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Techniques And Practices Necessary For Responsible Pig Care

A happy big pig outside with their face close to the camera.
Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Updated March 9, 2021

If you are planning on providing lifelong care for pigs, either in a sanctuary or microsanctuary environment, the hands-on training you’ll need and the standard care practices you must develop for your residents are much more rigorous than what non-sanctuary pig resources may have led you to believe! Taking in pigs without having the appropriate skills and policies in place could threaten their health and well-being, as well as the health of other residents at your sanctuary.

This introductory resource is not intended to dissuade you from rescue, but merely provide a perspective on what a sanctuary must be able to commit to in order to provide the best life for a pig.

Pig Care That Should Be Taught By An Expert

Responsible pig care means being able to fully understand and perform safe handling and healthcare techniques, as well as being able to react rapidly and effectively in the event of an emergency. Anyone who is in charge of regularly providing care to pigs should be taught the following techniques from a compassionate pig care expert or a qualified veterinarian.

Healthcare Basics

  • Performing a pig health examination: All of the pigs in your care need to be regularly examined from their head to their hooves in order to catch any health problems early on for successful treatment. An expert or veterinarian can give you hands-on training so you can give examinations quickly, efficiently, and with the least stress possible for the pig.
  • Safely being around and handling a pig: There are a number of nuances that an expert must demonstrate for you in order to prevent potentially serious health and safety consequences from mishandling a pig or misjudging their behavior. Certain individual pigs may require unique handling techniques due to their size, personality, history of trauma, or health status.
  • Understanding the safe range of joint motions in pigs: When performing health examinations on pigs, it’s important to check their leg and joint flexibility and check for signs of pain, infection, inflammation, or arthritis. You must have an expert demonstrate for you how to check the range of motion in their bodies without causing injury and teach you what a healthy pig looks and feels like. This way, you can be the best advocate possible for them if something feels or looks amiss.
  • Evaluating a pig’s foot and hoof health: Pigs can develop a number of foot and hoof problems throughout their lives, either as a result of overgrown hooves, environmental problems, damage, infection, overweightness, or old age. Failing to identify pig foot issues early could lead to permanent injury and a greatly reduced quality of life for the individual pig.
  • Evaluating a pig’s droppings: Abnormal pig droppings can be a warning sign that something is amiss in them, be it a problem with their nutrition, an illness, or a parasitic infection. It’s important to learn what healthy pig poop typically looks like for the individual pigs in your care throughout the day so that abnormalities can be caught and evaluated early on. Early intervention for many pig health issues can be lifesaving.

Pig Treatments

  • Cleaning and trimming a pig’s hooves and tusks: Safe hoof cleaning, crack repair, and hoof trimming (and tusk trimming for male pigs) are critical health essentials for pigs that someone at your sanctuary must be able to regularly perform, or a qualified compassionate pig expert must be regularly brought in to perform trimming. Improper technique could hurt or permanently injure a pig. Part of this may mean getting trained to safely rope snare and secure a pig without causing pain or unnecessary discomfort.
  • Foot illness management in pigs: A wide variety of foot and hoof illnesses are highly common in pigs. If left untreated, the illness could spread up a pig’s leg and cause permanent damage, or the pig’s gait compensation to relieve pain could cause serious injury on its own. Treatment is dependent on the kind of infection and how much it has progressed into the pig’s foot. Failure to learn appropriate foot and hoof treatment techniques could potentially lead to greater health problems than the infection itself, and failure to get serious medical intervention when necessary could lead to the end of the pig’s life.
  • Treating mites, flies, parasites, and lice in pigs: Although it may seem straightforward to treat individuals for these problems, you should have someone demonstrate dosage and technique until you are fully comfortable with treatment (and know when not to treat for parasites to prevent resistant strains from propagating). Some pigs may become seriously ill or die if they are exposed to too much pesticide or anti-parasitic medication. Flies around pigs must also be managed with effective strategies, as they can spread serious diseases like pink eye.
  • Administering oral and injectable medications and gastric intubation for pigs: You must be shown how to safely administer a pill to a pig without causing them undue stress or accidentally choking them, and must also be shown how to administer injectable medications. While oral medications are often preferred and administration is less stressful to both the pig and the human, there are instances when an injection is necessary, so you must learn how to administer properly. Gastric intubation (such as to administer colostrum to a piglet who cannot get it from nursing) absolutely must be taught by an expert. The threshold for lethal mistakes is very high due to their biology.
  • Administering rectal fluids: A pig who does not feel well may become dehydrated which can be quite dangerous and can lead to salt poisoning.  You must be shown how to safely administer rectal fluids to a pig so that you are able to maintain proper hydration in a pig who will not drink on their own.

Necessary Practices For Responsible Pig Guardianship

In order to provide the best care possible for pigs, you must have the proper policies and practices in place, in addition to providing them with the best environment and nutrition possible.

