As a pig lover when I see the words "Help! My pig is sick" on the internet I often cringe on what could come next. What is interesting is that many of the people who are searching for pig health advice on social media don't seem to understand that it is not an appropriate place to diagnosis a pig. So why do pig parents search the internet for advice? Why can searching for a pigs medical advice on the internet be a bad idea? Can one find good advice on the internet? What are tips to consider when looking for information on your pigs health?
Many pig owners will search the internet or groups on Facebook created for pig parents just to obtain basic knowledge or information about an illness that their pig is experiencing. This allows them to be better equipped to ask questions about treatment and diagnostic testing for their pig. I would think that most veterinarians don’t have a problem with pet parents using the internet for this purpose. I personally consider it to be very proactive on a pig owner’s part. This is only an issue when a person receiving this information feels that they are just as knowledgeable, if not more, than the veterinarian. This is simply not the case. Having read about someones else's experience or finding someone more experienced than yourself does not mean that you are an expert. There are vets that see pigs and there are vets that specialize in pigs. There is a HUGE difference between the two. You must understand that during an emergency, if you are taking your pig to a vet that isn't familiar with pigs, there can be a horrible outcome. This is why it is so important to be prepared for anything. Learn as much as you can so you can identify signs of illness early on that can literally be life saving for your pig, but do NOT take someone who you do NOT know, whose credentials you do NOT have, as credible. For all you know, the person giving advice has only had a pig for a few months. (I have seen that happen.) Let me add, in our mini pig info group, we have seen posts made by other pig parents who were concerned about their pigs even AFTER being seen by a vet and after asking additional questions and/or requesting pictures, DEADLY infections have been identified and treated appropriately likely saving a pigs life. So, it is bitter sweet to say the least. Not everyone is an expert, not everyone understands medical terminology, not everyone understands pigs to be honest. You combine those 3 things and it can be quite dangerous.
This is probably one of the most common causes for seeking advice on the internet. It is Murphy’s law that when a pig is sick, it is usually at the most inconvenient time. Typically, it is at a time when there is financial distress and often at a time when there is little money available for a veterinarian. This can lead to a desperate search for answers for a quick and inexpensive treatment. This causes a search for a home remedy to save money and fix everything. There isn't a home remedy that can treat a bacterial infection. When your pig has a fever of 104 and is off feed, medical care is needed, not oils and a prayer. What you may not know is that time spent online getting advice from strangers can actually cost your pig its life. Some illnesses have an acute phase that requires treatment to be given within a particular time frame and if that is not done, or you decide that a home remedy would be best instead of taking your pig to the vet, your pig may die as a result.
I do understand everyone has their own budget and financial issues, but these are costs you need to consider and have a plan in place BEFORE you have an emergency. Apply for a care credit card, this is a credit card accepted by many veterinary practices. Have a pig account where you're taking 10.00 or 20.00 every payday and setting it aside in case your pig does have an issue and needs some kind of specialized care later on down the line. Some vet practices will allow you to make payments too. All of this will be dependent on your relationship with your vet.Your previous financial issues are not your pigs fault, so your should should not have to suffer because of your lack of money management skills. You should have an established relationship with a veterinarian, someone who knows you and your pig, a person who knows illnesses and disease in your region, and one that sees pigs preferably one who specializes in them. If you do not have a vet, please find one ASAP. Check out our vet map by clicking here. However, because it is understood that emergencies happen at the worst moments ever, Mo Money For Pigs was created and established to help pigs in need so no pig was ever left behind. MMFP is a 501c3 nonprofit charity that raises money to help families with unexpected emergencies when they're unable to pay these vet bills. The pig community has been very generous in the past by donating to people they don't even know when they have unusual circumstances and enormous vet bills, just so that money isn't prohibiting a pig from getting the vet care a pig needs.
