the opportunity.
2. Pigs are just like dogs
Wrong. Pigs are much smarter than dogs actually. Because of the intelligence level, pigs need constant stimulation and activities that entertain them. A bored pig can be a destructive pig. I live by that rule. Giving your pig something to do or some form of enrichment can help alleviate some of the trouble they get into.
3. Pigs stay small
Nope. 99% of pigs grow much bigger than “promised” or “guaranteed”. There are a handful of pigs that have stayed small. Did those owners win the genetic lottery? I don’t think so….others may disagree, but, big pigs are just as much fun as smaller pigs. In general, pigs usually grow the most in the first 3 years although technically, they're not mature until around the age of 3-5 years old. Maturity is defined as the time when the epiphyseal plate in the long bones close and that typically happens around age 5. If you are new to pigs, be prepared for a pig that weighs somewhere between 75-200lbs. They will continue to grow fatter/heavier as long as their caloric intake exceeds the amount of calories they exert. But the overall height/length? It is genetically pre-determined. What's even funnier is when people ask "why didn't you get one of those teacup pigs?". The same reason I didn't run out and get a unicorn. THERE IS NO SUCH A THING AS A TEACUP PIG! (This is just a marketing term and there are no breeds such as teacup, micro, micro mini, pocket pig, apartment pig, designer pig, royal dandy, dandy pig, etc.) If you truly want to research breeds of pigs, please check out our breed section where there are references that will show you ALL the actual breeds of pigs. Click here to read about the teacup myth. "Mini" pig is NOT a breed either, it is a classification of pigs and the word has become the standard to describe a pig small than a farm pig, or to distinguish the difference between the smaller breeds and the farm pigs.
4. Pigs are dumb
Quite the contrary, pigs are super intelligent and their way of troubleshooting and thinking has been compared to the intelligence of a 3 year old child. Pigs are far from dumb and once you add a pig to your home, you will find that out. They actually get bored easily and need "enrichment" activities to keep them occupied.
5. Pigs are mean and aggressive
Wrong again. Your pig will be as good as you train your pig to be. Pigs DO require training. Saying that all pigs are mean and aggressive is not at all accurate. Intact pigs tend to have aggressive tendencies as they sexually mature as do untrained pigs. However, that is not the nature of the pig, that is directly YOUR fault for not spaying/neutering or training. AND, this can be fixed with a procedure to remove the reproductive organs and behavioral modification plan. BUT, not ALL pigs are mean and aggressive, most are lovable pets. If you are having issues with aggression and your pig, click here to read more about correcting that behavior.
6. Pigs are gluttons; thus the phrase “Quit being a pig” or “You’re hogging it all”. I will have to admit; this is partially true. Most pigs, if unattended, would eat until they vomited and then they would eat that. (At least in my experience) But, that is probably because we do restrict their diets to avoid obesity. So when given the opportunity to eat as much as they want, they take it and run with it.
7. Pigs are fat, they can’t run fast
Haha, oh yes they can! It has been said pigs can run as fast as 11 mph. A wild pig is said to be much faster, 30-35 mph. How is that possible? Instincts! Pigs are prey animals, so if they need to run, they can.
8. Pigs can’t swim
Sure they can! Have you ever heard of Pig Island in the Bahama’s? This is an island that is the home of many pigs and no people. Cruise ships are known to throw scraps out around the island, the pigs eventually caught on to that and can now be seen swimming out to boats for a treat. Even domestic pigs love to swim. An obese pig may have a more difficult time keeping themselves above water, so if you plan to test this theory or want to see how your pig does in the water, make sure its non-chlorinated water such as a fresh body of water or lake, and have a plan should your pig not catch on quickly. Do NOT throw your pig in any body of water and expect them to know how to swim….they may, but they also may not, especially an older pig who has never been swimming.
9. Pigs do not shed
Yes they do. Not in the traditional sense, but pigs do blow their coats (lose all their hair) once, sometimes twice a year. Most pigs do NOT blow their coat the first year, but each pig is different. Pigs are also prone to dry skin. So, flaky skin is a common problem that people aren't prepared for when they hear pigs are hypoallergenic. There are ALOT of people whose skin breaks out or becomes itchy when the hard hair bristles touch their skin. Pigs can lose their hair due to nutritional deficiencies, parasites or because of the seasonal blowing of the coat.
