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Potential Pig Health Challenges

Knowing some of the potential health challenges your residents may face can help you catch signs of concern early. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Updated March 9, 2021

When it comes to pigs, you’ll want to ensure that you treat any health challenges as early as possible. In order to do this you’ll have to spend a lot of time with the herd, so slight changes and symptoms are more apparent to you. By conducting regular full body health examinations, you’ll be able to know what healthy looks and feels (and smells!) like, and when you should be concerned.

Animal Healthcare Disclaimer
This is not an exhaustive list of everything that can happen to a pig, but can help you get a sense of what challenges a pig under your care may face in their lifetime. If you believe a pig is facing a health issue, always discuss with a qualified veterinarian as soon as possible. Reading about health issues does not qualify you to diagnose your residents!

Issues By Body System

Circulatory: Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae (APP), Actinobacillus suis, Classical Swine Fever (Hog Cholera), Erysipelas, Leptospirosis, Porcine Stress Syndrome(Malignant Hyperthermia, Transport Myopathy), Mulberry Heart Disease

Gastrointestinal: Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae (APP), Aflatoxicosis, Anthrax, Classical Swine Fever (Hog Cholera), Coccidiosis, Gastric Ulcers, Hepatosis Dietetica, Worms (Nodular Worms, Large Roundworm, Threadworm, Thorny-Headed Worm, Whipworms)

Immune: Aflatoxicosis

Musculoskeletal: Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae (APP), Actinobacillus suis, Arthritis (Osteoarthritis and Septic Arthritis), Brucellosis (Swine Brucellosis), Erysipelas, Foot Infections (Bush Foot), Frostbite, Hernias, Hoof Cracks, MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus), Obesity, Osteomyelitis, Porcine Stress Syndrome(Malignant Hyperthermia, Transport Myopathy), White Muscle Disease

Neurological: Actinobacillus suis, Brucellosis (Swine Brucellosis), Classical Swine Fever (Hog Cholera), Dippity Pig Syndrome (Erythema Multiforme), Ear Infections, Heat Stress And Heat Related Illness, Pseudorabies (Aujeszky Disease), Salt Poisoning

Reproductive: Brucellosis (Swine Brucellosis), Leptospirosis, Porcine Respiratory And Reproductive Syndrome (PRRS), Reproductive Tract Cancers

Respiratory: Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae (APP), Actinobacillus suis, Anthrax, Atrophic Rhinitis, Influenza (Swine Flu), Large Roundworm, Lungworms (Metastrongylus spp), Pneumonia, Porcine Respiratory And Reproductive Syndrome (PRRS), Pseudorabies (Aujeszky Disease)

Skin And Hair: Actinobacillus suis, Aflatoxicosis, Classical Swine Fever (Hog Cholera), Dippity Pig Syndrome (Erythema Multiforme), Dry Skin, Erysipelas, External Abscesses, Frostbite, Greasy Pig Disease (Exudative Epidermitis), Lice, Mange, MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus), Ringworm, Skin Cancer, Sunburn, Swine Pox

Urinary: Chronic Kidney Failure, Kidney worms (Stephanurus dentatus), Leptospirosis, Urinary Tract Issues (Urinary Calculi, Cystitis, and UTIs)

Ears, Nose, And/Or Eyes: Atrophic Rhinitis, Classical Swine Fever (Hog Cholera), Ear Hematoma, Ear Infections, Frostbite, Lice, Mange, Mechanical Blindness (Fat Blindness)

Teeth: Dental Disease

Weight and Diet: Aflatoxicosis, Anthrax, Coccidiosis, Obesity, Salt Poisoning, Worms

Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae (APP)

This bacterium causes pleuropneumonia, a severe respiratory disease that is highly contagious and can be fatal. Though APP can affect pigs of all ages, it most commonly affects younger pigs between the ages of 6 weeks and 20 weeks old. Transmission of this disease is typically through nasal secretions and direct contact with infected individuals. Aerosol transmission may be possible, but only over short distances. APP can also be spread via fomites, but these remain infectious for only a short period of time. The severity of the disease depends on the strain, but common symptoms include a sudden onset of severe respiratory distress, sometimes with open mouth breathing, oral and nasal discharge that is foamy and blood-tinged, and a high fever. Affected individuals may be reluctant to move, appear stiff, and may have vomiting or diarrhea. Individuals with APP often have a cough that is shallow and non-productive. They may develop cyanosis in their extremities that becomes more generalized as the disease progresses. Those with chronic disease may have a chronic cough. Tentative diagnosis of acute cases is usually based on the sudden onset of disease and other clinical signs. There are diagnostic tests available that your veterinarian may recommend to confirm the diagnosis. Actinobacillus suis can cause similar symptoms, but is not as contagious as APP. Immediate antibiotic treatment is necessary. Consult with your veterinarian immediately if one of your pig residents is showing signs of respiratory illness. Pigs who recover from this disease often remain carriers of APP. There are vaccines available, and while older vaccines focused on specific serotypes, newer vaccines offer wider protection for all serotypes. Be sure to discuss all vaccine protocols with your veterinarian.

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Actinobacillus suis

This bacterium is normally found in a pig’s oral cavity. However, immunosuppression, damage to mucous membranes in the oral cavity, or the presence of other diseases can make pigs susceptible to disease from Actinobacillus suis. Signs of actinobacillosis caused by this bacterium include fever, elevated respiratory rate, and cyanotic extremities. Affected pigs may also develop tremors or skin lesions that look similar to those caused by erysipelas. This infection can cause septicemia, especially in younger pigs, and can cause pneumonia, arthritis, and pericarditis in older pigs. Immediate antibiotic treatment is imperative. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect one of your residents has actinobacillosis.

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Aflatoxicosis

Aflatoxins are mycotoxins produced by Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus parasiticus, or Penicillium puberulum. Pigs rarely suffer from acute aflatoxicosis, but can develop subacute or chronic toxicosis through prolonged daily consumption of food contaminated with smaller amounts of aflatoxins. Peanuts, corn, and wheat, as well as some other cereal grains can be contaminated with fungi that produce aflatoxins. Younger pigs are more susceptible to aflatoxicosis than mature pigs. Affected pigs may develop secondary diseases due to aflatoxins being immunosuppressive and will have a decrease in appetite. Aflatoxicosis affects the liver, and in some cases pigs may develop jaundice. Aflatoxin levels as low as 300 ppb can result in chronic toxicosis. Levels typically need to be above 1000 ppb in order to cause acute toxicosis in pigs. If you suspect aflatoxicosis, be sure to consult with your veterinarian and immediately remove the suspected cause (such as contaminated pig pellets or even certain types of bedding). Food samples can be tested for the presence of mycotoxins.

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Anthrax

Anthrax is caused by Bacillus anthracis spores, which can lie dormant in the soil for many years. This bacterium is more common in temperate climates and can come to the surface after heavy rains, especially after periods of drought. Animals who graze are susceptible to the disease after eating contaminated grass, but pigs very rarely get anthrax in this way. Anthrax in pigs is rare, but they can contract the disease if they ingest a large number of the bacterium- typically by coming into contact with an infected carcass or if their feed contains contaminated animal by-products. Symptoms include depression, inappetence, fever, bleeding, and depending on where the lesions have formed, the individual may vomit, show signs of respiratory distress, have swelling in their neck, or have bloody diarrhea. In some cases, anthrax can cause sudden death. If you suspect a pig has anthrax, you must contact your veterinarian immediately. The infected pig can quickly spread the disease to other animals, including humans. Confirmations of anthrax must be reported to government officials. If treated very early on with antibiotics, it is possible for the pig to survive, and in some cases incidents of anthrax in pigs have resolved on their own (but it is still important to work closely with your veterinarian). There is also a vaccine available for anthrax, but because pigs tend to be more resistant to the disease than other mammals, there is limited information available about its efficacy. Preventing exposure to Bacillus anthracis by regularly checking pastures for deceased wildlife and removing them from the pasture, as well as feeding a vegetarian diet will greatly reduce your residents’ risk.

