Things That Are Toxic To Pigs

Photo by Kylli Kittus on Unsplash

Updated June 4, 2021

It can be a challenge to ensure pig residents have healthy, happy lives after coming to a sanctuary, and there are many different aspects of care to consider each day. Unfortunately, toxic and poisonous hazards are sometimes overlooked in the hustle and bustle of operating a sanctuary. While minor exposure to many of these toxins are unlikely to cause serious problems, large amounts can cause severe health issues and sadly, even death. There are also some toxins that are highly dangerous even in small amounts.

In order to help ensure you never run into this problem, we have compiled this resource of common plants and other potentially toxic things that have been known to be a problem for pigs.

Ask About Activated Charcoal

While prevention is imperative when it comes to protecting your residents from toxins, in the event that they accidentally ingest something toxic, the administration of an activated charcoal product may help absorb the toxins. This is not a magic cure and may not be appropriate in all situations, but it can be helpful to have on hand. We suggest asking your veterinarian if there are specific products they recommend for the various species in your care so you can have them ready should you need them. In addition to seeking urgent medical care, if a resident ingests a toxin, ask your veterinarian if administration of activated charcoal is advised.

Toxic Plants

This is not an exhaustive list. There may be particular plants that grow in your region that are not included on the list. Check with your region’s agricultural department to ensure you have a full picture of what could be problematic for pigs in your area!

The Open Sanctuary Project’s Global Toxic Plant Database

In addition to individual species resources on toxic plants, we now have The Open Sanctuary Project’s Global Toxic Plant Database where you can search for toxicity based on species and other factors! 

Plants That Are Toxic To Pigs

Adonis, Pheasant's Eye
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea 
  • cardiac arrhythmias

Bracken Fern
  • Horses and pigs are most affected by the thiaminase present in bracken.
  • severe depression
  • blindness
  • weakness
  • death

Creeping Buttercup
  • chronic inflammation
  • salivation
  • blisters/ulcers of mouth and digestive system
  • colic or gastric issues
  • diarrhea (sometimes bloody)

Castor Bean
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea 
  • increased thirst
  • convulsions
  • prostration
  • circulatory collapse

Cherry Trees
  • Wilted cherry tree leaves cause anxiety.
  • staggering
  • falling down
  • convulsions
  • rolling of the eyes
  • tongue hanging out
  • loss of sensation
  • dilated pupils
  • The pig can then become quiet, bloat and die within a few hours of ingestion.

China Berry, Persian Lilac, White Cedar
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea 
  • gaseous distension of the stomach
  • muscle tremors
  • ataxia
  • excitement followed by collapse and paralysis
  • seizures may occur
  • labored breathing
  • irregular respiratory rate 

Cocklebur
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • The spiny burs are also a mechanical source of injury to animals, causing oral injury when consumed. 
  • severe depression
  • ataxia
  • recumbency
  • convulsions
  • acute hepatitis 
  • severe hypoglycemia 

Crown Vetch
  • decreased appetite
  • musculoskeletal incoordination
  • staggering gait initially in the hind quarters. 
  • Potential for heart irregularity if the seeds are consumed in quantity.
  • rapid respiratory rate
  • difficulty in breathing if methemoglobin levels are high. 

Death Camus
  • excessive, foamy salivation
  • vomiting 
  • frequent urination/defecation
  • diarrhea
  • convulsions
  • muscle weakness
  • staggering
  • rapid/weak pulse and respiration
  • Death can occur within days after ingestion of 0.5-2% of body weight.

Fiddleneck
  • The toxin may take weeks, months or years to cause effect as it is toxin of accumulation.
  • liver dysfunction/non-function
  • neurologic symptoms
  • incoordination
  • tremors
  • jaundice
  • recumbency
  • eventually death

Golden Chain, Laburnum
  • stiffness
  • unsteady gait
  • violent tremors
  • recumbency
  • death 

Day-blooming Jasmine, Night-blooming Jasmine, Cestrum
  • chronic weight loss
  • stiffness
  • reluctance to move
  • lameness
  • recumbency
  • elevated blood calcium levels
  • Death results from progressive calcification of the soft tissues of the body. 