10. Pigs don’t “play”
Pigs, especially younger pigs, LOVE to play. Your pig will be as active as you allow. If you have a fenced in yard free from predator type animals, your pig would love to be outside playing. “Zoomies” is a word pig parents adopted to describe the little bursts of energy that would send a pig running like he late for dinner. They “zoom” around extremely fast and are usually having a lot of fun. You may also hear your pig "bark" as he/she is outside running around, so don't be surprised if you hear the fun as well.
11. Pigs can’t communicate
This is absolutely NOT true. Pigs DO communicate with their surrogate parents as well as other pigs. You have to determine what their sounds mean. For example, if your pig hasn't seen you for a few hours and has a panting type noise when they see you, that is a happy sound and I interpret the sound as an I love you. When a pig is running, possibly even with a case of zoomies, and you hear what sounds like a series of barks; this is usually also a happy sound. They're having a good time and thats the sound they make when they're having fun. One single bark is usually because a pig is started or scared like something unexpected happened. I have even heard a pig say “mama” at dinner time. (Likely not intentional, but very clear) Pigs can also communicate with each other through scent. Click here to listen to common pig sounds and what we think they mean.
12. Pigs do fine alone
Some pigs do fine without another pig or other animals, but pigs are social animals and have a herd mindset, so while they may be ok without another animal friend, they still need interaction. Humans are part of their herd and they need love and attention from their mama and daddy. Having a second pig provides someone who speaks the same language and that alone, has its’ own set of benefits.
13. Pigs are boring
This is incorrect as well. I have had the best of times when my pig has been involved. Memorable experiences that not everyone can say they've had. My pig loves to run with me in the yard, my pig has done community events, like kiss the pig events, my pig LOVES playing with balls, she helps me with the garden, she helps me clean around the edges in the kitchen, she will snuggle with me during a scary movie, but most of all, she has unconditional love for me and everyone else in my home. Strangers? Not so much, but she is a big ball of fun.
14. Pigs do not like to try new things
This is also incorrect. While pigs are creatures of habit, when allowed, pigs are the first on the scene to investigate something new. Something new can be something new to their area like a new toy or a fresh bale of straw, new can be cleaning out their house, a new food or even a new animal to the herd. They LOVE to explore and try new things.
15. Pigs can’t get fleas
Yes they can. Typically, pigs have much softer skin when they're piglets and piglets can definitely get flea infestations. Older pigs usually are only affected on the softer skin areas like the belly and inside of the legs and don’t usually “carry” fleas like the piglets, but they can still get flea bites. What is just as bad as a flea infestation and something pigs can and often do get? Mange.
16. Pigs are immune to snake bites
This is so insanely untrue it’s not even funny. Pigs have died from snake bites. No animal is immune to snake bites, but pigs have a thicker layer of skin than most animals. The reason pigs aren't affected to the same degree as humans is due to the thick layer of adipose tissue that makes it harder for venom to seep into the bloodstream. Science Daily notes that adipose tissue is normally found beneath the skin and around internal organs in mammals, so this adipose tissue does act as guard to the blood vessels, but certainly doesn't eliminate the possibility of the venom getting into the bloodstream. Pigs kill snakes out of natural instinct. Pigs also readily devour snakes around them. Luckily, they're not like cats and don't bring half eaten snakes to the door as a gift or a way to say thank you. Click here to read more about snakes and spiders and pigs.
17. Pigs will eat anything
HAHA. I wish. I have found domesticated pigs are quite picky about what they will eat. They develop food preferences just like people and will simply refuse to eat certain things. Part of that is our pigs “training us” versus the other way around. Their taste changes just like ours, so something they didn't like a year ago can be introduced again and your pig may love it. One of our piggy friends shared a video with us on our FB page to prove that pigs do NOT eat everything. https://www.facebook.com/renee.lincoln/videos/Melvin won't eat celery.
18. Pet pigs do not need vaccinations or deworming, especially if my pig is an indoor pig
This is very region specific. But, most pigs will spend some time outside and dig around in the soil where some of these diseases and parasites are present. Some vets will recommend vaccinations for diseases that are commonly found in your area. Rabies is not common amongst our porcine friends, but there have been + rabies in pigs. There is NOT a pig approved rabies vaccination, but most vets will use it off label for preventative purposes. Some city ordinances require your pig to be vaccinated, so make sure you know the laws in your area. Some diseases/illnesses can be prevented by vaccinating. Some of these diseases can be deadly if not treated promptly/timely and can be prevented altogether or at least lessen the chances of your pig contracting it with vaccinations. Parasite treatment should be given per your vets instruction, but most pig parents treat proactively with anti-parasite medications every 4-6 months so they can avoid an infestation. Some common illnesses/diseases have vaccinations that can lessen your pigs chances of contracting some of these potentially deadly diseases. Click here to read more about vaccinations and talk to your vet to see what they recommend for your pig based on what on what diseases are common in your region. Click here to read more about parasite control.