Seeking another opinion
The difference in an experienced pig vet versus a vet that will see pigs can literally be the difference between life and death. We mentioned this earlier in the blog. Treatment does always work the same in all animals, even the same species. This can be frustrating for veterinarians and pig owners alike. Frustration can lead pig parents to seek information from another source. Often the source ends up being the internet. Sometimes pig parents may also seek another alternative if there are concerns about potential side effects or expense of a specific treatment as well. The medical expenses can sometimes be overwhelming for animals like mini pigs because they're often considered "exotic" and we all know "exotic" means it will likely cost more money. This is why it is so important to establish a relationship with a veterinarian that has a basic understanding of pigs, but preferably one who is very knowledgable about them. If they do not have an extensive background in pigs, ask them if they have a colleague that does, perhaps they can call someone at one of the well known clinics such as UT (University of Tennessee) which can give your vet the confidence he/she needs to address your pigs health issue appropriately. There are actually several vets that will consult via the phone. We are working on a list of those vets willing to coach another vet now. That list will be added to our vet page as a willing consultant vet.
Is searching online or in Facebook groups for medical advice for your pig a good idea?
There are multiple factors that affect the answer to this question. There have been illnesses that have been identified and successfully treated because someone posted about their experience with their vet in these Facebook groups-by people in the group. Veterinarians aren't perfect, they cannot possibly know every disease for every species and breed of animal and because pigs are not the most common household pet, it is possible for your pig to be misdiagnosed. This is why you should know what diseases are most common and have the ability to identify the onset early on so treatment can be initiated sooner rather than later. We created a whole section on our website dedicated to educating pig parents about common and even not so common illnesses and diseases that can affect pigs. We included some that aren't common in the United States, but could be for another country since we have followers from all over the world. You can go to that section by clicking here. The problem is, the information isn't always "exciting" to read. It wasn't exciting to write either, but it was more important to have it available to anyone who needed it. It is always good to know "too much" rather than not enough. That isn't to say you should question your vets every move, but it should be expected that you have questions. Most veterinarians do not mind answering your questions and they typically have that same desire to educate that we do.
Recently there was someone with a sick pig that took their pig to the vet and their pig received a shot of "long-lasting antibiotics" and the vet planned to return to give another shot in a few days, but she wasn't sure about the rash the pig had and would check to see if it was worse, better or the same in a few days when she returned. The pig's mother posted about her pig and included pictures of the "rash". Those with experience were quickly able to identify the classic erysipelas lesions and alerted the pigs mama so she could properly treat her pig. This intervention likely saved her pigs life. Had she not posted and included pictures but waited for her vet to return days later? Her pig most likely wouldn't have survived. This is one example when posting on Facebook can be helpful.
Last month, we received a private message from one of our followers who said that her pig had some hoof deformities and she had messaged another page, included a picture and the immediate response was simply "that pig needs to be put down". That is HORRIBLE! I asked her some questions like how old he was, how long he's had this deformity, how does he do day to day now, what is his quality of life, does it seem to bother him, etc. Come to find out, this pig was older and had been living with this deformity his whole life. Someone who doesn't ask questions and simply replies without having ALL the information because they failed to ask about situations or circumstances, shouldn't be giving advice to anyone. I do not know who originally gave this woman advice about her pig, but had they asked a few key questions, they would've known that she was simply asking a hoof question and not whether or not her pig should be euthanized. What a horrifying experience for her. But that is exactly my point.
You do not always know who is giving advice nor their experience/credentials. Some people think they are much smarter than they actually are. Google University degrees are not sufficient in these cases. There are times when the ONLY advice ANYONE could give is to IMMEDIATELY take the pig to the vet. That is the problem though. Some people would rather stroke their ego than admit they do not know the answer. That is awful, but that is how some people are.
Consider the source
With the internet being an open source, anybody can give pet health advice on the internet, even people who have no health or veterinary experience at all. So considering the source is very important when trying to discern good advice from bad. Beware of websites that bash veterinarians or claim to know more than your veterinarian would. These “vendetta” websites are those sites that are created by people who either had a bad experience with a veterinarian, organization or a specific drug or any combination of those things. As a result, they may exaggerate their experience and/or claim to be veterinary professionals. These websites often offer advice with the goal to discredit veterinarians or others versus to help pigs.