Animals consuming the non-calcinogenic Cestrum species (all Cestrum species except Cestrum diurnum) develop signs of:

  • liver failure
  • weight loss
  • depression
  • jaundice
  • hepatic encephalopathy

Horse Nettle, Bull Nettle
  • salivation
  • colic
  • intestinal stasis
  • diarrhea
  • muscle tremors
  • weakness
  • rapid heart rate
  • weak pulse
  • Hemolysis and anemia may be present in severe cases.
  • labored breathing
  • nasal discharge
  • depression
  • drowsiness
  • incoordination 
  • paralysis of rear legs
  • coma
  • death

Jimsonweed, Thorn Apple
  • dilation of the pupils
  • impaired vision
  • fast, weak pulse
  • nausea
  • loss of muscular coordination
  • violent, confrontational behaviors
  • trembling
  • milk is tainted

Leucaena, Whiteland Tree, Guaje, Huaxin, Koa Haole
  • decreased feed consumption, excessive salivation
  • musculoskeletal degeneration
  • poor weight gain 
  • congenital defects
  • enlarged thyroid glands (Goitre) in the fetus and mother 
  • hair loss 

Mustards
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain 
  • vomiting 
  • salivation
  • mouth ulcers
  • photosensitization 
  • blindness 
  • goiter
  • nitrate toxicosis
  • head shaking
  • aimless wandering

Nightshade
  • abdominal pain Photo by Daura Noble Martínez on Unsplash
  • dilation of pupils
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhea
  • loss of muscular coordination
  • unconsciousness
  • death

Oaks
  • Acorns and young shoots can cause severe poisoning. Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash
  • anorexia
  • constipation that develops into diarrhea
  • gastroenteritis
  • thirst
  • excessive urination

Pigweed
  • edema
  • nasal discharge
  • increased heart rate and respiration
  • bloat
  • kidney damage/failure
  • diarrhea, sometimes bloody
  • lack of appetite
  • weight loss
  • depression
  • weakness
  • muscle tremors
  • incoordination, staggering, or difficulty walking
  • lethargy
  • facial twitches

Pokeweed
  • Symptoms occur two or more hours after plants are eaten.
  • retching spasms
  • vomiting
  • purging
  • convulsions

Poison Hemlock
  • Death may occur within 15 minutes.
  • frothing at the mouth
  • uneasiness
  • pain
  • dilated pupils
  • clamping of jaws
  • grating of teeth
  • vomiting
  • weak, rapid pulse
  • diarrhea
  • bloating
  • convulsions
  • respiratory failure

Red Buckeye
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • hyperglycemia
  • proteinurea
  • muscle twitching
  • weakness 

Rhododendrons
  • anorexia
  • coughing
  • choking
  • retching
  • foaming at the mouth
  • vomiting
  • colic
  • paralysis
  • depression
  • groaning
  • muscle twitching
  • death

Sacred Datura, Tolguacha
  • excessive thirst
  • dry muzzle
  • decreased gastrointestinal activity
  • congenital defects
  • increased heart rate
  • disturbed vision due to pupil dilation

St Johns Wort
  • photosensitization
  • photodermatitis 
  • skin blisters
  • lesions on udders can cause pain and refusal to nurse
  • skin may peel or slough
  • sometimes in sheets
  • redness and swelling of eyes
  • avoidance of sunlight
  • higher pulse rate and temperature
  • seeking out of water
  • head-rubbing
  • anxiety 
  • occasionally convulsions
  • death
  • There may be a delay of up to three weeks after ingestion before symptoms appear.

Tansy Ragwort
  • nervousness
  • chills
  • pale mucous membranes
  • loss of coat luster
  • strong, rapid pulse
  • high temperature
  • staggering gait
  • weakness
  • death

Tobacco
  • shaking
  • twitching
  • staggering
  • paralysis
  • convulsions
  • heavy breathing
  • excessive salivation
  • diarrhea
  • birth defects
  • death

Water Hemlock
  • Death may occur within 15 minutes.
  • frothing at the mouth
  • uneasiness
  • pain
  • dilated pupils
  • clamping of jaws
  • grating of teeth
  • vomiting
  • weak, rapid pulse
  • diarrhea
  • bloating
  • convulsions
  • respiratory failure

Other Potential Pig Toxins

Algae

Blue-green algae, which is most often found in stagnant, slow-moving water when temperatures are high, can poison pigs. Symptoms generally develop quite rapidly and may resemble an allergic reaction. Convulsions may occur, but more frequently the a pig may sink to the ground, and die without struggling. Smaller amounts of poison cause weakness and staggering, followed by recovery. In some instances, apparent recovery from an attack is followed in a few days or weeks by evidence of photosensitization. There may be inflammation of the muzzle, the skin of the ear, the udder, or other parts of the body. Jaundice is often seen, and constipation is a common symptom. Such cases usually recover under good care.

