by Chris Christensen
Recently, we received two emails from people who were concerned about their apparently depressed potbellied pigs. The pigs would just sleep all day. I felt like "Dr. Phil".
The truth is that, "yes", potbellied pigs like all thinking beings probably get depressed. More likely, however, they just get bored. In both of these situations the pigs appeared to be overfed and pretty unchallenged in life.
Now most of us don't have the luxury of being able to sit around all day scratching and entertaining our potbellied pigs, but we can help to make their lives a little more fulfilling.
First, don't overfeed your pig! A measured 1/2 cup of potbellied pig feed twice a day with a little additional puffed oats, unsalted popcorn and veggies will more than suffice about any potbellied pig of any size. Overfeeding is hard on their little spindly arthritic prone legs and on their energy level in general. I think most of us can relate to feeling energized when we lose a few pounds. Same for your piggy.
To entertain your pig, we all know that food is their great motivator. If "24 Hour Fitness" served donuts, I'd probably wear out my membership card. Fortunately, our pigs find unsalted popcorn and puffed oats to be delightful treats. These can be sprinkled on the lawn, the rug, in the dirt. Try to keep it on a surface where they can get a grip and not be sliding all over.
Leaves and grass are also great entertainment for a hungry pig. If they are not overfed and have yard access they will probably be more than happy to entertain themselves.
A second pig is sometimes also an answer, but without other activities you may just end up with two sleeping pigs.
Be certain your pig is drinking plenty of water (refer to our article on Water). I got responses to this article from people who give up to two liters of water with every meal. I find that a little extreme, but I would recommend adding lots of water to their meals. Build it up slowly. This will help prevent constipation and blockages and give your pig a little more pep.
There are feed balls that you can have your pig roll around and they distribute the food. Our favorite is the Bob-A-Lot (refer to Care-Products).
There are also some ideas for pig life enrichment on our website (refer to Enrichment) that might give you some directions to try.
Pigs in their natural wild environment have to search all day to find food. This keeps them quite occupied. We deliver their food to them. They also usually live much longer as pets than in the wild, which allows for arthritis and other joint pains to become problematic.
Just like us less weight and exercise are supposed to be healthy.
So the choice seems to be eat small amounts of healthy food and exercise or lay in a comfortable bed of quilts all day with a totally full stomach. I don't think these pigs are depressed at all. They're just smart.
On a personal level, our almost 19 year old potbellied pig was
becoming real listless earlier this year. Riff
was born with spina bifida (we figured he would die at 3 or 4 years of age). He
has extreme arthritis in his back, and is on lots of pain and anti-inflammation
medicine. His partner of 14 years had died. When he started spending all day in bed, I remembered how much
he loved the mulberry leaves when they dropped in the fall. So every
morning I started going out in the yard and cutting off a large mulberry branch and tossing it on the lawn.
He spends about two hours every morning working on those branches. He
goes to the bathroom without the usual constipation, and he walks around better
than he has in years. Our trees are almost leafless and branchless, and I don't know what I will do for him this winter, but
I'm working on some ideas. I might try lettuce or some other greens.
I'll also have the cold weather to contend with, but he's worth doing
whatever I can to encourage him to live on (read his story at Sir Sheriff of Rottingham). When he goes into the yard each morning and finds his branches of leaves, his ears perk up and his tail starts wagging, and then the eating begins.
You don't have to
personally entertain these animals, but if you make some things available for
them, they will usually use them. They'll still sleep a lot, but it is
important to give them a little reason to get out and move around. The
only thing that makes my pigs happier than flopping down in a pile of blankets
is if I flop down with them.
Take two pigs and call me in the morning.