Updated June 4, 2021
Because they are almost never given the chance to live anywhere close to their natural lifespan of up to 10 years or longer (up to 20 years for “mini” pigs!), there is not very much publicly available information about how to accommodate the needs of older pigs, especially those raised for their flesh. Due to the size of their bodies and results of intensive breeding practices, there are a number of areas where a sanctuary may have to make changes to help their older pig friends thrive at their forever home.
As a pig ages, they may face more health challenges, so it’s especially important to be vigilant in monitoring their health through regular health checkups, fecal examinations, and weigh-ins to effectively treat issues early on. Even common ailments can be harder to control in older pigs and require early and effective treatment to maintain their quality of life.
Special Food Recommendations For Older Pigs
Older pigs can sometimes lose, break, or wear down some or many of their permanent teeth through the course of their long lives. As a result, they may have a harder time chewing comfortably and getting the proper mix of nutrients from standard food. Certain dry food pellet mixes might be especially difficult for an older pig with worn teeth to eat. Although pigs tend to accumulate more weight throughout their lives, it’s important to monitor an older pig’s weight as they age to ensure that they aren’t becoming malnourished. If necessary, you can soften their food by soaking pellets in water to create an oatmeal-like consistency and offer other soft foods such as cooked fruits and veggies or purées. Dental issues are common as pigs age, so if you see that someone is losing weight, dropping their food as they chew, or has a foul-odor coming from their mouth, be sure to consult with your veterinarian. Dental disease can cause other health issues in addition to weight loss, so be sure to consider their dental health!
Dental issues are not the only thing that could lead to weight loss in an older pig resident. If a resident is losing weight and dental issues have been ruled out, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about potential causes, including various diseases. They can help recommend diagnostic tests to confirm or rule out potential causes. In addition to determining the cause of their weight loss, you can also discuss various diet changes with your veterinarian or a nutritionist. Older residents who are having trouble maintaining a healthy weight or generally are not thriving may require larger and/ or more frequent meals, a higher protein diet, or additional supplementation. If you suspect a vitamin or mineral imbalance, talk to your veterinarian about appropriate supplementation which may come in the form of an oral or injectable vitamin and/ or mineral formula, or the addition of certain vitamin or mineral-rich foods such as algae oil, kelp, or black oil sunflower seeds. If an older pig is struggling with constipation, offering soaked pellets and lots of water-dense fresh foods can be helpful. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian if constipation is an ongoing issue.
If an older pig’s senses begin to weaken, they may become more skittish or less willing to eat than usual (especially in a group setting), so be very patient with them and give them their own safe, quiet space to eat if needed. If someone prefers eating while lying down, providing a wide, shallow dish will make this an easier process.
While some pigs may struggle with weight loss as they age, others may struggle with obesity. An individual who is less active while still eating the same portions as they used to may become overweight. You may have to adjust their portion size, especially if the individual is more sedentary due to arthritis or other health challenges, and depending on their current diet, you may want to look into a different food formulation.
Indoor Living Space Recommendations For Older Pigs
Older pigs may need to have extra bedding materials in order to make it easier for them to sleep and relax in their sleeping areas, especially to prevent pressure sores in pigs who lay down more often than they used to. You can use shorter fibered straw on the main floor area so that older pigs who drag their feet are less likely to get caught in their bedding, but this type of straw often makes for flat beds and breaks down quickly. For beds, long fibered straw works better for a big comfy nesting area. Generally, older pigs are more susceptible to both warm and cold temperatures, so in the winter you may need to provide them with extra heating from a barn-safe source (make sure to avoid leaving accessible cords or sources that are flammable!), but if the barn is draft-free, you can often keep pigs warm with lots of fresh bedding and by keeping doors mostly closed (while still allowing for ventilation). If needed, you can tuck them in with a blanket on colder evenings. In the summer, you may need to provide older pigs with additional ways to maintain a lower body temperature, such as providing cooled wet blankets and water misting (making sure that their sleep area doesn’t get too wet!). Generally, elderly pigs do best in temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. In all conditions, make sure that older pigs have plenty of access to fresh drinking water! Make sure their water is easily accessible and that they can comfortably drink in order to encourage easy and frequent hydration. If you are concerned that an older pig is not getting up and drinking as often as they should, you can bring them bowls of water throughout the day, but be aware that they often spill or flip these bowls and end up laying in pools of mud and water. In these instances, it can be helpful to offer the water and then remove the bowl once they are done drinking, or you can offer water with a plastic water bottle- just be sure there is nothing they can break off and eat.