Cantharidiasis (Blister Beetle Poisoning)

Blister beetles contain cantharidin, a toxic substance that is used as a defense mechanism against predators. There are more than 200 different species, and they can be found from Mexico to Southern Canada, and from the east coast of the United States as far west as New Mexico. Cantharidin can severely injure or kill pigs when even a small amount is ingested. Pigs come into contact with cantharidin by ingesting alfalfa hay that has been infested by blister beetles. The oily substance can contaminate the hay even if the beetles were crushed into the feedstuff. Crushing or chemically eradicating the beetles does not diminish the toxin potency.

Inspecting individual flakes of alfalfa hay before providing them to residents can help reduce the likelihood of poisoning. Dispose of any contaminated flakes, even if you have removed the beetle, as the toxin can still be left behind.  First-cutting hay is less likely to be contaminated than hay harvested later in the year, as the insects likely haven’t yet swarmed by then. Harvest alfalfa before it fully blooms to reduce the chances of beetle contamination. Hay is less likely to be contaminated by crushed beetles when harvested with a self-propelled mower or windrower. Crimping hay crushes the beetles into the hay.

Pigs that ingest a massive amount of toxin may show signs of severe shock, and unfortunately, die within hours. Symptoms of sublethal poisoning include depression, diarrhea, elevated temperatures, increased pulse and breathing rates, and dehydration. There is also frequent urination, especially after the first 24 hours. If cantharid poisoning is suspected, a veterinarian should be contacted immediately.

If you suspect Blister Beetle Poisoning, contact your veterinarian immediately. If early veterinary care is provided, afflicted pigs have a chance of recovery.

Hardware Disease

Hardware Disease refers to the injuries that can result from any animal resident eating something they shouldn’t, especially pieces of human-made hardware like nails, screws, and staples. Hardware disease can have devastating effects on any resident. Check out our resource on Hardware Disease prevention here.

Lead Toxicity

Lead was once used in paints and pesticides, and can also be found from natural environmental sources. Even if you have never used any products containing lead, it may still be present in old barn or fence paint, or in the soil. Places where old machinery and leaded gas have been stored may also have caused contamination, as would old treated lumber and railroad ties. Pigs may ingest the lead in the environment through the consumption of grass, clover, and dandelion or from chewing or licking on tainted surfaces.

Having the soil tested at your sanctuary is an easy way to learn if the environment is safe for residents. You can check with a local environmental conservation service, or agricultural extension office to inquire about testing. It is usually a fairly quick and easy process. Prevent your residents from accessing buildings and fences with old paint, as they may chew or lick these objects and ingest lead.

Pigs with low levels of lead toxicity do not generally exhibit signs. In severe cases, you may see the following symptoms:

  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • lethargy and weakness
  • incoordination
  • anemia
  • unusual manure consistency or diarrhea
  • respiratory distress or blindness

Consult a veterinarian immediately if you suspect an pig has ingested lead or is beginning to show symptoms of lead poisoning.

Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are a toxin produced by molds (fungi) that are harmful to many animals. Mycotoxins can affect pigs through contaminated food or bedding. Moist, warm environments make a perfect recipe for mold reproduction. The type and amount of mycotoxin a pig digests affects whether the health issues are immediate and short-lived or may become chronic issues. Pregnant pigs and young pigs are more susceptible. Some general signs of poisoning include:

  • appetite loss
  • weight loss
  • respiratory issues
  • increased susceptibility to infectious diseases (poor immune function)
  • poor growth rate

Prevention is key in avoiding serious health issues. Luckily, there are a number of steps you can take to help ensure resident pigs do not suffer the ill effects of mycotoxin poisoning:

  • Be sure to keep food, grain, and hay storage areas clean, dry, and cool.
  • Try to keep food storage areas protected from mice and rats and other wildlife, as they can chew holes in food bags, increasing the likelihood of grain being exposed to damp conditions.
  • Always feed the oldest sources of food first. Try to use up open food bags within a few weeks after opening in the winter and in even less time in the summer.
  • Clean any storage bins or cans thoroughly to remove old grain that may get stuck in cracks and crevices.
  • Check with your food manufacturer or supplier to see if they regularly test for the presence of mycotoxins in grains before mixing food. If they do not, avoid using them and find another supplier.