Websites that sell treatments or so-called cures for specific deadly diseases are dangerous as well. These websites often feed on a pet owner’s desperation by offering a cure for a disease that is not sanctioned by a veterinarian. Buyer beware. There are not many websites like this that target the pig community, but as the popularity of pigs as pets continues to grow, I am sure someone will eventually target the pig community with these type of products.
People who have limited to no experience with veterinary medicine at all can be guilty of giving bad advice. Don’t get me wrong there are pig parents who are able to share great pig health advice from experience gained from their previous pig’s illness. But there are pig people who claim they are pig health experts because they have several pigs regardless of their lack of veterinary experience or health care related fields. As a result, there is often bad advice given and because the person seeking the advice is often desperate, before someone who may have more experience can intervene, the bad advice was implemented and there may be life altering results. Someone's pig may die because there are people who "know it all" and cannot learn anything.
The person you are chatting with online may not be as smart as he/she thinks they are. That person may not be as knowledgable as you think they are, matter of fact, they might not even be who they claim they are, much less know anything about pigs other than they're cute. Before taking advice from someone you do not know, please do your research. Know who you're chatting with, know their experience, know that the advice you're getting will not do more harm than good. Any decent person will know their limitations and will say "I don't know"...they may throw out some ideas, but ultimately, their suggestion will likely be to call your vet. That is what people, who know their limitations, will suggest.
Our website is a general guide that people can choose to or choose not to follow, but it has never been intended to replace your veterinarian's advice. We have suggestions on just about every page for one thing or another and believe me, we get many many private messages on the Mini Pig Info Facebook page, posted to the page, by personal message to one or more admin of the page and/or by email, sometimes even by phone or text. We try to help as many people as possible, but there are times when a vet is the ONLY person that should be giving advice...people who message us for help seem to understand that. If there is something going on that we are able to give advice, then we do. We have a lot of experience to offer on our team and we are extremely grateful for that because it gives us the ability, for at least one of us, to have had experience with some of the more unusual situations; thus being able to give some sound advice for just about anything. However, when there is a question or concern that needs to be addressed by a licensed professional, we refer them to their vet. That is what responsible people do.
Consider the knowledge of the pig parent doing the search
Yes you, as a pig parent, have to consider what knowledge, or lack of, when researching information online. While it is not expected that every pig parent will have the same amount of knowledge when it comes their pig’s health, they should be able to know when the information they are reading isn't understood. Reason being is that it will affect how you comprehend the information that you are looking for. Some information that is sought has to be considered in context. When information is taken from articles and rewritten, there are times when key points are not included which ultimately change the whole dynamic of the information posted online. Unfortunately, it can be easy to misinterpret even the most reliable information. People are extremists and will sometimes go overboard with advice that is given. Some think they know more than truly experienced people within the pig community and their pig suffers as a result. As a pig parent, you should be familiar or at least aware, of the more common diseases and illnesses that can affect pigs. As mentioned above, knowing how to identify some of these life threatening diseases and understanding that time is not on your side should prompt you to take your pig to the vet immediately and this can literally save your pigs life.
If you are seeking advice online and people are suggesting that you take your pig to the vet and you fail to do so, you can expect people to be outraged, especially days later when your pig continues to have the same medical problem, yet you have failed to listen to the advice that was originally given to you. I think that is great that so many seasoned pig people are willing and available to answer questions, but sometimes, there is only so much anyone can do to help your pig. Some pigs need a hands on examination, sometimes surgery and/or medications that cannot be purchased at a local store. It is truly sad when people do not take their pig to their veterinarian and the pig suffers or even dies as a result. What is even sometimes more frustrating is people who will make a post that they're having an emergency, do not give many details and then disappear for hours without responding to the questions people have asked to help them. If your pig is having a true emergency, do NOT waste precious time posting to Facebook, TAKE YOUR PIG TO THE VET! If you are waiting for a call back or are on the way to your vet and you want some opinions on what may be going on, fine, make a post and ask. But, do NOT try to avoid a veterinarian visit altogether if that is the most appropriate and best treatment.