19. Pigs have a mohawk that raises when they're happy
This is true, however, the mohawk can stand upright for other reasons as well and it isn't always because they're happy. The mohawk signifies happiness, but also fright and anger. The mohawk raises when a pig is being aggressive or when challenging another animal for the “top hog” spot to make it appear like he/she is a more vicious and larger animal. Typically, in addition to the mohawk standing upright, there is chomping, frothing, charging and an aggressive or challenging posture that accompanies it.
20. Pigs are hard and time consuming to care for
Yes and No. Pigs aren't pets that everyone should have. Pigs are time consuming in the fact they require a lot of attention and social interaction, the fact that there aren't many that can “pig-sit” while you go on vacation or the fact that not all vets will accept a pig as a client are just a few of the “hard to care for” points. These things do make it more difficult than other traditional animals. Actually caring for them? That isn't too hard. They do require a special diet, if given the choice, pigs likely wouldn't pick the most nutritious food between candy and veggies. They are not a garbage disposal and shouldn't be given foods rich in sodium, human table scraps (or human food in general with the exception of fresh veggies and fruit) or other fattening foods. They don’t maintain or lose weight by exercise, they lose weight by getting fed less and maintain their weight by the caretaker balancing food intake and activity levels. They need outside time to be a pig, they need regular hoof trims if their hooves don’t wear down naturally, regular vet check-ups. Pigs need training, and they need a safe place to go free from predators. So, while caring for a pig might not take a rocket scientist, you do have to be creative when you are trying to figure out ways to entertain them, ways to transport a large/mature pig, keep them contained or keep their minds occupied amongst other things. Pigs are NOT for everyone, so if you don't like hard work, a pig is likely not the best pet for you.
When choosing your pigs diet, these essential vitamins and minerals that also need to be factored in and/or considered. Because most average pig owners do not have a nutrition degree, we recommend that a manufactured pig feed be the main part of the diet so that vitamin or mineral deficiencies aren’t an issue for you and your pig. Can your pig have an all-natural diet? Sure…but you will need to be sure the diet is balanced and includes all the essentials being represented in the right amounts. Some of the deficiencies take some time to show up, some will show up right away, but this is something that will be ever changing and you can’t take part of an all-natural diet and apply it when you want. This must be done with consistency or the diet will not be balanced and you will be risking the health of your pig. If you are feeding a pelleted diet, this will likely not affect you, but if you are feeding an all natural diet, these are things you need to consider when deciding what you will feed your pig.
Pigs are mostly omnivores, which means they eat meat as well as plants and they have a high requirement for minerals, which is not surprising considering the time, spent digging and the amount of earth that may get swallowed. Because omnivores do not eat much herbage, they do not need ruminants like cattle and sheep. The main type of digestion in the pig is enzymatic and takes place in the stomach and small intestines, The salvia of omnivores contain an amylase enzyme so digestion begins as soon as food enters the mouth. Because bacteria only plays small role in a pigs digestion, its food must always consist largely od starch, sugar, fat and protein of a high biological standard that can be rendered soluble by the enzymes secreted in the stomach and intestines. Because of the small amount of vitamin synthesis that takes place in omnivores, it s essential to receive most of the vitamins required in the food. With animal vitamin and mineral supplementation, the golden rule is to have your soil tested to see what the deficiencies are in the soil. If your animals are living on what you are producing on your land, they will have the same deficiencies as the land.
If you notice that your pig is standing there looking at you and licking their lips, they could have a protein deficiency, you may want to think about supplementing with fish or meat meal, whey or cod liver oil, etc.
In a book I am reading, Farming naturally and organic animal care by Pat Colby, she says soybean meal can deplete iodine. She goes on to say that after 20 years of conventional farming, large amounts of seaweed meal, extra copper and zinc as well as dolomite are needed to keep pigs healthy. She went on further to say that whatever diet was fed to pigs, they would benefit from the following additives:
Dolomite: Teaspoon per head daily.
Seaweed: seaweed products of some kind.
Sulphur: A teaspoon per head daily.
