When A Pig Stops Eating
Several times a week we get a call or an E-Mail talking about the pig that has quit eating. While some good intentioned people assume that this is because the pig has gotten tired of its food or suddenly turned into a picky eater, this is usually not the case.
A healthy pig loves to eat! That is the rule they live by.
While they do have likes and dislikes in the treat and vegetable areas, they should ALWAYS be ready for the mainstay of their diet, which should be their pig chow. A pig that doesn't want to eat has a problem. Sometimes it's a big problem, sometimes a small one, but it is the first indication to you that all is not right with that pig.
Your first line of defense is to take the temperature of the pig. This should fall in the range of 99 to 101. Anything over the 101 should be considered a fever.
There are many things that could account for the pig not feeling well and we will try to touch on just a few of the reasons here.
Pneumonia: The most common problem we have seen is pneumonia: Pig will stop eating and will run a fever usually in the 102 range at the beginning and can increase quickly if untreated. Common pig pneumonia usually shows no symptoms other than the pig refusing to eat and running a fever. No coughing or congestion in the early part and this one is easily fixable with antibiotics if given at the onset. It can be life threatening if not treated. There are other pneumonia's that are more difficult to treat like the mycoplasma strains but they are not as common.
Constipation or blockage: A pig that is constipated or that has a blockage will not eat. They will strain while trying to go, and its up to you to determine just how bad the problem is. We DO NOT give laxatives or oils to pigs until we know for sure that there is some fecal matter coming through. Giving a pig with a blockage a laxative can cause major damage to the pig. If there is
some fecal matter coming through and it is hard to the touch then chances are good that your pig is just constipated. This happens more with older pigs than with young ones and can be avoided by giving them some of the products out there for that purpose or giving them a half can of canned pumpkin every other day or low fat oil in their food daily. Pigs don't usually run a fever with either of these problems in the beginning. If the pig has a blockage it is usually seen with an ultrasound and this is a problem for your vet as surgery is the best correction.
Pain: A pig that is in extreme pain from an injury or illness will not eat. If this goes on for longer than a few days than you might try tempting them with the Ensure Plus or Boost that comes in a can and does supply them with some nutrition during this time. The main concern with pigs in any of these conditions is fluid intake more than food. Again the temperature will only be a little above normal in most of these cases involving pain.
Pyometras or infection of the uterus: This is a life threatening problem that seems to affect some older unspayed females. There are two types of Pyometras. A closed Pyometra which means it cannot drain from the vulva and an open Pyometra which may show a discharge of green or yellow pus from the vulva. The open Pyometra is preferable by far because some of the infection is getting out. This is something your vet needs to hear about immediately. The treatment of choice is surgery to remove the uterus and follow up antibiotic therapy. The pig will run a fever with this infection.
Benign tumors: There are many cases of benign tumors in unspayed older females coming to our attention. These are usually large and attached to the reproductive organs. The pig shows no symptoms at all until they quit eating. By this time the tumors can be quite large. There is no fever with this and unless the tumor is located more on one side of the pig it can be very hard to see with visual inspection. There are times when its also missed with x-rays or ultra sounds. Blood work does not give a clear picture either and can show normal range. Surgery is the option.
Cancers: The same holds true of the cancers that holds true for the benign tumors. There is no fever and no symptoms beyond the pig refusing to eat.
The problem we seem to be seeing with these last two major problems is reluctance by some vets to open the pig up. Not just practicing vets but also large universities. Thank goodness that is not the case with our vet! This is understandable to a point since pig is not showing any symptoms other than not eating and usually the test results are in the normal range.
BUT it is not normal for a pig to go without eating for long periods of time!!
Its also understandable that a pig that hasn't eaten for two weeks is not a good surgical risk but there is a time where it is either open them up and look or they are going to die anyway. Our thinking on this subject is if nothing stands out on any tests and this pig is still not eating than its time to take it to the next step and find out why.
If it is a benign tumor there is a chance for the pig to survive after removal. If it's a blockage it can most often be fixed. If it is cancer than you have the option of putting the pig down on the table humanely. If you do nothing the pig is going to suffer and die slowly on its own.
Copyrighted by Phyllis Battoe - All Rights Reserved
Pigs aren't our whole lives...They make our lives whole.
California Potbellied Pig Association, Inc