If you are concerned about the possibility of mycotoxin contamination, have your food stores tested. This could be especially important if you have a pig that shows initial signs of mycotoxin exposure.

Pesticides, Herbicides, And Rodenticides

It may not come as a surprise that herbicides and rodenticides can cause toxicosis in pigs if ingested. If pigs ingest plants that have been sprayed with phenoxy acid herbicides, they can become ill or even die. For this reason, it is imperative that pigs are not given treated plants or are allowed access to pastures that have been treated with herbicides.

While rats and mice can pose challenges for sanctuaries, it is important to respect them and use compassionate mitigation practices. Many rodenticides are anticoagulants and act by preventing the blood to clot. These products may be appealing to pigs as well, and they may attempt to lick or eat them if discovered. For this reason, it is imperative that they do not come into contact with these poisons. There are many new and innovative ways to address rodent populations that are more effective and compassionate.

Pesticides may affect the nervous system in pigs and can be fatal if not treated with the antidote. Early treatment is critical. If you suspect pigs may have ingested any of the poisons above, contact your veterinarian immediately. Blood tests may confirm poisoning.

Salt Poisoning 

Salt poisoning can occur in pigs either as a consequence of water deprivation or from sudden ingestion of too much salt. Following sudden heavy rains, salt poisoning can occur in swine after ingestion of salty brine from overflowing, loose-salt boxes provided for other animals. Symptoms include:

  • aimless wandering
  • blindness
  • deafness
  • head pressing
  • pigs sometimes “dog-sit”
  • slowly raising nose upward and backward
  • falling on side in spasms
  • paddling of the legs 
  • Gastroenteritis is more likely in pigs consuming salty brine and may be accompanied by diarrhea.

Poisoning in water-deprived pigs can occur in pigs consuming a proper level of salt but it is more likely if the salt level in the feed is excessive. Signs often are precipitated, or worsened, by allowing the pigs sudden, unlimited access to water. Water deprivation can occur for many reasons, but commonly may be the result of freezing of the water source, plugged water nipples, or inadvertently leaving a water valve closed. 

Selenium

Selenium is a highly toxic element when taken in quantities larger than what is needed for normal metabolism. Selenium is a unique trace element in that toxicity can occur at concentrations only slightly higher than those required for normal metabolism. In most plants, the level of selenium is related to levels in the soil. The symptoms of selenium poisoning are: dullness, stiffness of joints, lameness, loss of hair from their body or tail, and hoof deformities. 

Snakebites

Venomous snakebites are not common, but when they occur, should be treated seriously and immediately. It is possible for a snake to bite several times, so if you notice a snakebite, look for others. Snake venom varies by species, and the severity of a bite can also be influenced by size, age, and the number of bites. Most venoms can impair blood clotting and damage the heart, while some others contain neurotoxins. Signs of a snakebite may include:

  • pain
  • swelling at the bite site
  • one or more puncture wounds
  • sloughing of tissues near the bite site
  • cardiac arrhythmias
  • impaired ability for their blood to clot
  • shock
  • collapse
  • paralysis
  • death

Seek veterinary care immediately if a pig is bitten by a venomous snake. Do NOT try to suck the venom out or place a tourniquet. Keep the pig calm while seeking immediate veterinary care. Depending on the severity of the bit, treatments may include antivenin, pain medications, fluid therapy, wound treatment, tetanus vaccination, and antibiotics. Check out our Compassionate Wildlife Practices At Your Animal Sanctuary for some tips on how to dissuade snakes from your property.

Wood Stains And Paints

Some wood stains and paints can be toxic to pigs. Pigs may try to chew on painted surfaces and can become ill if the stain or paint is toxic. Try and purchase paints and stains that are specially made for barns and fencing and listed as animal or “livestock” friendly.