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Arthritis (Osteoarthritis and Septic Arthritis)

There are many types of arthritis with different causes, but osteoarthritis (also called degenerative arthritis) and septic arthritis (also called infectious arthritis) are especially common in pigs. 

Osteoarthritis- Due to their large size, osteoarthritis tends to be a common issue in pigs as they age. Symptoms of arthritis will vary depending on the affected area and cause, but typically includes abnormal gait, shifting of weight, lameness, and reduced activity. Pigs with osteoarthritis may spend more time laying down. Ensuring pigs remain at a healthy weight can help prevent, or delay, osteoarthritis. 

Septic Arthritis- This type of arthritis can affect pigs of all ages and typically has a bacterial cause. Possible causes include Actinobacillus parasuis, Haemophilus parasuis, E. coli., Mycoplasma hyosynoviae, Mycoplasma hyorhinis, Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae, Streptococcus spp, and Staphylococcus spp. Early diagnosis and treatment is important to prevent chronic mobility issues.

Pigs with mobility issues should be evaluated by a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and to rule out any infection. They will be able to recommend a treatment plan based on the specific cause, which should include some sort of pain management. Your veterinarian may recommend a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as Carprofen, buffered Aspirin, Meloxicam, or Banamine and may suggest a Chondroprotective agent such as Adequan to help repair joint cartilage and soothe inflammation. If septic arthritis is suspected, antimicrobial treatment will be necessary as well. Because pigs are prone to gastric ulcers, individuals who are on an NSAID should also be on an ulcer-prevention treatment such as sucralfate, famotidine, or omeprazole. For more information on managing arthritis in older pigs, check out our resource here.

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Atrophic Rhinitis

This complex infectious disease causes sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, and inflammation of the tear ducts which may result in tear staining. In severe cases, pigs may develop nose bleeds. Affected individuals may develop twisted or shortened noses due to atrophy which may cause individuals to have trouble eating. While Bordetella bronchiseptica can cause atrophic rhinitis, this form is considered “nonprogressive” or “regressive” and is not as severe as the progressive form which is caused by toxigenic Pasteurella multocida (typically type D) and the lesions can heal over time. Toxigenic P. multocida is less widespread than B. bronchiseptica, and while it typically affects piglets, mature pigs who have not been exposed previously could be affected. Atrophic rhinitis is associated with production settings that have large populations crammed together with poor sanitation and is probably not likely to occur in a sanctuary setting with proper care practices. However, you may find yourself welcoming in a pig with an active infection or with permanent damage to their nose from a previous infection.

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Brucellosis (Swine Brucellosis)

This infectious disease is rare in domesticated pigs in the U.S. due to nation-wide control programs, but wild pig populations continue to be affected which can result in spread to domestic pig herds living in close contact with wild populations. Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease caused by the bacterium Brucella suis. Affected pigs develop a bacteremia (presence of bacteria in the blood) that can last for 90 days and can result in bacteria localizing in certain tissues, bones, or joints. The site of this localization will determine the types of symptoms. Mobility issues such as lameness, paralysis of the back legs, and spondylitis are possible signs, as are various reproductive issues that may not be apparent in a sanctuary setting since residents are not bred. Brucellosis is transmitted from pig-to-pig by ingestion of infected tissues or fluids (such as ingestion of an aborted fetus), and can also be spread via semen during mating. It’s also possible for the disease to be transmitted via the conjunctiva, nasal mucus membranes, or through abrasions on the skin. Brucellosis is a notifiable disease in the U.S. and testing is often a requirement for interstate travel. There are no vaccines available to prevent this disease.

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Chronic Kidney Failure 

Chronic kidney failure is a common cause of death in older potbellied pigs and can also affect large breed pigs. Individuals with chronic kidney failure may be lethargic, have a low body temperature, and their breath may smell like ammonia. They may be reluctant to eat and show signs of dehydration. Bloodwork and urinalysis can be used to diagnose this condition. If one of your residents is in chronic kidney failure, talk to your veterinarian about the best course of action. While the disease cannot be cured, there may be certain measures that can help improve or maintain the individual’s quality of life. This may include changing any current medications that could be hard on the kidneys, starting an antibiotic treatment, and implementing regular fluid therapy. 

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Classical Swine Fever (Hog Cholera)

Classical Swine Fever (CSF) is a highly contagious viral disease that can affect pigs of all ages. CSF is caused by a Pestivirus that is closely related to Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV) and Border Disease Virus (BDV). The most virulent form can result in morbidity and mortality rates that near 100%. Less virulent forms have varying degrees of severity. CSF is notifiable to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The disease has been eradicated in some countries, including the U.S., but is endemic in certain countries in Central and South America, the Carribean, and Asia. CSF is endemic in wild boar populations in Europe which can then result in infection in domestic pigs. The virus is most often spread through direct contact and is shed in saliva, nasal secretions, urine, and feces. Chronic carriers may shed the virus without showing clinical signs of disease. Mechanical transmission via vehicles, equipment, humans, and other fomites coming into contact with infected individuals is also possible. Though it should not be an issue in a sanctuary setting, feeding pigs food that contains contaminated pig flesh is another source of infection. Symptoms of acute infections vary but include fever, ataxia, hemorrhages, and discoloration of the skin- typically the ears, lower abdomen, and extremities. Sick individuals may huddle together, become dull, weak, and less interested in food, and may have conjunctivitis. Individuals may first become constipated and then develop diarrhea. Acute infection caused by virulent strains typically results in death within 10 days of infection.  Diagnostic testing is required to confirm a CSF diagnosis. There is no treatment for CSF, and control measures are usually strictly regulated by local laws. In countries considered free of CSF, outbreaks will likely result in the killing of both infected and exposed individuals in an attempt to prevent further spread. Prophylactic vaccination is used in countries in which CSF is endemic, but is often prohibited in countries that are considered free of the disease.

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Coccidiosis

Coccidiosis is a parasitic infection. There are multiple strains of Eimeria that can affect pigs, but this rarely results in clinical disease. Isospora suis more commonly causes coccidiosis in pigs, typically affecting 1-3 week-old piglets. Affected piglets will develop foul-smelling diarrhea that is watery or greasy, and may become weak and dehydrated, struggle to gain weight, and have a rough-looking coat. In more severe cases piglets can die from the disease. Fecal testing can sometimes confirm coccidiosis, but if taken too early or too late in the disease process may not reveal many oocysts. Collecting fecal samples two to three days after an individual is showing signs of illness may be best. Parasitic worms, as well as viral or bacterial infections can also cause diarrhea in young piglets. Be sure to work with your veterinarian to determine the cause and appropriate treatment. Piglets can be infected with other diseases concurrently, so it will be important to address all causes of illness. Proper sanitation should prevent issues with coccidiosis at your sanctuary, but piglets rescued from unsanitary conditions may arrive with the disease. Clinical illness is rare in mature pigs.

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Dental Disease 

Just like many other animals, pigs can develop dental issues, especially as they age. This may include tartar build-up, gingivitis, abscessed teeth, and periodontal disease. Male pigs are especially prone to tusk abscesses. Signs of dental issues may include difficulty eating or bad breath. Dental issues can cause other health challenges, so be sure to consult with your veterinarian if you suspect one of your residents has dental issues. Veterinary university hospitals typically have animal dentistry services, so in the event that an individual needs to have a dental work-up, your regular veterinarian should be able to refer you to a dentist.