Cod Liver Oil: A teaspoon at least once a week. If the pigs are totally free range, she suggested a salt lick similar to those given to cattle. (This would need to be used with the strictest of supervision) Sulphur in the diet should stop skin problems or it could be sued externally as a paste mixed with cooking oil.
Fat deficiency: Signs are hair loss and scaly flaky skin, dermatitis, areas of skin necrosis on the neck and shoulders and an unthrifty appearance in growing pigs. A level of 1-1.5% of fat seems ample to supply the essential fatty acids.
The rest of this blog will address the vitamins and minerals pigs’ need and what these vitamins and minerals are responsible for in the body.
Function: Assists in the contraction of the muscles. Required for blood clotting. Assists in the production of hormones and enzymes. Works with phosphorus and Vitamin D to produce bone, bone is 35% calcium.
Sources for calcium: green leafy forage, limestone oyster shell flour, fishmeal, and bone meal
Herb sources: Alfalfa, blue cohosh, chamomile, cleavers, coltsfoot, cayenne, comfrey, dandelion, kelp, mistletoe, meadowsweet, nettles, parsley, plantain, raspberry, rose hips, shepherds purse, yarrow and yellow dock.
Deficiencies: Rickets in young, developmental orthopedic disease, poor muscle function, impaired blood clotting, joint problems and bone weakness and posterior paralysis.
Function: Works with calcium for bone growth. Assists in energy metabolism. Makes up 15% of the bones. Too much phosphorous will reduce the absorption of calcium during digestion.
Sources: Cereals, lucerne, fish and meat meals
Herb sources: Alfalfa, anise, asparagus, blue cohosh, caraway, cayenne, chickweed, calamus, dandelion, fenugreek, garlic, golden rod, kelp, licorice, linseed, marigold, meadowsweet, parsley, raspberry, rose hips, sunflower and yellow dock
Deficiencies: Overfeeding of phosphorous can lead to lameness, fragile bones, enlargement of the jawbone and hyperparathyroidism.
Function: Required for hemoglobin formation in the blood. Assists in bone formation and assists in enzyme functions of the body.
Sources: Alfalfa, clover, bran, linseed, milk
Herb sources: Alfalfa, blue cohosh, broom, carrot leaves, cayenne, dandelion, hops, marshmallow, meadowsweet, mistletoe, mullein, peppermint, raspberry, slippery elm.
Deficiencies: Nervousness and excitability. Increased respiratory rates, muscle tremor, aggressiveness and ill temper.
Function: Contains amino acids and methionine and cysteine. Assists in enzyme and hormone production.
Sources: Protein feeds and green forage
Herb sources: Alfalfa, burdock, broom, calamus, coltsfoot, cayenne, daisy, eyebright, fennel garlic, kelp, marigold, meadowsweet, mullein, nettle, parsley, plantain, raspberry, sage, shepherds purse, thyme and yarrow.
Deficiencies: None noted, but overdosing can lead to loss of weight and appetite, colic and yellow, frothy discharge from the nose and labored breathing.
Function: Maintains the balance of fluids in the cells. Assists in muscle contractions, removes waste products from the cells. required in the production of bile. Maintains the health of the nervous system.
Sources: Salt or salt licks. green forages, especially alfalfa.
Deficiencies: Dehydration, poor growth, muscle cramps, reduced appetite, poor hair and skin condition. Pigs will often be seen drinking the urine of other pigs when they have a sodium chloride deficiency. Overfeeding of this can lead to salt toxicity or water deprivation poisoning as well as hypertension (high blood pressure).
Function: Works with sodium to assist in correct nerve function and muscle contractions. Assists in maintaining the correct fluid balance in the body. May reduce heart rate.
Sources: Green forage, maize and molasses
Herb sources: Alfalfa, blue cohosh, borage, carrot leaves, chamomile, coltsfoot, comfrey, couch, grass, centaury, dandelion, elder, eyebright, fennel, kelp, ladies mantle, mistletoe, meadowsweet, mullein, nettles, parsley, peppermint, plantain, raspberry, shepherds purse, skullcap, wormwood and yarrow.
Deficiencies: Weight loss, diarrhea and muscle weakness
Function: Assists in the metabolism of nutrients. Required for the immune system to function correctly. needed for healthy skin, hair and hooves. Assists in blood formation.
Sources: Yeast, bran, cereal germ, and zinc sulphate
Herb sources: Kelp and marshmallow
Deficiencies: Can lead to dry flaky skin, hair loss and poor overall growth in addition to smaller and fewer piglets. It can also lead to a lowered immune system.
