Potbellied Pig Abscesses
by Marcie Christensen
CPPA gets lots of phone calls and emails with all kinds of questions. The number one question that seems to be popping up lately is about abscesses. “My pig has really bad breath” or “My pig has this strange bump under his chin” or “My pig seems to be having trouble chewing/eating”. These are three general questions that lead us to usually come up with a diagnosis of a jaw, tooth, mouth or tusk abscess.
Now mind you we are not vets. We have just dealt with a lot of these calls as well as having two pigs with these problems. So I thought I would write a short article about what to look for, what to expect and hopefully, what to do.
The first one I will address is, “My pig has really bad breath, and he never did before”. Well there could be a couple of different issues going on here:
1) This typically applies to a barrow (a neutered male). Males grow tusks (much more than females) and their upper tusks tend to create a pocket up over the tusk itself. This pocket tends to fill with food. That food sits in that pocket and rots. Hence, the “all of a sudden it stinks” comment. I usually recommend, if you can, to use your finger or a Q-tip to wipe up and over the tusk inside the pocket to get that food out of there. Smell it…GROSSSS. One thing…if you have never done this before and/or your pig’s mouth is sensitive, be VERY CAREFUL with your finger placement. DO NOT GET YOUR FINGER between the upper and lower tusks. You might lose a finger. All of our boys, but Standlee, allow us to clean his pocket. And believe me...it was worth it when their breath started to get really bad.
2) The second part of this bad breath could be a rotten tooth, or even an abscess tooth/tusk. With this we recommend a vet visit. Many years ago George’s breath started to get really bad. We took him to our local vet and put him under ISO gas. The vet pulled 18 teeth. He started with one loose tooth. It popped right out, then the next one was loose, and as he continued to go, the poor pig was down to just 4 rear molars and a few front teeth. BUT his breath was never bad again, and he never developed any kind of jaw/tusk abscess. He was only on antibiotics for about a month to make sure no infection set in.
The second is, “My pig is all of a sudden having a hard time chewing or won’t eat hard foods like carrots any longer”. Pretty much the same as above could apply. More than likely your pig has a tooth gone “bad” or an internal jaw/tusk abscess. Again this will require a vet visit.
A third is, “What is this new strange bump under my pigs chin?” or “My pig has a swollen bump near his cheek”. I can pretty much guarantee you that this is an abscess. Tooth, jaw or tusk abscess, unknown, but it needs to be dealt with by a vet. If it’s just a tooth abscess; hopefully, once the tooth is pulled, and the pig is on antibiotics for about a month, the problem should be taken care of. However, if it’s a jaw/tusk abscess, you are looking at a lifetime of care.
You can try hot packing the bump to see if it will open and drain out the puss. But this does not often work. Pigs have very thick skin so getting an abscess to rupture on its own or with hot packs is about 50% successful. If you decide to try hot packing, I find the best way to do this is to take a washcloth and get it as hot as you can. Then wrap it with foil and stick that packet in a zip lock baggie. Now you have a hot pack that won’t leak. Pigs hate when hot stuff trickles down their faces. If you are lucky enough to get the abscess to open up, HOLD YOUR NOSE!! The puss is unreal. Its thick like cottage cheese and stinks so bad you think you will toss your cookies. Try to get as much of this stuff out as you can. You can use Hydrogen Peroxide one time to really clean it out. The key is to keep the wound open so it can heal from the inside out. Kelley Moon cleans out a lot of abscesses, and she packs the wound with gauze soaked in Neosporin and an antibiotic ointment. You will need to keep the wound from scabbing over. I use Provodine Iodine to keep the wound moist and to be able to keep the scab loose and easy to pick off. I soak the Iodine on a gauze pad and just hold it to the wound. The only problem with home care is the pig will need antibiotics. So you will still need to see a vet.
If you cannot get the abscess open on your own, you will need to have a vet cut it open and clean it out while the pig is under anesthesia. Riff has had a jaw/tusk abscess for nearly two years now. We took him to UC Davis the first time when we found it and they opened it up with an “X” incision (the “X” incision makes it harder for the wound to close up) and then they cleaned out the puss and put him on antibiotics and sent him home. The first antibiotics caused projectile diarrhea. It was NO FUN. So we had to change it to a much more expensive drug. The one key to antibiotic therapy is that if it is only a rotten tooth or a small abscessed tooth the pig should stay on the drugs for at least one month. Some vets just put the pig on them for 10 days. That is not enough for these pigs. If the abscess is a tusk/jaw, then more than likely they will stay on antibiotics the rest of their lives. We know of MANY older barrows that are on various antibiotics for years and years and years. Riff has been on Clavamox for nearly two years now. The abscess did come back one time large enough for us to take him to our local vet for cleaning out. Our local vet does not know much about potbellied pigs so he did what he would do to for a dog or cat abscess. He opened it, cleaned it out well then stitched in a small rubber surgical tube to keep the wound open. This actually worked great. That was nearly 8 months ago. The abscess is still there and it will be there forever. We just keep an eye on it, squeeze it from time to time to keep it open and clean and so far it has not come back as a large infection. But again he is on Clavamox for life or until that drug stops working and we have to try another one.
The question about a pig not wanting to eat hard foods like carrots all of a sudden, could be any or all of the above. There was one pig that actually had a large tumor under his tongue. So again, if you aren’t sure take the pig to the vet.
I have seen abscesses that have gone right through the cheek. Corky had open holes on both sides of his face. Once they broke open and the holes healed over, he was fine. They had to make sure flies stayed away from the openings, but these holes never seemed to bother him, even though they looked pretty gross. Other pigs have had large bumps under the eyes, the back side of their jowls or under the chin. These abscesses can manifest themselves in any form. So the most important thing is to know your pig’s face. Know which bump or puffy cheek is normal and which is new. They can pop up over night and others can take a long time to develop. Just be observant. And remember if your vet is not familiar with treating potbellied pigs and only wants to keep your pig on antibiotics for 10 days ask them to call UC Davis or another experience potbellied pig vet. Ten days is rarely enough time to clean up a potbellied pig abscess.