Consider the pig and their particular symptoms
My biggest pet peeve when reading advice is when people make the assumption that all pets are somehow the same. Pigs are NOT dogs, therefore what works for a dog isn't the best treatment for a pig. All pets are not the same! I will repeat all pets are not the same! Unfortunately, most bad advice is based on this premise. People will talk about a treatment that worked great for their pig and assume it will work great for every other pig. You also have the contrary where a pig will have a bad experience with one type of treatment or medication, therefore people post warnings for all pig parents to beware. Why is this significant? If all pigs were the same, it definitely would make a veterinarian's job much easier. Because one pig parent had a bad experience with a particular medication or treatment doesn't mean ALL pigs will.
Another issue is when people do come to the page or make a post in our group is that super important details are omitted. Use our heath form, this was created for situations so that ALL symptoms would be listed. This will help your vet too, especially in prioritizing. If you call your vet and say your pig looks weak, but fail to mention that your pig has blood in the poop, your vet may not think your situation is as urgent as it really is. If you cannot find a vet or your vet isn't available and as a last resort, you are looking for ANY help in these pig groups, please be very detail oriented. Even when questions are asked, important details still do not surface until hours, sometimes days later. ALL the details matter. You may not realize it, but someone experienced will.
I can tell you, based on my experience, it is quite the opposite. When addressing illnesses in pigs, veterinarians have to consider many factors prior to getting to a treatment plan or even a diagnosis. Some of these factors include the age and size of the pig. Other factors to consider are....any previous history of illnesses, previous medical history and preventative care, exposure to other pigs/animals, any current medications, or any risk of exposure to toxins. Pigs have some diseases and illnesses that only affect pigs and if a veterinarian has limited experience with pigs, it may be more difficult for them to come to a conclusive and accurate diagnosis. These factors are why all pigs are not the same. With bad advice, these factors are not considered at all.
I recently heard of a pig that passed away because the symptoms the pig was having weren't taken seriously in addition to terrible advice given by someone else. I do not know where this took place, but apparently a pig was suffering from water deprivation and someone was insistent that milk would solve the problem. Milk? Really? As I said in the beginning of this short story, that pig passed away. Bad advice like that can kill your pig. Do not listen to just anyone because that person may be new to pigs too and that google university degree won't go far when push comes to shove. You cannot base advice on only one symptom. The whole situation needs to be addressed because normally there is more than one thing that has contributed to the sickness and for certain illnesses, there are protocols that need to be followed to safely treat your pig.
Researching information about pigs is encouraged. Learn as much as possible so you can identify an illness in its early stages so treatment can be started sooner; all these things increase your pigs chance of survival. When it comes to seeking advice about your pigs’s health, I recommend seeking your veterinarian first. If your veterinarian is not available for whatever reason, it is suggested that you seek advice from another veterinarian which may include an emergency veterinarian if it is after hours. What people need to realize about online advice is....
Please be responsible and take your obligation to your pig seriously. Have a vet, have a back up vet and an emergency vet, a mobile vet, know where the closest university vet teaching hospital is and some money set aside for emergencies. Do not expect social media to be your primary caregiver because you may take advice from someone who doesn't know what they're talking about and your pig may die as a result. Sickness happens, accidents happen, be prepared as best as you can. Read up on common diseases/illnesses that affect pigs. Know how to identify your pig may be sick so you know when it is appropriate to take your pig to the vet. Use the tools that are available to you such as the health form we have on the website. It is a form you can use should your pig get sick that will help you when you call your vet to discuss your emergency with all the information that he/she will need to let you know what you need to do. Read up on the diseases we have added to the website so you know how to react should your pig shows signs of a particular illness. Use our vet list and/or vet map to find a veterinarian close by to you. More importantly, love your pig enough to get medical care when it is appropriate.
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.