Foods That You Should Not Feed To Pigs

Use Caution
You may have experience successfully feeding one of the foods on this list to your pig residents. For this list, we erred on the side of caution, including foods that are well known to be toxic to others that some have had success in feeding to residents but still are known to contain potential toxins. Some foods are only problematic in large doses or in their raw state or only their seeds or roots. Some are very toxic while others have milder effects on the individual. There is a lot of information on the internet, much of it conflicting or lacking the necessary detail to prove especially helpful. Having a better understanding of which parts or in what state some foods are toxic can help you make safe choices for your residents. Always use caution and speak with your veterinarian.

In addition to the above, here are some foods that you should not feed to pigs:

  • Almond (Do not feed leaves or seeds of wild or bitter almonds.)
  • Avocado (Do not feed the skin or pit.)
  • Brassicas -broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts (Use caution. Don’t feed large amounts as this can cause stomach upset and never feed seeds or roots.)
  • Cassava (Cassava must be cooked or processed properly; it is toxic in its raw state.)
  • Cherries (Do not feed the leaves and pits.)
  • Chocolate (While concentrations of the toxin theobromine and caffeine are fairly lower in many chocolate products, it can affect individuals differently so avoiding it is the safest bet.)
  • Citrus (Citrus can cause gastric distress in larger amounts or if fed regularly)
  • Corn stalks (These are high in nitrates and should be avoided.) 
  • Kale (Do not feed roots or seeds.)
  • Nightshade “vegetables” (Use caution. Do not feed green, immature fruits or leaves, vines or roots of any nightshade vegetable, such as eggplant, tomatillo, pepper, or tomatoes.)
  • Parsley (Parsley contains furocoumarins which can cause photosensitisation)
  • Celery (Celery contains furocoumarins which can cause photosensitisation)
  • Parsnip (Do not feed tops or skin. Safer when peeled and cooked.)
  • Potato (The skin, particularly green skin, and “eyes” contain glycoalkaloids and solanine toxins; leaves and vines can be toxic as well.)
  • Raw cashews (“Raw” cashews often found at grocery stores have already been steamed to make it safe to eat. Actual raw cashews contain the toxin urushiol and should not be fed to pig residents.)
  • Raw beans (Beans should be soaked for hours and boiled to destroy lectins.)
  • Rhubarb (There are a number of factors that affect levels of toxins in rhubarb; the leaves are particularly toxic but it is better to avoid the whole plant as it contains oxalic acid. Cooking it may reduce toxin levels in the stems.)
  • Sweet potatoes (Raw sweet potatoes can cause some digestive issues in some pigs)
  • Tomato (The leaves, vine, and immature fruits should be avoided.)
  • Un-Pitted stone fruits (Pits can lodge in the intestines and pits contain toxins.)
  • Unshelled walnuts (Shards of cracked shells can pierce the pharynx so they are best avoided.)
Pigs Should Not Eat Processed Foods

Although there is a common narrative that pigs will happily eat any leftovers of human foods, such as baked goods and other processed items, you should not feed these things to pigs! Processed foods are ultimately not going to provide pigs with the appropriate nutrition and responsible caloric density for their needs, and can contribute to a number of health issues such as obesity and foot problems.

While this list isn’t exhaustive, it can certainly help you keep resident pigs safe, healthy, and happy!

SOURCES:

Foods That Are Known To Be Potentially Toxic To Pigs | Mini Pig Info

Is There Lead In Your Pasture? | Of Horse

Animal Friendly Barn And Fence Paint For Horse Stalls | Stuff For Petz

Toxic Food and Plants | American Mini Pig 

Blister Beetles | North Carolina State University Extension Service (Non-Compassionate Source)  

The Danger Of Mycotoxins | The Horse (Non-Compassionate Source)

Toxin Topic: Snakebites And Horses | The Horse (Non-Compassionate Source)

Plants Poisonous To Livestock In The Southern US | University Of Arkansas 

Plants Poisonous to Livestock | Cornell Department Of Animal Science 

(Non-Compassionate Source)

Plants Poisonous To Livestock In The Western States | USDA

(Non-Compassionate Source)

Guide To Poisonous Plants | Colorado State University (Non-Compassionate Source)

Salt Poisoning | Iowa State University (Non-Compassionate Source)

Formulating Pig Diets: Selenium toxicity, deficiency | WattAgNet

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 June 4, 2021

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