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Dippity Pig Syndrome (Erythema Multiforme)

This disease, which is sometimes called Bleeding Back Syndrome, affects younger pigs and is most prevalent in the spring, though it can occur any time of year. Not much is known about the exact cause of this disease, but it appears to be brought about by stress, with sun exposure and sunburn being possible triggers. Onset of symptoms is very sudden with pigs who appear to be fine suddenly falling down on their back legs intermittently (referred to as “dipping”) and squealing in pain. Another common sign associated with Dippity Pig Syndrome is a pig taking a few steps backwards before they collapse in their back legs. In some cases, the individual may tuck their tail and dip their back end without fully collapsing. These episodes often appear as if the pig is “dipping” in response to a painful stimulus they are trying to get away from. Affected pigs may also have skin lesions. There is no definitive treatment for this syndrome. Symptoms typically disappear within 1-3 days, though some individuals may have recurring episodes later on. Young pigs who have been affected, even multiple times, typically do not have episodes as adults. If one of your residents is showing signs of this syndrome, be sure to consult with your veterinarian regarding treatment and to rule out other possible causes of their symptoms. The most common recommendation is moving the individual to a comfortable space, reducing their stress as much as possible until they are no longer having episodes, and managing their pain with proper analgesics. If they have open skin lesions or sunburn, those will need to be treated as well.

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Dry Skin

There are a variety of conditions that can cause skin issues in pigs including mange, lice, ringworm, sunburn, skin cancer, erysipelas, Actinobacillus suis, greasy pig, dippity pig syndrome, and pox. Pigs can also develop dry, itchy skin without a more sinister underlying cause. Potbellied pigs seem to be especially prone to this issue. Be sure to discuss any skin issues with your veterinarian to make sure it is not a symptom of a more serious issue. You can talk to your veterinarian about increasing your residents’ fatty acid intake (while being careful not to cause unhealthy weight gain) to help address skin issues, or they may be able to recommend topical treatments to help moisturize the skin.

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Ear Hematoma

If a pig suffers a trauma to their ear, they may develop an ear hematoma. This could be the result of being bitten by another pig, another type of injury, or from trauma caused by forceful headshaking. In the case of headshaking, if it is forceful enough and constant enough to result in a hematoma, there is likely an underlying issue causing the pig discomfort. This might be from mange, lice, an ear infection, or another issue inside the ear. It’s important to address the underlying issue in addition to the hematoma itself. Whatever the original cause of the trauma, subcutaneous hemorrhage results in a large, fluid-filled ear pinna (the visible part of the ear, or ear flap). In most cases, it’s best to leave the ear alone, but you should consult with your veterinarian for guidance. Attempting to drain the ear can result in bacteria being introduced into the ear which could then result in an abscess. Ear hematomas typically resolve on their own, but this could take many weeks or even months. In most cases, the ear will become hard, thickened, and misshapen. In severe cases, amputation of the pinna may be recommended.

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Ear Infections

Typically the result of a Haemophilus parasuis, streptococci or staphylococci infection, ear infections can become life-threatening, so early diagnosis and intervention is imperative. Signs of a middle ear infection include head tilting toward one side, head shaking, and signs of discomfort. As the infection progresses, the pig may begin circling or show signs of incoordination, and they may have jerky eye movements. In advanced cases, the pig may have convulsions and may tilt their head so severely they cannot remain upright. The infection can spread to the inner ear and then the brain, resulting in meningitis or encephalitis. If caught early, ear infections can resolve with appropriate antibiotic treatment. 

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Erysipelas

Erysipelas is caused by Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae, a bacteria that is carried by an estimated 50% of pigs raised in intensive production settings. While pigs can remain healthy carriers and never develop clinical signs of disease, they can spread the disease in their feces and secretions from their mouth and nose. Pigs become infected by consuming food or water that has been contaminated with the bacteria and can also become infected if the bacteria comes into contact with cuts or open wounds on their body, though ingestion of contaminated food or water appears to be the most common cause of infection. Empirical evidence suggests that the disease can also be spread by biting insects such as ticks and flies.  Erysipelas can cause acute and chronic disease in pigs. Acute erysipelas causes high fever, and red or blue skin, especially on the head, ears, abdomen, and legs. Affected pigs are often alert but will not eat and are painful on their legs. They may need assistance standing and will show obvious signs of pain including shifting of weight, stiff legs, vocalizing, and laying down as much as possible. They may develop raised diamond-shaped red or purple skin lesions. Lesions can become necrotic resulting in the skin sloughing off. Affected pigs can also develop septicemia, and in some cases the disease can cause sudden death without presenting obvious signs of illness. Chronic erysipelas can cause enlarged, painful joints, lameness, and endocarditis. In some cases, pigs with chronic erysipelas will develop purple skin lesions as well. Erysipelas is not the only disease that can cause these types of skin lesions- other diseases such as Actinobacillus suis, classical swine fever, and porcine dermatitis and nephropathy syndrome can cause similar lesions. Diagnoses are typically made based on the symptoms and the individual’s response to treatment, which is often high doses of Penicillin, though there are other antibiotics that can be used to treat erysipelas. Individuals with a high fever can be treated with an NSAID such as Banamine to help bring the fever down. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian whenever your residents are showing signs of illness as they will be able to help diagnose the issue and suggest treatment options that are appropriate for the individual. There are other diagnostics that can be performed to help confirm an erysipelas diagnosis, including cultures of the blood and certain tissues, but negative cultures do not mean that the bacteria is not present, and therefore these tests should not be used as a means to rule out the disease. Chronic disease is more difficult to diagnose than the acute form. Individuals with acute infections who are treated early have a better prognosis than those with chronic infection. Pigs who recover from erysipelas can remain carriers. There are vaccines available; however, the live vaccine can cause pigs to become sick and develop symptoms of chronic disease. Always consult with your veterinarian about the best vaccination protocols for your residents.

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External Abscesses

Abscesses are pockets of pus that can develop internally or externally. They can develop in any area of the body, but some common sites for pigs include their feet, face, and neck. Abscesses can form for a variety of reasons, including infections, poor wound management, and benign reactions to vaccinations or injectable medications. Abscesses can also form as a result of specific diseases. Internal abscesses require more advanced diagnostics, but in the event of a suspected external abscess, it should be first evaluated by a veterinarian or experienced caregiver- they can aspirate the lump to determine if it is an abscess or not. Depending on the location, size, and whether or not the pig is displaying other signs of concern, your veterinarian may decide to lance the abscess. In most cases, a culture will be recommended to determine the best course of action. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you about any necessary treatments based on the cause of the abscess. If you have not been trained to identify and lance an abscess, you must work closely with your veterinarian. Not all external lumps are abscesses, and cutting into tumors or other masses could result in serious issues. Also be aware that any abscess on the neck or near major blood vessels should always be evaluated by a veterinarian. In these instances, it may be too dangerous to lance the abscess due to the risk of major bleeding. If an abscess is found on the foot (they are especially common at the coronary band), you should work with your veterinarian to have radiographs taken. Unfortunately, often by the time an abscess is found in the foot, there is typically some sort of bone involvement requiring immediate and aggressive treatment. 

