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.
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.