Function: Essential in the formation of hemoglobin, cartilage and bone. Required for the correct utilization of iron in the body.
Sources: Grassland, copper, sulphate, copper carbonate
Herbal sources: Burdock, chickweed, chicory, dandelion, fennel, garlic, horseradish, kelp, parsley and yarrow
Deficiencies: Brittle weak bones, anemia, faded/dull coat, poor iron metabolism, bowing of the legs, cardiac and vascular disorders.
Function: Required for the utilization of fats and carbohydrates. essential for the formation of cartilage, assists in the formation of bones and enzymes. Some benefits in pigs can be higher total litter and piglet weight at birth.
Sources: Wheat bran, most grains and grasslands
Herb sources; Kelp
Deficiencies: Deformed piglets whose bones are not correctly developed. Irregular or absent estrous cycles, weak piglets at birth and reduced milk production.
Function: Essential for the formation of hemoglobin and red blood cells
Sources: Grasslands and cereals
Herb sources: Alfalfa, asparagus, bilberry, burdock, blue cohosh, cayenne, chicory, comfrey, dandelion, gentian, hawthorn, hops, mullein, nettles, parsley, raspberry, skullcap, vervain, yellow dock
Deficiencies: Anemia, poor performance, poor growth in young pigs, can be contributed to labored breathing.
Function: Essential for the formation of healthy teeth and bones, helps prevent tooth decay. Combines with calcium in the body and gives strength to the bones.
Sources: Pasture, hay, water and limestone based supplements
Herb sources; Alfalfa, beet leaves, garlic, watercress
Deficiencies: Deficiencies are rare but overdosing can occur especially where soils are rich in this mineral and the water has been treated with it as well. Signs of overdosing are discolored, mottled teeth, poor condition and rough coat and lameness in joints, usually all of them.
Function: Needed for correct functioning of the thyroid gland. required for reproductive cycle to function correctly.
Sources; Kelp, pasture and mineral licks
Herb sources: Asparagus, cleavers, garlic, kelp, speedwell and sarsaparilla.
Deficiencies: Abnormal estrous cycle. Piglet can be stillborn while others may be hairless and exhibit weakness and/or deformed joints. Overdosing can lead to enlarged thyroid glands.
Function: Works with vitamin E. Essential part of antioxidant enzymes that help to remove toxins from the system. A component of the amino acids methionine and cysteine. Assists in maintaining a healthy immune system.
Sources: Pastures, alfalfa, fishmeal, rapeseed meal and linseed.
Deficiencies: Can be labored breathing and white muscle disease. Overfeeding can cause poisoning, impaired reproduction, reduced milk and mulberry heart disease.
Function: Needed for hormone synthesis, bone growth and used in most of the mucous membranes of the body. Essential for vision and reproduction.
Sources: Carrots, carotene in green leaf plants and cod liver oil
Herb sources: Alfalfa, burdock, cayenne, comfrey, dandelion, kelp, marshmallow, papaya, parsley, raspberry, red clover, watercress, and yellow dock
Deficiencies: Night blindness, excessive tears lack of appetite, infections of the reproductive tract, poor growth and weak bones and tendons, incoordination and posterior paralysis.
Function: Assists in the metabolizing of carbohydrates. Maintains a healthy nervous system. Assists in energy metabolism. This vitamin is made by micro flora in the intestines.
Sources: Good forage, good hay, cereal grains, millet, rice bran and brewers yeast
Herb sources: Alfalfa, burdock, cayenne, comfrey, dandelion, kelp, marshmallow, papaya, parsley, raspberry, red clover, watercress and yellow dock
Deficiencies: Weigh loss, muscular incoordination and missed heartbeats. Deficiencies are fairly rare due to this vitamin being made in the intestines.
Function: Maintains a healthy nervous system. Assists in energy metabolism. this vitamin is also made in the intestines.
Source: Green forage, peanut meal, whey, brewer's yeast, good hay and milk.
Herb sources: Alfalfa, burdock, fenugreek, kelp, parsley and watercress.
Deficiencies: Rough coat and dry skin, conjunctivitis, excessive tearing and may be connected with moon blindness. Hair loss. Deficiencies are rare.
Function: Helps in the metabolism of nutrients and also with hormone and lipid syntheses. This vitamin is also made in the intestines.
