This resource has been A member of The Open Sanctuary Project’s staff has given this resource a full review and provided updates where necessary. by a member of The Open Sanctuary Project’s team as of May 19, 2022
Much like the common advice given to humans, it’s important to regularly check the health of pig residents with a routine physical examination rather than waiting until someone is showing signs of distress or illness. Not only will this help you get to know what all aspects of a healthy pig look and feel like, but familiarizing a pig with human handling might help them stay calm and allow you to perform certain treatments or procedures more easily. Be prepared to check them over every six to eight weeks*! For more information on why regular health examinations are important, check out our resource here.
Before conducting a health examination, it’s helpful to gather any supplies you may need and have them arranged nearby for easy access. Having everything you will likely need nearby can make the examination go more smoothly and, in the event that the individual must be restrained in some way for any part of the exam, will reduce the amount of time they must be restrained. If you are performing an exam on someone with a known health issue, you may need additional supplies than those listed below. Otherwise, supplies to have on hand during pig health exams include:
- Recordkeeping supplies
- Hoof nippers, trimming shears, hoof file, and/or rotary tools such as a Hoof Boss or Dremel
- Styptic powder or other blood stop product
- Liquid hoof bandage
- Gigli saw wire, handles, wire cutters, and eye protection (if you are trained to trim tusks)
- Gauze squares (non-sterile is typically fine, but there may be times when sterile gauze is necessary)
- Exam gloves
- Pig-safe topical disinfectant (such as dilute chlorhexidine)
- Saline flush
- Pig-safe ointments or creams such as a triple antibiotic ointment or silver sulfadiazine cream 1% (SSD)
- Cotton-tipped applicators
- Headlamp, penlight, or flashlight
- Thermometer and lubricant (good to have on hand in case you suspect someone is ill based on exam findings)
Conducting The Exam
Before beginning the actual exam, it’s a good idea to take a few minutes to observe the individual. If you use some form of restraint for the examination, it’s a good idea to take time to observe everyone in the herd prior to restraining anyone since restraint of one resident might put others on edge. Take note of their behavior, activity level, and general appearance. If they are up, take note of how they are standing and how they are moving.
During regularly scheduled health examinations, your goal is to check every inch of the pig. However, depending on your method for performing health exams (for example whether you use some form of restraint or check individuals while they enjoy a belly rub), you may find that you cannot check the individual’s entire body during one “session”. If this is the case, be sure to take good notes so you can keep track of the areas that still need to be checked (perhaps during a relaxing belly rub you were able to check the individual’s feet and entire left side, but because they were lying on their right side, were unable to check this side of their body and will need to check this area later). In some cases, particularly if restraint is involved, it can be helpful to have multiple caregivers checking the individual at once in order to make the process go faster and reduce the amount of time they must be restrained. In this case, be sure to have clear expectations of which areas each person should be checking so that nothing is missed.
Up next, we’ll go over important components of a health examination, which do not need to be completed in this particular order.
In addition to actual or estimated weights, pay close attention to their body condition. We recommend working with your veterinarian to ensure that anyone assessing body condition is properly trained and is using the same scoring system. Signs a resident is overweight include fat rolls over the eyes, bulging jowls, and fat that hangs down over the legs. Signs a resident is too thin include prominent shoulder blades and hip bones.
Unexplained weight loss should be explored with your veterinarian to determine the cause which could be any number of things including parasitism, dental disease, or other diseases. If someone appears to be gaining weight and moving away from their ideal body condition, it’s important to make sure you aren’t overfeeding them or feeding them a diet that is too high in protein or fat. Excess weight can put pig residents at risk of serious health challenges such as arthritis and hoof issues. Keep in mind that when feeding a group of pigs together, weight gain and weight loss could also be explained by social dynamics, with individuals being “pushed out” or too timid to eat their fair share or with certain individuals eating a bit more than they should. In these cases, spreading out the food or separating certain individuals to eat with just their designated portion may be all that is needed.
Check that the inner membrane of the eyelid is moist and pink. A pale color could indicate Anemia is a condition in which the blood is deficient in red blood cells, in hemoglobin, or in total volume.. Their pupils should be about the same size and react properly to bright light (get smaller and then return to normal).
It’s not unusual for a pig to have a modest amount of earwax or debris in their ears, and this can be gently removed using a piece of gauze. Be careful not to scratch the inside of their ear with long nails or rings on your finger. If you opt for a wet piece of gauze to clean the ear, wring out as much liquid as possible to avoid fluid getting trapped in the ear.
Though it may seem like an overwhelming amount of factors to be aware of, once you’ve gotten to know a pig and what good pig health looks like, you’ll be an excellent pig health ally in no time!
Writing It All Down
As you may know, regular documentation is a critical part of responsible sanctuary animal care. In order to maximize the value of your pig health examinations, we’ve developed a free printable pig health exam form for sanctuaries and rescues!
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