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Foot Infections (Bush Foot)

Damage to the hoof, possibly from hoof cracks or trauma to the sole of the foot, allows bacteria to enter into the foot which can result in the formation of an abscess. Because of the makeup of the hoof, the abscess will often, but not always, eventually result in swelling at the coronary band (where the top of the hoof meets the skin). In some cases, the abscess may burst in this area, resulting in discharge. Pigs who have been severely lame will often show some sign of relief after the abscess has burst, because it relieves pressure in the foot. Unlike in many other mammalian farmed animal species, once signs of a foot infection are obvious, the infection may have already spread to the bone (causing osteomyelitis). Also, while some foot infections will result in liquid pus and drainage, many times the pus is dry, making it impossible to drain out of the foot. In these instances, surgical debridement will be necessary. The first sign of a foot infection is typically a change in gait, which may start out rather subtle and become more severe as the infection progresses. The absence of heat, swelling, or discharge does not mean there is no infection present. Be sure to work closely with your veterinarian if one of your pigs develops a limp or has swelling in their foot. Early and aggressive treatment is imperative, but in some cases surgical intervention may be necessary. Antibiotic treatment must consider not just the organism’s susceptibility to the medication, but also the ability of the medication to penetrate the foot- Clavamox is a common choice, but your veterinarian will be able to recommend the best treatment options given the specifics of each individual case. To prevent foot infections, it’s important to address environmental factors that could result in damage to the hoof. These include abrasive substrates, which could cause damage to the hoof, and overly wet conditions. If pigs are constantly standing in wet areas, the hoof will become soft and will be more vulnerable to damage, so make sure they have plenty of dry areas available to them. It is also important to ensure hoof health. Pigs should be checked regularly for signs of hoof cracks, and these should be addressed immediately. Some sanctuaries supplement their residents with biotin to help promote hoof health. Lastly, because excessive weight will put additional strain on a pig’s feet, maintaining residents at a healthy weight is also important.

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Frostbite

Pigs can develop frostbite during periods of extreme cold, which is why appropriate shelter is imperative. A draft-free indoor space with proper ventilation and ample bedding can go a long way in protecting residents from the cold, but during times of extreme cold, you may need to restrict your pig residents’ access to the outdoors for their protection. If there is a temperature advisory regarding the risk of frostbite for humans, then it is too cold for pigs! Pigs most often develop frostbite on their feet, ears, and tail. Affected skin may first look pale, but will then turn red and become swollen. In severe cases, the affected area will die, turning black and becoming hard and cold. Dead tissue will eventually fall off. Prevention is key. Be sure to keep your residents protected and keep a close eye on everyone for early signs of frostbite. If you suspect frostbite, be sure to consult with your veterinarian in addition to making changes to the living space or your protocols regarding outdoor access during cold weather in order to keep everyone properly protected. Pain medications and antibiotics may be necessary and your veterinarian will likely also recommend a topical treatment.

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Gastric Ulcers

Gastric ulcers in pigs are not uncommon, but certain factors can put pigs at an increased risk. Nutritional and environmental factors, as well as certain diseases can increase a pig’s risk of developing a gastric ulcer, but in a sanctuary setting, one of the most common contributing factors is the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Because of the higher risk of gastric ulcers in pigs being treated with NSAIDs, you should always treat pigs on NSAIDs with a medication that can help prevent an ulcer. Medications commonly used include famotidine, sucralfate, and omeprazole. Be sure to consult your veterinarian about these treatments as different treatments may be preferred over others based on the individual’s risk factors and the medications they are currently on. Some of these treatments must be administered separately from all other medications or they may interfere with other treatments. Always be on the lookout for signs of gastric ulcers, both in individuals who are on NSAID treatments as well as those who are not. Signs of a gastric ulcer include teeth grinding (due to pain), dark tarry stool, vomiting, and possibly a pale appearance. Individuals may appear excited to eat but will push around their food rather than eating it. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect a gastric ulcer. If they are on an NSAID treatment, discontinue this immediately. The use of omeprazole can help treat a gastric ulcer.

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Greasy Pig Disease (Exudative Epidermitis)

Greasy Pig Disease is a bacterial skin infection caused by Staphylococcus hyicus. This bacterium is commonly found on pigs’ skin without causing disease, but damage to the skin from injury or another disease (such as mange) can result in development of Greasy Pig Disease. Pigs of any age can be affected, but the disease is most commonly seen, and is also most severe, in piglets under 8 weeks of age (and can be fatal, especially in piglets who are just a few days old). In piglets, the disease typically manifests reddened skin that then develops brown or black scabbing starting in the area of the neck and shoulders and then spreading to other areas, though in some cases the lesions may start at the feet and spread up the legs. Piglets may become lethargic and depressed with a decreased appetite. Mature pigs can develop a chronic form of the condition, with lesions typically occurring on their back. Greasy Pig lesions start off oozy and then become crusty but are not itchy. Affected pigs will have skin that is discolored and greasy, hence the name. The condition is often diagnosed based on the appearance of the lesions, but a culture can confirm the diagnosis and identify the best antibiotics to use. Treatment consists of systemic antibiotics and sometimes topical antibiotic treatments as well. Cleaning the skin with a pig-safe disinfectant can also be helpful. In young piglets with Greasy Pig, it is important to ensure they stay properly hydrated, and they may need an electrolyte supplement as well. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian if you suspect one of your residents has Greasy Pig, especially if you suspect the disease in a piglet. The younger the piglet, the higher the risk of death, so consult with your veterinarian immediately. Proper sanitation and ventilation, as well as protecting pigs from injury can help prevent this disease.

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Pigs do not sweat, and that, combined with their large body size and relatively small lung capacity, makes them more vulnerable to heat stress, which can then lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. High temperatures, as well as high humidity levels, contribute to heat related illness in pigs- as the humidity rises, the temperature at which a pig may be vulnerable to heat stress lowers. Signs of heat stress and other heat related illness includes panting, skin that feels very warm to the touch, an elevated rectal temperature (though after an initial fever, their temperature may actually decrease), lethargy, decreased appetite, an increase in water consumption and urination, diarrhea, muscle tremors, and weakness. They may show signs of dehydration such as pale, dry gums and may begin vomiting. Without proper intervention they may collapse and have seizures. It’s important to be constantly on the lookout for signs of overheating and take steps to help cool them down. If you suspect one of your pig residents is experiencing heat stress or other heat related illness, contact your veterinarian immediately and take immediate steps to start gradually cooling them off. If you can, move them out of the sun, or if this is not possible, find a way to protect them from the sun where they are (perhaps by hanging sheets or tarps to keep their surrounding area shaded). Aiming a fan at them and hosing them off with cool (but not overly cold) water will help bring their body temperature down. Using very cold water carries the risk of shocking their system. In arid climates, some recommend applying rubbing alcohol along their spine and legs. It will evaporate quickly, which will help lower their body temperature. Be sure to avoid their face, as well as any wounds, and only use rubbing alcohol in a well ventilated space. You can also apply ice packs to their neck, armpits, and groin area. Heat related illness can be fatal, and even once you’ve brought their body temperature down they may require further intervention to combat dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and other complications, so be sure to consult with your veterinarian for guidance. Prevention is key- make sure your pig residents’ indoor living space has an appropriate cooling system for your climate and that there is ample ventilation. In some areas, industrial fans with simple mister attachments may be enough. In hotter climates, you may need a more expensive system. While your residents will enjoy having access to straw, it can be helpful to go lighter on the bedding, or keep certain areas clear of bedding, as pigs may prefer to lay on a bare dirt floor when temperatures are hot. Outdoors, make sure your residents have access to plenty of shade as well as mud wallows, ponds, or shallow tubs of cool water that they can easily get in and out of.

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Hernias

Hernias are quite common in pigs. Most information available regarding hernias in pigs pertains to umbilical and inguinal hernias, though they can develop hernias in other areas of their body as well. It is not uncommon for sanctuaries to be contacted about piglets with hernias, especially if the piglet’s guardian cannot afford to get them veterinary attention but wants the best outcome for the individual. Scrotal hernias may be discovered when male residents are neutered. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian regarding proper treatment for hernias. In some cases, surgical repair will be recommended, but the risk of reherniation can be high. Depending on the size of the hernia, strangulation of the intestines can be a risk. 

Female pigs are very prone to herniation following a full spay surgery, which is why we recommend a laparoscopic ovariectomy whenever possible. If a full spay is your only option, be sure to talk with your veterinarian about the risk of herniation and how to best prevent this issue.