Sources: Green forage especially lucerne
Herb sources: Alfalfa, burdock, fenugreek, kelp, parsley and sage
Deficiencies: Inflammatory lesions of the GI tract and diarrhea, weight loss, rough skin and coat and dermatitis on the ears. Overdosing may cause dilation of the blood vessels, sickness and itching of the skin.
B5 Pantothenic Acid
Function: Assists in energy metabolism and the formation of antibodies.
Sources: Green forage, cereals and peas
Deficiencies: Deficiency is rare as this vitamin is made in the intestines
Function: Assists in energy metabolism, maintains health of the nervous system. Assists in the formation of hemoglobin in the blood. Maintains the overall health of the immune system. May increase litter size. This vitamin is made in the bowel.
Sources: Green forage and cereal grains
Herb sources: Alfalfa, chlorophyll
Deficiencies: Reduced appetite and growth rate, eye secretions, convulsions, unsteadiness in use of the legs.
Function: Assists in the production of red blood cells. Assists in energy metabolism. Good for stress. Can assist in putting on condition and correcting anemia. Improved reproduction performance, This vitamin is made in the bowel.
Source: Green forages
Herb sources: Alfalfa, chlorophyll, dong quai, and kelp
Deficiencies: Reduced weight gain, lack of appetite, rough skin and coat, irritability, voice failure and pain and incoordination in the hindquarters.
Function: Assists in the metabolism of energy. Maintains sebaceous glands in the skin. maintains bone marrow, may improve litter number and birth weight.
Sources: Yeast, green forage and cereals.
Deficiencies: Excessive hair loss, skin ulceration and dermatitis, eye exudate, inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth.
Function: Assists in the transport of fats stored in the liver to other areas of the body for use as energy. Maintains a healthy nervous system. Structural component of the cell membrane. May increase live piglets born and weaned and improve conception rates.
Sources: natural fats, fish meal, green leafy forage, rapeseed and yeast cereals
Deficiencies: Can lead to poor growth and increased storage of fats in the liver. reduced weight gain, rough hair coat and staggering gait.
Function: Assists in cell metabolism. Required for red blood cell formation. Assists in general metabolism.
Sources: Green leafy forage
Deficiencies: Slow weight gain, fading hair color
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
Function: Essential for the formation of collagen tissue which is vital in tendons and cartilage. Essential for the utilization of essential amino acids lysine and proline, Has a role as an antioxidant. Reported to reduce naval bleeding in newborn piglets.
Sources: Made in the liver and other body cells
Herb sources: Alfalfa, burdock, catnip, cayenne, chickweed, dandelion, hawthorn, garlic, horseradish, kelp, parsley, plantain, papaya, raspberry, rosehips, shepherds purse and yellow dock.
Deficiencies: None recorded. Supplementation has been given periods of stress and growth.
Function: Essential for the absorption of calcium and for growth maintenance and repair of bones and teeth.
Sources: Cut and dried plants, fish oils and through the skin after direct contact with sunlight.
Herb sources: Alfalfa, chlorophyll, don quai and kelp.
Deficiencies: Reduced growth, weak bones and increased bone problems, rickets.
Function: Helps with the immune system and is a powerful antioxidant. Helps stabilize cell membranes and acts on the reproductive system.
Sources; Leafy green forage, good hay, cereals and alfalfa.
Herb sources: Alfalfa, dandelion, dong quai, kelp, raspberry, rose hips and watercress.
Deficiencies: Anemia, swelling of joints, muscular incoordination and reduced stamina. Skeletal and cardiac degeneration.
Function: Helps in the clotting of blood and in calcium assimilation.
Sources: Made in the gut from green leafy forage.
Herb sources: Alfalfa, chlorophyll, plantain and shepherds purse
Deficiencies: Bleeding and longer clotting time.
Enlisting the help of someone with a nutrition degree, someone with years of experience or even one of the pig feed manufacturer's nutritionalists can help you to be sure that your pig is getting what he or she needs to live a long healthy, happy life. Not providing the right amount of feed or the right amount of essential nutrients can lead to serious medical conditions that can claim the life of your pig well before his time. Click here to visit our nutrition section and click here to see what healthy versus unhealthy pigs look like. Don't focus so much on the weight of your pig, but look more towards the shape and size. That should be your biggest factor in determining the amounts of feed and types of foods you are feeding your pig. If you would like to read a vets guide to healthy skin, click here to read the article written by Cathy Zolicani, DVM.
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.