If you’ve spent much time looking through our offerings, you likely know the important role routine health examinations play in keeping residents healthy and catching signs of concern early. Performing health examinations regularly is imperative, but this should not be the only tool you use to monitor your residents’ health and well-being. The importance of thoughtful daily observation cannot be overstated. While some issues may be difficult to detect without a hands-on physical examination, there are other potential signs of concern that could be missed during an exam, particularly those that manifest as slight changes in behavior or activity. By incorporating both daily observation and routine health examinations into your care protocols, you are more likely to catch issues that develop in the period between health examinations, as well as issues that are unlikely to be detected without a hands-on exam.
When it comes to daily observation, the keyword is “thoughtful”. Daily observation of residents must be more than just looking at them. Anyone caring for an animal, regardless of their species or breed, should be trained to observe the individuals in their care for behaviors and physical signs that are abnormal for the species, keeping in mind issues that are common in a particular species or breed and their warning signs. Of equal importance is getting to know the individuals being cared for and watching for things that are out of the ordinary for that particular individual. To read more about refining your observation skills, check out our resource here.
Familiarize Yourself With “Normal”
In order to identify signs of concern, it’s helpful to first consider how a healthy pig typically looks and acts. While all pigs are unique individuals, there are some general characteristics that most healthy pigs will present. However, there is going to be some variation based on the individual’s breed and their unique characteristics, so it’s also important to learn what is “normal” for each individual in your care.
With that in mind, in general, a healthy pig should:
- Be bright and alert, though they do take naps throughout the day and may spend quite a bit of time in bed when the weather is cold
- Have clear, bright, open eyes (pigs who are overweight will often have rolls of skin and fat covering their eyes, which will be their “normal” until they lose weight)
- Have erect ears unless floppy ears are typical for a particular breed/individual
- Walk with an even A specific way of moving and the rhythmic patterns of hooves and legs. Gaits are natural (walking, trotting, galloping) or acquired meaning humans have had a hand in changing their gaits for "sport".
- Stand and walk with a fairly straight back
- Have an even respiratory pattern with quiet breathing sounds
- Be excited to eat and finish their meals
- Have a relatively clean bum (unless they’ve been wallowing in the mud!)
- Urinate and defecate with ease and without signs of pain
- Have well-formed feces
- And generally appear symmetric
Potential Signs Of Concern
Now that we’ve got an idea of what is “normal”, let’s look at potential signs of concern.
Because every resident is an individual, it’s important to get to know the unique individuals in your care so you can recognize when they are not acting like themselves. Caregivers who really spend time getting to know their residents in terms of their personality, typical behaviors, physical characteristics, and routines can sometimes catch when something is wrong before there are clear signs of illness or distress. Sometimes it’s something as simple as an individual sleeping away from their friends or not waiting eagerly for breakfast in the morning as they usually do. Any time you notice a change in an individual’s normal routine, it’s a good idea to examine the individual and keep a close eye on them.
While not an exhaustive list, during your daily observation of your residents, be on the lookout for the following:
- Tooth grinding (which can be a sign of pain)
- Painful vocalizations
- Sensitivity to being touched (generally or in a specific area)
- Changes in gait including limping, stiffness, dragging, weakness, or trying to keep weight off a particular limb
- Swelling above the hoof and/or cracks in the hoof
- “Dipping” (falling down on hind legs)
- Incoordination or circling
- Changes in posture such as hunching their back, standing with legs closer or farther apart than normal, or sitting in an unusual position (such as “dog-sitting”)
- Changes in activity level such as sitting, lying down, or sleeping more than usual (activity level is often affected by the temperature, so it’s helpful to consider an individual’s activity level both in the context of what is typically normal for them and what their herd mates are doing)
- Not finishing meals, eating more slowly, dropping food, complete disinterest in food, or acting excited about food but then not actually eating
- Not drinking water or being excessively thirsty
- Head tilting or constantly shaking their head
- Body tremors
- Excessive scratching
- Skin changes such as lumps, lesions, scabbing, discoloration (in isolated patches or more generally), or oozing sores
- Changes in hair coat (they do shed, so hair loss is not always abnormal)
- Open-mouth breathing, labored breathing, elevated respiratory rate, coughing, wheezing, or other abnormal breathing sounds
- Nasal or ocular discharge
- Abnormal smell to their breath or body
- Vomiting or drooling (drooling while anticipating food is normal)
- Abnormal droppings such as diarrhea (a dirty rear could be a sign that the individual has diarrhea), bloody stool, dark-colored stool, worms in stool, or excessively hard stool
- Straining during urination or defecation
- Vaginal discharge
- Weight loss or a loss of body condition
- Limp or floppy ears in a pig who typically has upright ears
- Abnormal body temperature (in some cases, individuals may feel excessively warm or cool to the touch, or their extremities may feel cold). If you have concerns about a pig’s body temperature, you should take their rectal temperature (different sources offer different normal temperature ranges for pigs. According to Merck Veterinary Manual, the normal range is 101.6-103.6, but some sources offer a lower range than this, particularly for mini pig breeds. Dr. Kristie Mozzachio provides a normal rectal temperature range of 99.7-102 for adult mini pigs).
- Pale and/or dry gums
- Pale mucous membranes
- Avoiding or being rejected by herd mates
- Changes to their daily routine or general behavior
If you see any of the signs above or anything else out of the ordinary, be sure to investigate further and consult with your veterinarian as needed. Depending on the severity and whether or not there are multiple signs of concern, the individual may need to be seen by a veterinarian immediately. In some cases, conducting a health examination, either in full or in part, can help you to gather more information about the individual to share with your veterinarian so they can help determine the best course of action.
Now that you have an idea of what to look for, be sure to build thoughtful daily observation into your caregiving routine if you haven’t already! The more you observe your residents, the better you’ll become at differentiating between “normal” and potentially concerning. When in doubt, we recommend contacting your veterinarian for guidance.
Examination Of The Surgical Patient (Pig), from A domesticated animal that is used by humans either for their body or what comes from their body. Farmed animals have fewer regulations governing their welfare than other species in many countries. Surgery, Second Edition