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Hoof Cracks

Hoof cracks can be a common issue in sanctuary pig residents. Hoof cracks can be caused by trauma, improper hoof care (such as letting hooves become overgrown), environmental conditions (such as those that are overly dry or overly wet), and can also be the result of a nutritional issue, such as biotin deficiency. Cracks can range in length and depth and may run horizontally or vertically. Individuals with hoof cracks may become lame due to pain associated with putting weight on the affected claw. Depending on the location and depth of the crack, putting full weight on their foot may result in further cracking of the hoof. Not only can these cracks be painful, they also create a point of entry for bacteria to enter the hoof. Foot infections are a very serious issue in pigs, and prevention is key- hoof health should be a priority. If hoof cracks are a common issue with your residents, you should look into the possible cause and work to address it. This may include evaluating their living space for substrates or objects in the space that result in trauma to the hoof, evaluating their diet for possible deficiencies, and reassessing your hoof care practices. Residents should be monitored regularly for hoof cracks. A dremel tool with a sanding attachment can be used to smooth out the crack, but you must take care not to sand too deeply or you will hit sensitive tissue. Regular sanding of the crack can help prevent rough edges from being caught on something and torn. Cracks should be kept clean and the use of a topical treatment to help protect the crack from bacteria can be beneficial. Be sure to keep a close eye out for signs of infection, especially heat or swelling at the coronary band. Work closely with your veterinarian and/ or a farrier who is willing to see pigs (this might be more likely at a veterinary university hospital rather than a mobile service that usually sees cows or horses, though there are some farrier services who focus on potbellied pigs). They will be able to advise you about the best course of action including treatments to prevent (or treat) hoof cracks and infections. 

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Influenza (Swine Flu)

This highly contagious respiratory disease is caused by type A Influenza virus. Influenza is common in the midwestern U.S., as well as in Mexico, Canada, Kenya, South America, Europe, and East Asia. Though humans have been affected by Swine Flu, spread to humans is rare. Swine flu spreads rapidly through affected herds and is spread primarily by aerosolized virus and pig-to-pig contact. The severity of the disease can range from subclinical to acute. An acute outbreak typically involves sudden onset and rapid spread. Symptoms include fever, depression, inappetence, coughing, nasal and ocular discharge, labored breathing, weakness, and prostration. Though morbidity is high, mortality is usually low, unless there are concurrent infections. Uncomplicated infections typically resolve within 3-7 days and recovery from obvious illness is just as sudden as the onset. However, pigs who are no longer showing signs of illness may continue to be carriers for up to 3 months and some pigs may be chronically affected. While there is no specific treatment for swine flu, antimicrobials may be used to prevent or treat secondary infections, and expectorants and anti-inflammatory drugs can help provide relief to sick individuals. It’s important to create a comfortable environment and make sure food and water are readily accessible while individuals are suffering from swine flu. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian if your residents are showing signs of swine flu, as they can recommend diagnostic testing as well as specific treatment plans. There are vaccines available, but you should work with your veterinarian to determine whether or not vaccination is warranted, and if so, which vaccine will be best for your residents.

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Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a contagious bacterial disease that can affect pigs as well as most mammals. This zoonotic disease can also affect humans. There are many different serovars that can affect pigs, though not all cause clinical disease. Chronic leptospirosis can cause serious reproductive issues, making it a major concern in industrial settings but less of a concern at a sanctuary. In fact, diagnosis can be difficult, and often it is the occurance of abortions, still births, and premature piglets that trigger concerns of leptospirosis- at sanctuaries, clinical signs may be less apparent since residents do not breed. Acute infection can cause a mild fever and inappetance. Very young piglets may become jaundiced, struggle to gain weight, develop hemolytic anemia and hemoglobinuria, and some may even have convulsions. Many pathogenic serovars of Leptospira localize in the kidneys which can cause damage and result in kidney failure. Affected pigs can spread the disease in their urine which can contaminate water sources and mud wallows. Other animals can also be a source of exposure, including rats and mice, which is yet another reason why it is important to take steps to prevent infestations and to keep living spaces clean. For more information on compassionate strategies to prevent issues with rat and mouse populations, check out our resource here. Leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotic therapy- consult your veterinarian regarding the best treatment plan. There are also vaccines that your veterinarian may recommend.

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Lice 

There is only one species of lice that affects pigs- Haematopinus suis, also called the pig louse. Pig lice are blood sucking parasites that only affect pigs. Though humans working closely with an infected pig may find pig lice on them afterwards, they can not survive more than a few days without a pig host. Pig lice are large- up to 6mm long. This plus the fact the pigs have much less hair than other mammals makes detection easier than in other species. Pigs with lice infestations may have lice all over their body, but the most common areas to find lice are the ears (where they often live), neck, and insides of their legs. Pigs with lice infestations may appear restless, itchy, and agitated. They may lose their hair and develop dermatitis from constant scratching and rubbing. Young piglets could become dangerously anemic, but this is not usually an issue for mature pigs. Lice are vectors for various diseases, so isolation procedures are important when a new resident arrives with lice, as their health history is still unknown, and they could have another disease that could be spread to other residents via the lice. Ivermectin is often effective at eliminating pig lice, but your veterinarian will be able to provide a specific treatment plan.

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Mange

Pigs can be affected by two types of mange mites- Sarcoptic mange, caused by Sarcoptes scabiei var suis, and Demodectic mange, caused by Demodex phylloides. Sarcoptic mange is the more common type of pig mange, and though it is sometimes called “scabies” it is not the same as the mite that causes scabies in humans. People coming into direct contact with pigs with severe mange could get mites on them, and these mites can cause skin irritation, but they cannot reproduce on a human and will die within a few days. S. scabiei var suis mites are spread from pig to pig via direct contact or through fomites. They start out in the ear and then spread to the rest of the body. These mites burrow into the skin to lay their eggs, causing irritation to the skin resulting in frequent rubbing, scratching, and head shaking of affected pigs. In many pigs, an allergic hypersensitivity develops 2-3 weeks later resulting in even more rubbing and scratching, which causes further damage to the skin. Affected pigs will develop thickened, wrinkled skin that may have white or gray patches. Mites can be confirmed via skin scrapings, with the inside of the ear being the best location to sample. Even if only a few pigs are showing signs of mange, all members of the herd (and neighboring herds who may have been exposed) should be treated. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend an appropriate treatment. Because treatment options do not kill mite eggs, treatments should be repeated 10-14 days after the initial treatment.

Demodectic mange is fairly rare in domestic pigs. D. phylloides typically affects the area around the eyes, mouth, nose, neck, and inner thighs. This type of mange can cause the skin to turn red and can also result in the development of pustules and alopecia. These pustules may be confused with swine pox. Treatment of demodectic mange can be difficult- consult with your veterinarian about the best course of action.

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MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus)

The bacterium Staphylococcus aureus can cause various health issues, and like humans, pigs can get Methicillin-resistant S. aureus, referred to as MRSA (or LA-MRSA, Livestock Associated MRSA). MRSA can be present in a healthy pig’s nasal passages and on their skin. Colonisation of MRSA does not necessarily result in disease, but MRSA can be the cause of various issues including abscesses, skin conditions, septic arthritis, and bone infections. The only way to determine that MRSA is the cause, rather than a more sensitive S. aureus, is through antibiotic sensitivity testing. In general, it’s always a good idea to wear gloves when working with pig residents who have skin issues, open wounds, discharge, or other signs of infection, but given the fact that humans can be infected with LA-MRSA, proper safety protocols are imperative. Pigs with MRSA can still be treated- antibiotic sensitivity testing will indicate which antibiotics will be effective. Be sure to work closely with your veterinarian to ensure you have appropriate safety measures in place and also to ensure you are utilizing antibiotic therapy appropriately. Misuse and overuse of antibiotics contributes to resistance issues.