As a pig ages, you’ll want to make very sure that they have good traction and a lack of divots in their living spaces. A slip and fall can lead to devastating health consequences in an older pig, including torn ligaments and joints, as well as a reluctance for them to move as confidently in the future. Ensure that they have a soft layered dirt floor or clean non-slip mats to get around on comfortably. Be aware that mats can become slippery when wet, and pigs often roll them up, tear them, or otherwise disturb them, leaving exposed floor, so dirt is really the way to go.
Outdoor Living Space Recommendations For Older Pigs
If an older pig has difficulty accessing or exploring their pasture due to decreased mobility, it might be time to give them (and their closest companion) their own, smaller-sized and flat pasture to root in. A smaller pasture with close access to food, minerals, and water, can give them the opportunity to get around easier and not have to compete with younger pigs for resources like food and water. If you do provide the older pig with their own pasture, make sure they still have access to some type of shelter in case it’s necessary for your location’s climate! Make sure that access to the outdoors is either flat, very gently sloping, or provide a high traction ramp for the elderly resident.
Like an elderly human, elderly pigs might have more challenges with their skin. Aloe Heal, Avail (found at horse supply sources), or a pig-friendly veterinary cream can be used to help moisturize and protect dry and painful skin conditions.
Social Recommendations For Older Pigs
As pigs are herd animals, they tend to form strong bonds with fellow pigs. As a result, pigs who live alone are prone to depression. If you decide that it’s best to give the older pig their own special indoor or outdoor space, make sure to house them with one of their herd friends– their closest friend if possible! This can help them feel more at home and at peace with their new surroundings.
Foot And Arthritis Challenges In Older Pigs
Arthritis is one of the most common health concerns in older animals, especially pigs due to their large size. A pig might develop arthritis in any of their hooves, legs, or joints and can also develop arthritis in their spine. Untreated, this could eventually manifest as debilitating chronic pain or “knuckling”, where they would rather walk on their knees than feet (also a sign of hip or lower back pain). You might have to treat an older pig with glucosamine and regular anti-inflammatory treatments or pig-approved NSAID pain relievers such as Carprofen or Meloxicam (never combine NSAID treatments). If they are on a daily regimen of NSAIDs, you must also treat them with an ulcer preventative such as sucralfate as well. Be aware that pigs are more prone to developing gastric ulcers from NSAID use than many other animals typically living at a farmed animal sanctuary. You need to know the signs of an ulcer and monitor pigs closely. If you suspect they have developed a gastric ulcer, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. They will likely recommend that you discontinue their NSAID treatment (if they are currently on treatment) and also recommend using a product such as Gastrogard to treat the symptoms. For a more longterm solution for arthritis, you can administer Cosequin orally or a Chondroprotective agent such as Adequan to help repair joint cartilage and soothe inflammation. More advanced cases can be treated with a Serapin injection in the problematic joint. Sanctuaries have also seen some success treating arthritis pains with more natural remedies in conjunction with medication such as acupuncture, Botswella (also known as Indian Frankincense) and turmeric to successfully lower inflammation as well as glucosamine and anecdotally, CBD oil. Make extra sure that their environment is as arthritis-friendly as can be, minimizing steep grades or long walks to food or water if you can! If a pig seems to be in constant pain, your vet may recommend a stronger NSAID such as an injection of Banamine, which can’t be used often, but may make the pig more comfortable. Make sure to talk to your veterinarian to assess the individual and create a treatment plan for arthritis!
If a pig stays down for a long period of time, they can develop painful and infection-prone sores that must be treated. Once these sores develop they can be very difficult to manage. It’s best to prevent them from developing in the first place by working with your veterinarian to find effective pain management treatments, encouraging the pig to get up throughout the day, and providing lots of soft bedding. In extreme cases, large cushioned mats can be incorporated into the bed to provide even more protection- just make sure it is water-proof and can be easily cleaned.
Due to their decreased mobility, an older pig typically doesn’t wear down their hooves as quickly as they did when they were younger, so you might have to trim their hooves to keep them comfortable at a more regular interval than you’re used to. Expect to trim their hooves about every two months, though some might need a longer or shorter interval.
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