by Dr. Kristi Mozzachio
1. Incidence: Arthritis appears to be extremely common and likely will become the number one reason to euthanize an otherwise healthy, older pig. Potbellies, although not bred and fed to gain size rapidly, still seem to suffer from the osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) problems recognized in commercial swine. Conformation likely plays a role – even a normal pig carries a large amount of weight on short, thin legs, and common “backyard breeding” garners poor conformation to make matters worse. Nutrition can also play a role, with deficiencies and/or obesity resulting from inappropriate diet. Insufficient hoof care, previous traumatic injury, slippery surfaces (such as linoleum or tile) are other factors that may exacerbate the problem.
2. Clinical Signs: In an older pig, difficulty rising in the morning, often with atypical vocalization (“crying”), may be the first sign observed by the owner. Initially, the pig seems to “warm out of” the stiffness and can walk better after moving around for a bit. This progresses to difficulty rising and lying every time. As the arthritis worsens, the pig may assume an unusual hunched over position, appearing as if it is having difficulty using the bathroom. The pig may also drop to his knees more often or frequently limp. Ultimately, a significant decrease in activity is noted – the pig doesn’t move around to lie in the sun anymore, doesn’t wander off to graze, doesn’t root as much, lies down to eat meals rather than standing at the bowl.
3. Diagnostics: Diagnostics are similar to those used in other animals. History is important, and owner perceptions are often correct. Although the problem generally starts subtly, the pig usually has obvious difficulties by the time the veterinarian is called. An orthopedic examination such as that performed on a dog is generally not feasible; a pig will not allow itself to be placed on its side while bones and joints are examined, range of motion tested, etc. Radiographs (x-rays) can be performed to assess the degree of damage to the joints. However, the findings on an x-ray won’t necessarily correlate with the severity of the problem. For example, a seemingly normal pig may have obvious abnormalities on an x-ray, even though they are not showing signs.
4. Treatment: Treatment options include those used for dogs and/or humans, and dosages are usually derived from information in these species. Glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate dietary supplements are a good idea in pigs of any age and are available at local drug or grocery stores as well as from your veterinarian. These supplements help to keep joints healthy and slow down the degenerative process but are not pain relievers – so an obvious improvement may not be observed in an arthritic pig.
Carprofen (Rimadyl®) & etodolac (Etogesic®) are pain relievers/anti-inflammatory drugs commonly used in dogs and appear to work well in pigs for relieving arthritis pain. Recently, a new product called meloxicam (Metacam®) has become available in a honey-flavored liquid that may be better tolerated in finicky patients. Alter medications as needed – dry, hot weather may not require medication or may allow reduction in dose and the opposite holds true for cold, damp conditions. Note: Although these pain medications may be given along with glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate supplements, they should not be given with any other type of pain medication (such as aspirin, ibuprofen, Ascriptin, etc.). Potential side effects include GI upset, nausea, vomiting, or stomach ulcers, but these are very uncommon.
Other suggestions: Hoof trims may need to be performed more frequently (every 3-5 months, rather than once or twice a year). Maintenance of a reasonable body weight is essential as is appropriate footing (dirt, carpet, rubber mats). Avoid stairs or inclines.
Results? Some pigs are managed well for years. Others may develop fused joints – these pigs do not maneuver as well but seem to be free of pain. Others will eventually develop severe pain and a poor quality of life as a result, and owners elect euthanasia. Assume arthritis is in the future of any pet pig and inform owners about appropriate diet, exercise, weight management, hoof care, and dietary supplements such as glucosamine.
Additional Information from CPPA:
Presently many of our members are giving their potbellied pigs 1/2 to 1 oz daily of a product called "Next Level®" equine joint fluid as a source of glucosamine and MSM. This is as a general joint treatment whether signs of arthritis are present or not, and is available at most feed stores or through the Internet.
If arthritis is present, we have found that long term use of Rimadyl® (Carprofen-a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) works well on potbellied pigs without the side effects often associated with its use in dogs. We have also recently switched from Rimadyl® to Deramaxx® with great success. We switched at our vets suggestion as he felt that after 5 or more years on Rimadyl® a different drug might be more effective. The only problems we saw in the switch is that you have to remove them from the Rimadyl® for a few days before starting the Deramaxx®. In that few days we saw a noticeable decline in our pigs health (which told us that the Rimadyl® had been working). Within a few days of starting the Deramaxx® our pig had fully recovered from the change and was better than he had been after 5 years on Rimadyl®.
If additional pain relief appears to be necessary we have had success with the addition of up to 400mg of Tramadol® (hydrochoride tablets-centrally acting analgesic for pain). Consult your veterinarian before using either Rimadyl®, Deramaxx® or Tramadol® as these drugs require a prescription.
Many veterinarians have started prescribing Prednisone® (sometimes spelled Predizone) (a synthetic corticosteroidal) instead of Rimadyl® or Deramaxx® with good results. Another veterinarian has prescribed chewable Previcox® 227mg as a pain relief and anti-inflammatory drug with good results. These drugs are not advised for pigs with infections (tusk, teeth, chin abscesses, masses, etc.), as they might cause the infections to grow and spread. Again always seek medical advice before using any of these prescription drugs on your potbellied pig.
Note: If arthritis medications prescribed by your veterinarian do not seem to be having any effect, the problem may be something other than a arthritis such as a bone or joint infection. These infections can be treated with certain antibiotics. However, a veterinarian may be required to do x-rays or bone scans to get a proper diagnosis. These infections are not uncommon in potbellied pigs and can exhibit the same symptoms as arthritis.
Additional supplements that have been recommended are "B-L Solution®", an equine vitamin B-12 supplement available at most feed stores. There have also been reports of good results from the use of (DE) diatomaceous earth as a feed additive.
Four oinks and two hooves up.
California Potbellied Pig Association, Inc