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Obesity

Many pigs, including large breed pigs and potbellied pigs are prone to obesity. Because of this, it is imperative that they be fed managed portions to help them maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can cause a host of health challenges and can exacerbate others. While mobility issues are a common issue in sanctuary pigs, these issues will often develop at an earlier age in residents who are overweight. In some instances, pigs can develop mechanical blindness, often called “fat blindness” due to excessive fat around their eyes. This issue is especially common in potbellied pigs, but can affect other breeds as well.

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Osteomyelitis 

Osteomyelitis, is an inflammatory process that affects the tissues of the bone and is typically the result of infection. Pigs of all ages can be affected by this disease. While there are a variety of causes, one common cause is damage to the hoof wall resulting in osteomyelitis of a phalangeal bone. Individuals showing signs of lameness, even if slight, should be evaluated by a veterinarian. In some cases, even when there are no outward signs of infection, radiographs will reveal bony involvement. While claw amputation used to be the primary surgical option, this procedure often results in the remaining claw breaking down due to the excess weight it must now carry. Depending on which foot/ claw is affected, this procedure may not have a good long term prognosis. Instead, surgical debridement, removing the infected bone, and creating drainage tracts, sometimes in conjunction with antibiotic-impregnated beads, may allow for the infection to be addressed while preserving the claw. Be sure to talk about all options with your veterinarian. Osteomyelitis can be difficult to treat, and foot infections are unfortunately quite common in large breed pigs, but the foot is not the only area that can be affected. Another area commonly affected is the spine. Tail infections (typically the result of tail biting) can result in the formation of spinal abscesses which can lead to osteomyelitis of the vertebrae. This can result in ataxia and even hind end paralysis. Wherever possible, antibiotic therapy should be informed by culture results to ensure the right drug is used. Clavamox is a commonly used antibiotic in pigs who have infections in or near the bone. While expensive, the fact that it is an oral medication, versus an injectable medication, can make administration easier on both the human and resident. Always consult with your veterinarian regarding the best treatment options given the specifics of each individual case.

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Pneumonia

Pneumonia, or inflammation of the lungs, can have bacterial, viral, parasitic, or environmental causes (or a combination). The underlying causes and associated complications will dictate the severity of the illness. Symptoms of pneumonia include coughing and rapid, shallow breathing (referred to as “thumping”), and in some cases pigs may be seen open mouth breathing. Pigs may be lethargic, uninterested in eating, and may have a fever. Pathogens that can cause pneumonia in pigs include Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae, Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae (APP), Pasteurella multocida, Haemophilus parasuis, PRRS virus, Swine Influenza virus, Porcine Respiratory Coronavirus (PRCV), Pseudorabies virus (PRV), and sometimes a combination of these. Roundworm and lungworm infestations can also cause pneumonia and the development of secondary bacterial infections of P. multocida or other bacteria. Environmental factors such as extreme temperature changes and high humidity levels can also cause pneumonia, and this may be a more common cause of pneumonia in established sanctuary pig residents. Heated barns and poor ventilation can cause a pneumonia outbreak in a herd. Pneumonia can also be caused by poor sanitation resulting in high ammonia levels. Be sure to work with your veterinarian if your residents develop signs of pneumonia, as it will be important to determine the cause and best treatment. Regardless of the underlying cause, because secondary bacterial infections are common, antibiotics are typically recommended as part of the treatment plan.

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Porcine Respiratory And Reproductive Syndrome (PRRS)

PRRS is a viral disease that can affect pigs of all ages. This disease was formerly referred to as “swine mystery disease” (SMD) and “swine infertility and respiratory syndrome” (SIRS). The PRRS virus is highly infectious but not highly contagious. As implied by the name, PRRS causes reproductive issues as well as respiratory issues. While the respiratory syndrome can affect pigs of all ages, it is most common in younger pigs. PRRS can be spread through direct contact with nasal secretions, urine, feces, semen, or mammary secretions of infected pigs.  Aerosol transmission is possible but is more likely with highly virulent strains than with less virulent ones. Infected pigs can remain long term carriers, but there is evidence to suggest that most pigs who are infected develop immunity and will cease to shed the virus around 60 days after becoming infected. The virus can also be spread through contaminated needles, shoes, equipment, and other fomites, as well as by insects such as mosquitos and house flies. Symptoms are dependent on the virulence of the strain, the age of the pig, whether they have an initial or ongoing infection, and whether or not the individual has any other health challenges. Not all infected pigs will show signs of illness. Other viruses, bacteria, and Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae can interact with the PRRS virus and amplify the severity of the illness. PRRS can also make an infected pig’s lungs more susceptible to other pathogens. Signs of PRRS infection in mature pigs include anorexia, fever, lethargy, depression, and in some cases, vomiting. Infected pigs may show signs of respiratory distress and may develop mild cyanosis of the ears, abdomen, and vulva. Reproductive issues, though not seen in a sanctuary setting unless a female arrives pregnant, include late term abortions, mummified piglets, and piglets who are stillborn, premature, or weak. Mortality rates are high in piglets who are born alive, and they often show signs of respiratory illness including open-mouth breathing and abdominal breathing. Signs of PRRS in younger pigs include fever, depression, lethargy, stunted growth, sneezing, open-mouth breathing, and pneumonia. Anytime a resident is showing any of the signs above, it is important to get your veterinarian involved. If PRRS is suspected, they can determine the best diagnostics to perform. While there is no treatment, NSAIDs can be used to reduce fever and broad-spectrum antibiotics can be used to treat secondary bacterial infections. You can also talk to your veterinarian about the various PRRS vaccines that are available, which vary in efficacy but may be able to reduce shedding.

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Porcine Stress Syndrome (Malignant Hyperthermia, Transport Myopathy)

Porcine Stress Syndrome (PSS), or malignant hyperthermia (MH), is a serious, but rare, inherited condition that can be triggered by stress and certain medications. For more information regarding PSS, check out our resource here.

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Pseudorabies (Aujeszky Disease)

This viral disease, which is reportable in the U.S. and not related to rabies, has been eradicated from commercial settings in the U.S., but is still present in some feral pig populations. Pigs are the only domestic animal that is a natural host, but cows, sheep, goats, dogs, and cats can be affected if housed in close quarters with acutely infected pigs. This virus can be spread via nose-to-nose contact, fecal-oral route, or through inhalation of aerosolized virus (which can spread several miles in certain weather conditions). This disease could spread to a previously non-infected herd via infected feral pigs or other animals who are considered “dead-end” hosts, such as rats, mice, dogs, cats, raccoons, opossums, and skunks, who, if infected, will shed the virus for only a short time before dying from the disease. It is unclear if insects play a role in the spread of this disease. The virus can also remain latent (not producing symptoms) in pigs who recover from the disease, with stress triggering recrudescence and shedding of the virus. Clinical signs vary based on the age and immune status of the pig, with younger pigs typically being more severely affected than older pigs, who are more resistant to the disease. Very young piglets may die suddenly without showing signs of illness. Symptoms of pseudorabies in piglets under 3 weeks of age include high fever, depression, inappetence, tremors, incoordination, dog-sitting, vomiting, foaming at the mouth, blindness, paddling, coma, and convulsions. Morbidity and mortality can be close to 100%, with piglets dying within 1-3 days of becoming ill. Piglets 3-9 weeks of age have similar signs but with a lower mortality rate. Piglets closer to 9 weeks old may also show signs of respiratory illness such as sneezing, nasal discharge, and possibly coughing and labored breathing. Though most piglets in this age range survive, they are vulnerable to bacterial pneumonia and other secondary infections, which could worsen their prognosis. Older piglets typically develop respiratory symptoms, though some may show neurological symptoms. While morbidity in this age group is high, affected individuals typically recover within 7-10 days. Mature pigs may not show any clinical signs of illness, though some may exhibit signs of respiratory illness. There is no treatment for this disease, but there are vaccines available that may be recommended in areas where pseudorabies is a concern. Vaccination can help protect individuals from infection, and in those who have already been infected, vaccination can significantly reduce clinical signs of disease and reduce shedding of the virus. Vaccination also reduces the likelihood of latency and frequency of recrudescence.  There are tests that can differentiate between antibodies produced by vaccination and those produced by natural infection, so vaccination of previously uninfected individuals will not complicate accurate diagnosis later on.