Responsible Policies

  • Establishing regular record keeping policies for pigs: Keeping detailed records of pig residents from intake until they leave your sanctuary is a crucial part of giving them the best healthcare as well as providing an extra layer of legal protection to your sanctuary in certain circumstances.
  • Creating and following a new pig arrival protocol: Herd safety means following practical biosecurity and quarantine guidelines when you bring a new resident pig onto your sanctuary grounds, including evaluating newcomers for foot diseases and parasites. Failing to have an appropriate intake process could pose a serious risk to your residents.
  • Daily checkups for each individual: Although it does not have to be as rigorous as a health examination, each of the individual pigs you take in must be visually looked over at least once a day (such as during feeding time) to watch out for early signs of illness or other health concerns. It is not responsible to take in pigs and not be able to provide this minimum standard of care for each of them.
  • Establishing a vaccine protocol: Talk to your veterinarian to see what vaccines they recommend based on your area.  Many sanctuaries vaccinate residents for Rabies annually, but your veterinarian may recommend additional vaccines as well. Be sure your veterinarian fully understands your mission and how the sanctuary functions. There are certain vaccines that might be recommended to most of their clients, but are not necessary for pigs who will never breed or who spend most of their lives at the sanctuary rather than frequently going to exhibitions where they are exposed to many other animals with unknown backgrounds.
  • Regular fecal testing of pigs: Pigs can fall victim to a host of dangerous ailments and diseases that may not present symptoms visibly until they’re too late to treat. You must create a fecal testing schedule and follow it for all pigs in order to head off health challenges early on.
  • Creating a plan for isolation or quarantine: If a pig becomes ill or injured and needs time away from the rest of your residents to heal or prevent the spread of disease, you will need an appropriate area reserved to isolate them. Without space to isolate an ill or injured resident, you risk the spread of disease or further injury to the individual.

What You Must Provide For Pigs

Responsible pig care means making sure that their food, water, and shelter is provided and maintained to a high standard. Many home pig setups are not designed with the pig’s best interest in mind and cannot be assumed to be an ideal living space for them. Similarly, the nutrition you provide for them should be considered in terms of what works best for them, rather than what’s easiest!

  • Providing appropriate living spaces for pigs: You must give pigs an appropriate living space, with sunlight, clean air, appropriate temperature and humidity control, and pig-safe fencing. They should have a safe place to roam, wallow in mud, and enjoy enriching activities. Forcing pigs to live in cramped, dark, extremely muddy, dirty, icy, or dangerous conditions is unacceptable. You should never take in so many pigs that they lack adequate personal space!
  • Providing appropriate food, water, and supplementation for pigs: You must feed pigs a healthy diet suited to their individual needs. They need clean water that doesn’t freeze over in the winter, appropriate food that keeps their weight gain in check, and, depending on the specific needs of your residents, nutritional supplementation. It’s unacceptable to knowingly feed them food that causes health problems or excessive weight gain, such as junk food or scraps. You must be willing to adjust their food and supplementation if a pig needs their diet modified to rectify health challenges as well. A sanctuary should never feed a pig with food designed to make them larger for human consumption.
  • Regular cleaning and maintenance of pig living spaces: You must establish and follow a regular cleaning schedule for the spaces where pigs live and sleep. Ignoring regular cleaning and bedding replacement can cause pigs to develop a host of avoidable illnesses such as foot infections, parasites, pneumonia, or social challenges like bullying.
  • Protecting residents from predators: It is unacceptable to create living spaces that do not offer responsible protection from regional predators. You must implement strategies to prevent predators from entering their living space and regularly review the effectiveness of your efforts. Familiarize yourself with the various predators in your area to assess whether or not certain residents should be closed in overnight for additional protection. Young piglets are especially vulnerable, so it’s a good idea to close them into a safe space overnight until they get a bit bigger, and depending on the predators in your region, smaller potbellied pigs may require additional consideration as well.
  • Creating and maintaining indoor living spaces with rodent-proofing in mind: Just as you must protect your residents from predators, it is important to create indoor living spaces that discourage or make it difficult for rodents to take up residence in them. Mice and rats can not only potentially spread disease to residents, they can also cause safety issues by damaging electrical wires (which could result in a fire) or getting into insulation (and creating opportunities for residents to ingest insulation). Severe rat infestations can also result in physical harm to vulnerable residents such as young piglets or individuals with mobility issues. Be sure to design the space so that any insulation and electrical wires are contained in such a way that rodents cannot access them, avoid (or regularly check) gaps that could easily be turned into a cozy nest, and make sure any supplies that may attract rodents are sealed in metal bins (especially food). Making the space completely “rodent-proof” likely is not possible since the space will be open for residents to come and go for at least a portion of the day, but you can take steps to make it less likely that they will build themselves a cozy home inside your residents’ home.
  • Regular hardware disease mitigation: You need to keep pigs safe from hardware disease by regularly checking their areas for potentially dangerous materials that they may ingest.
  • Safe pasture that is regularly checked for hazards: It is important that you check the pigs’ pasture regularly and remove any hazards such balloons that may have blown in, other foreign objects, or wild animal carcasses to prevent ingestion of dangerous materials.  A pig who ingests an animal bone can develop serious health issues including a stricture or intestinal perforation.
  • Honoring the needs of younger and older residents, and those with health challenges: Pigs who are very young, older, or have certain health challenges, have unique care needs that must be accommodated in order to thrive. You should not take in pigs with special care requirements until you understand what they need and have an environment and policies in place for them.
  • Providing appropriate veterinary care and medication for pigs: When you give sanctuary to a pig, you are committing to providing them a high quality of life and individual care. Part of this means having a qualified veterinarian who understands pig care and is willing to treat health problems, safely spay and neuter pigs, manage pain, and provide compassionate end of life care when necessary. It is unacceptable to take in pigs and deny them medical attention or withhold pain management.

This is not an exhaustive list of everything you must know and provide for pigs in a sanctuary environment. Individual pigs may have their own needs and challenges that require additional training and policies to give them the best life possible!

What Does 'Unacceptable' Mean?

At The Open Sanctuary Project, unacceptable means that we cannot condone (or condone through omission) a certain practice, standard, or policy. See a more detailed explanation here.

SOURCES:

Pig Care | Farm Sanctuary

Updated on September 1, 2021

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