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Reproductive Tract Cancers

Female pigs who are not spayed are at risk of developing reproductive tract cancers, which is why we recommend all females who are healthy enough for surgery are spayed or, ideally, undergo a laparoscopic ovariectomy (we’ll use the term “spay” to refer to both of theses procedures in this section). It’s worth pointing out that neutering male pigs also prevents reproductive cancers, but since neutering male mammalian residents is a common practice at sanctuaries, male reproductive cancers are seen less often in this setting. Females who are not spayed are more prone to various reproductive diseases including mammary and uterine tumors. Much of the available information available pertains to potbellied pigs rather than large breed pigs, mostly because breeds typically raised in agricultural settings rarely live long enough to develop these cancers, whereas potbellied pigs are often companion animals who live into old age. However, anecdotal information from sanctuaries indicates that reproductive cancer in large breed pigs is very common in unaltered females. There have been reports of mammary tumors the size of a football and uterine tumors that weigh 100 pounds! While any surgery caries risk, and you may have certain residents for whom that risk is too great, for the majority of female sanctuary pigs, spaying them as part of your incoming procedures (as soon as they are deemed healthy and mature enough for the procedure) will carry less risk than surgical removal of a tumor later on, and depending on the specifics of the case, removal may not even be possible.

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Ringworm

This contagious fungal infection causes skin lesions that may be confused with other, often more serious diseases. Pigs can be affected by various species of ringworm, which may be spread to pigs by other animals such as cows, dogs, cats, or rats. Humans can become infected by all species of ringworm that affect pigs. Some species of ringworm produce circular lesions, while others produce patchy lesions. Ringworm can be confirmed by a skin scraping. The condition is typically self-limiting, but it may take months for lesions to disappear. If you suspect ringworm in your pig residents, work with your veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis. They may recommend certain treatment options, depending on the severity of the issue, though in some cases, they may just recommend letting it run its course. Be sure any humans coming into contact with an affected group of pigs wears gloves and other protective gear to protect them from becoming infected themselves.

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Salt Poisoning

Salt poisoning is the most common form of poisoning in pigs, with water deprivation being the most common cause, but it can also be caused by ingesting too much salt (or a combination of both). While pigs may be deprived of water due to human error (forgetting to check or refill water) or due to malfunction of equipment (an auto waterer failing to refill) which will result in an entire group being affected, individuals within a group may also go without water due to mobility issues, illness, or injury that prevent them from regularly getting to their water source. When fed diets with appropriate salt ranges (0.4-0.6%), pigs can develop salt poisoning after 48 hours of water deprivation, but if their diet is higher in salt, pigs will develop salt poisoning sooner during periods of water deprivation. In the very early stages of salt poisoning, pigs will show signs of dehydration and inappetance and may be constipated or itchy. If an entire group of pigs suddenly become less interested in food, their water sources should be checked immediately to determine if water deprivation is the cause. Later signs of salt poisoning include incoordination, wandering aimlessly, head pressing, and loss of vision and hearing. Pigs with salt poisoning may be seen “dog-sitting” and may fall and have convulsions. Symptoms may be confused with an ear infection or the various infectious diseases that cause neurological symptoms. If a pig resident’s nose is twitching just before they have a convulsion, this is a strong indicator of salt poisoning. Salt poisoning can be fatal, so catching signs early is imperative. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian if you suspect salt poisoning- affected individuals must be rehydrated slowly. They absolutely must not have access to unrestricted water or the situation will become much worse. Instead, they should receive small amounts of water frequently, slowly returning to their normal water and electrolyte balance over the course of 2-3 days. Your veterinarian will be able to best guide their rehydration and may suggest other rehydration techniques besides oral consumption. Prevention is key, so make sure residents always have a reliable source of water and have systems in place for water sources to be checked frequently throughout the day. If an individual is getting up less often or drinking less due to another health challenge, be sure to offer them water regularly. In some cases, salt licks or mineral supplements left out in the rain have caused pools of briny water that, when consumed by pigs, can result in salt poisoning, so be sure to take steps to prevent this if there are salt licks or mineral supplements in their living space. 

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Skin Cancer

Non-melanoma skin cancer is seen quite a bit in sanctuary pig residents, especially light-skinned breeds, such breeds as Yorkshires and Landrace. This type of cancer results from prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays, which is why proper sun protection is so important. Lesions are commonly seen behind the ears, but can also develop on other areas of the body such as the shoulder, back, abdomen, and rear end and may look like bloody, scabby areas or discolored nodules. Though darker skinned pigs are less commonly affected by skin cancer, there is evidence that suggests that Durocs and potbellied pigs are more prone to melanoma than other breeds, though how common this is remains unclear. If you suspect skin cancer, work with your veterinarian to determine if diagnostic testing is recommended. In some cases the cancer can be removed. If this is not possible, be aware that these areas will need protection from the sun and may be prone to secondary infections and flystrike, depending on the nature of the lesion.

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Sunburn

Lighter skinned pigs are very prone to sunburn. The back of the ears are most commonly affected, but pigs can develop sunburn on any area of their body. Sunburns are painful and also  increase the risk of a pig developing non-melanoma skin cancer, so be sure to offer your residents proper sun protection. Sunburns can be treated with a pig-safe soothing ointment, but be sure to avoid anything that contains alcohol, as this will sting.

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Swine Pox

Caused by the swine pox virus, this disease only affects pigs and is distinct from other pox viruses. Pigs of all ages can be affected. Swine pox rarely causes serious systemic illness, though in the initial stage of the disease some pigs may develop a mild fever, have a reduced appetite, and appear dull. Affected pigs will develop skin lesions that can occur anywhere on the body but typically start out on the abdomen, inner legs, and groin. These lesions are circular or oval in shape and do not appear itchy. As lesions mature, they develop a brown/ black crust and usually heal uneventfully. In severe cases, pigs may develop lesions in their upper respiratory and digestive tracts, especially in instances where piglets are born with lesions or develop them shortly after birth. Pigs with swine pox may develop greasy pig or secondary bacterial dermatitis. Swine pox can be spread from pig to pig through pieces of scabs from pox lesions, and the swine pox virus can persist in scabs for up to a year. It can also be spread through nasal and oral secretions of infected individuals and by mosquitoes, biting flies, and pig lice if they feed in pox lesions. While there is no treatment, controlling vectors, especially lice, will help prevent this disease. Individuals who recover will be immune to the disease going forward. Swine pox is usually diagnosed based on the appearance of the lesions, but diagnostic testing of lesions can confirm the disease.

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Urinary Tract Issues (Urinary Calculi, Cystitis, and UTIs)

Pigs can develop various urinary tract issues such as urinary stones, cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), and urinary tract infections (UTIs). While all breeds can be affected by urinary tract issues, potbellied pigs are especially susceptible. Frequent urination can be a sign of a urinary tract issue. Though urinary blockages may not be as common in pigs as they are in goats, pigs can develop urinary calculi (stones) and can become obstructed as a result (especially males). If a pig is straining to urinate or appears unable to urinate, this could be a sign of a urinary obstruction and is an emergency. If left untreated, the individual’s bladder can rupture. Regular veterinary examinations and routine urinalysis can help diagnose urinary tract issues before they become more severe.

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Vitamin E/ Selenium Deficiency (Mulberry Heart Disease, Hepatosis Dietetica, White Muscle Disease)

There are three syndromes associated with vitamin E and/ or selenium deficiency in pigs- Mulberry Heart Disease (MDH), Hepatosis Dietetica (HD), and White Muscle Disease (WMD). Mulberry Heart Disease is the most common of these syndromes and causes sudden death in seemingly healthy individuals, typically in piglets who are between a few weeks old and four months old. On post-mortem examination, the heart has a mottled appearance with areas of necrosis and areas of hemorrhage throughout the myocardium. Vitamin E supplementation is thought to prevent deaths from this disease. Hepatosis dietetica also causes sudden death in seemingly healthy pigs, but affects the liver rather than the heart and is associated with selenium levels- the occurrence of this syndrome is rare since commercial pig foods increased their selenium levels. Supplementing with selenium can help reduce the severity of HD. White Muscle Disease is more common in other species, but can also occur in pigs, and will cause muscle weakness or stiffness. Vitamin E and selenium deficiencies can make pigs more susceptible to other diseases, and piglets who are deficient will be more susceptible to iron toxicity- administration of  iron dextran to prevent anemia can result in death in vitamin E and/ or selenium deficient piglets. If you suspect a vitamin E or selenium deficiency, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about testing your residents’ levels and ways to safely supplement.

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Worms

There are many different types of worms that can affect pigs, but the most common include roundworms, whipworms, and nodular worms. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about the common parasites in your area, best preventative strategies, and regular fecal testing and deworming protocols for your sanctuary. Worms that can affect pigs include:

Kidney Worms (Stephanurus dentatus)

This parasite can affect pigs of all ages, including fetuses if the mother is infected. Kidney worms are most common in tropical and subtropical climates where pigs have access to pastures that are shady and damp. These worms have a long lifecycle- it typically takes 9-12 months before mature kidney worms produce eggs after the pig is infected. Eggs are passed in the urine rather than the feces because infection occurs in and around the kidneys. Affected pigs typically have slow weight gain or show difficulty maintaining their weight. In some cases, pigs can die as a result of kidney worm infections. Kidney worm larvae cause significant damage during migration, with the liver being frequently affected, but other areas of the body, such as the lungs and kidneys, can be damaged as well. Diagnosis can be difficult, but urine samples can be examined for the presence of eggs.

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Large Roundworm (Ascaris suum)

This is the most common type of internal parasite that affects pigs, and while it is more severe in younger pigs, individuals of all ages can be affected. There has been some debate as to whether or not this parasite is the same as A. lumbricoides, the human large roundworm, but A. suum is now recognized as its own species. There is evidence that this parasite is zoonotic. Mature male ascarids can reach 25cm long and females can reach 40cm and lay large numbers of eggs, typically between 200,000 and 1 million eggs per day. Adult ascarids typically live in the pig for approximately 6 months before being expelled, though they may survive for over a year. An individual with a heavy infection can have hundreds of ascarids in their intestine. A. suum can be very hard to eradicate; eggs can survive in the environment for many years under optimal conditions, but prolonged exposure to full sunlight can destroy them. Though eggs can be resistant to disinfectants, they can be destroyed though intensive steam cleaning. Eggs hatch in the intestine after being ingested by a pig. Larvae then penetrate the wall and can spread to the liver, lungs, and other areas. Once in the lungs, eggs are coughed up, swallowed, and return to the intestines where they mature. Eggs will begin to pass in the feces 6-8 weeks after infection. Before this time, a fecal float will not be reliable. In young pigs, A. suum infections result in inflammation in the intestines and ascarids will compete with the host pig for nutrients, resulting in slowed growth or weight loss. Infections can also result in interstitial pneumonia, scarring of the liver, secondary bacterial infections, and in young pigs, infections can also result in mechanical obstruction of the intestines. Symptoms of A. suum infections in young pigs include slowed growth, rough coat, abdominal breathing (often called “thumping”), chronic coughing fits, and a pendulous abdomen. Mature pigs may lose weight and show similar respiratory signs as younger pigs. In some cases, mature worms may be found in feces making diagnosis easy. If you suspect an A. suum infection in your pig residents, be sure to discuss treatment options with your veterinarian and be sure to address eggs in the environment as well.

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Lungworms (Metastrongylus spp)

This infection can affect pigs of all ages, but younger pigs over 6 weeks old are most likely to develop heavy infections. The earthworm is the intermediate host, so this infection is most common when pigs are out on pasture and able to root up earthworms (typically when soil is soft and damp). Larvae can remain dormant in the earthworm for up to 18 months. Signs of a lungworm infection include chronic coughing, a rough coat, and failure to gain weight or weight loss. In cases where pigs develop a secondary pneumonia, they may show more severe respiratory issues including open mouth breathing and abdominal breathing (“thumping”). Fecal testing can reveal eggs, though counts are often low.

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Nodular worms (Oesophagostomum spp)

This parasite can affect pigs of all ages, but seems to be more common in pigs over 3 months old. While many infected pigs will remain asymptomatic, heavy infections can cause diarrhea and slowed growth. Nodular worms cause damage to the intestines and, in extreme cases, infections can result in thickening and necrosis of the intestinal wall. Fecal testing can identify eggs, but a larval culture may be required to differentiate between Oesphagostomum and Hyostrongylus. Talk to your veterinarian about the best treatment options, as there has been evidence of drug resistance in these parasites. Larvae can survive on pastures for up to a year, depending on the overall conditions, so be sure to talk to your veterinarian about how to prevent further infections.

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Thorny-Headed Worm (Macracanthorhynchus hirudinaceus)

This parasitic infection is more common in the southern U.S. than in the northern part of the country. Various species of beetle grubs serve as the intermediate host. Mild infections may not cause any obvious signs of illness, but pigs with heavy infections may develop a rough coat and have trouble putting on/ maintaining their weight. This parasite can perforate the intestines, and while the inflammatory response typically seals the perforation, in some instances the individual may develop peritonitis and die as a result. Diagnosis of M. hirudinaceus through fecal testing is possible but more difficult than when checking for many other types of parasites.

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Threadworm (Strongyloides ransomi)

This parasite is of most concern in warmer climates and can affect pigs of all ages, including fetuses, but typically only causes illness in young piglets. Pigs can become infected via colostrum containing infective larvae, other infected food, or through skin penetration. Individuals with mild infections may have no symptoms but in young piglets with severe infections, symptoms include diarrhea, dehydration, anemia, emaciation, and, in some cases, can result in death, especially in piglets younger than 2 weeks old. Threadworms differ from other parasitic worms in that there are both parasitic generations, which are only female, and also free-living generations of males and females that live in the environment. Fecal testing can be used to diagnose this parasite, but you should talk to your veterinarian about the proper way to collect and store fecal samples to ensure accurate testing.

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Whipworm (Trichuris suis)

This parasite can affect pigs of all ages but is most common in pigs younger than 6 months old. Mature pigs rarely show signs of infection unless under extreme stress. In general, many whipworm infections will not cause symptoms, but in severe cases may cause anorexia, dehydration, and diarrhea that contains blood and/ or mucus. In some cases, infections can result in death. Though fecal testing can be used to diagnose a whipworm infection, eggs are not present in feces until 7 weeks after infection, whereas symptoms are typically present 2-4 weeks after infection. The number of eggs present in a fecal sample also may not be reflective of the severity of the infection. If you suspect a whipworm infection, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about the best treatment options. They may recommend deworming without fecal testing due to the delay between symptoms and eggs being present. Be aware that eggs can remain infective in the soil for years.

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Non-Compassionate Source?

If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

Updated on March 9, 2021

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