October 30, 2016

ACVC 2016: Introduction to Miniature Pigs

At the 2016 Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference, Dr. Matthew Edson, owner of Rancocas Veterinary Hospital, spoke about the challenges and rewards of miniature pigs patients.
By Beth Thompson, VMD
At the 2016 Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference, Dr. Matthew Edson, owner of Rancocas Veterinary Hospital, spoke to interested veterinarians and veterinary technicians about the challenges and rewards of having miniature pig patients. Many miniature pigs don’t receive veterinary care because there are so few practices that treat them. Due to limited veterinary resources, many owners get their medical information from an array of breeders and online self-proclaimed “pig experts.” Although a definitive textbook or veterinary resource is lacking, Dr. Edson recommends two essential and inexpensive books: Veterinary Management of Miniature Pigs by Lisle George DVM, PhD (University of California at Davis), and The Potbellied Pig Parent by Nancy Shepherd. The latter c is also a good owner resource. He indicated that a portion of the proceeds for both books goes towards pig rescue organizations.
 
According to Dr. Edson, there are no real distinct breeds of miniature pig. Many people seek out a “micro mini pig” in hopes that their new pet will remain small. However, basically Vietnamese pot-belled, micro, mini, and julienne pigs are interchangeable. Supposedly originating in Vietnam and Thailand in the 1960s, mini pigs were developed as a food source, not a pet. They were imported into Canada in the 1980s as zoo specimens and became a “fad” pet in the United States during the nineties. Dr. Edson believes they are now becoming more popular again. The pet pigs in Dr. Edson’s practice range in weight from 30 to 350 pounds.
 
Where do people get miniature pigs? Some are adopted from other owners that can no longer care for them. The largest percentage are obtained from breeders that will ship the piglet directly to the home. Around 20% are impulse purchases from livestock auctions where poor conditions and minimal care has led to health problems. A person interested in purchasing a piglet from a breeder can expect to pay around $1200 plus shipping fees. Even though most breeders offer “health guarantees," Dr. Edson has found them to be ineffective and unenforceable. Large breeding operations concentrated in Texas and California dominate the market. In Dr. Edison’s opinion, the best place to acquire a new pet pig is via a pig rescue and he suggested Pet Placement Network as an excellent resource that pet owners can utilize.
 
Dr. Edson reminded the audience about the following things that he felt everyone should know about mini pigs:
 
  1. Behavior: In Dr. Edson’s experience, pigs generally do want they want to do when they want to do it. Even though they are known for their stubbornness, they are usually very food-oriented and can be incentivized to learn basic commands, such as “sit,” fairly easily. Pigs like to “nest” and will “root." If they are largely indoor pigs, pet owners shouldn't be surprised to see damage to furniture, carpet, and even walls. They need time outside to explore and root. 
  2. Basic training: Most pigs will learn to walk on a leash. Owners should start teaching them to tolerate a harness when they are young. If a pig ever gets out of an enclosure or a house, it is very difficult to catch them without some kind of restraint aid attached to its body. Collars are ineffective in animals with such large necks. Some smaller pigs can be fitted with a dog harness, but specific pig harnesses are readily available.
  3. Elimination: Pigs can be litter trained pretty easily because they naturally eliminate in one chosen area. Some people have converted entire linen closets to litter boxes for larger pigs.
  4. Housing:  Pigs are fine being housed outside. Fencing has to be made of hog paneling (welded pig wire) and needs to extend below ground or they will get out of their enclosure. Pet owners should have shady spots where they can get out of the sun during the summer. In the winter, they can easily become hypothermic if forced to be on the cold ground. Owners should provide them with a raised platform and appropriate bedding material.
  5. Nutrition: Obesity is a common problem. Pigs have been selectively bred over a long time to put on weight with minimal intake. Feeding dog food to a mini pig is a terrible idea; feeding the pig commercial hog grower feed easily purchased at the feed store isn’t good either because that food is formulated for maximum growth and weight gain. Instead, Dr. Edson recommends three brands of mini-pig food: Missouri, Lil Red, and Ross Mill Farms. Some brands have different formulations for life stages, but in his experience, they do well at all ages on the adult diet. However, even when pet owners have the right food, watching calories is important. Small juvenile pigs should get 0.5 to 1 cup BID, larger adults (60-100 lbs.) should get 1 to 1.5 cups BID.
  6. Treats: Pigs love treats and most will beg or complain for more. Give a reasonable number of treats and cut back if the pig is gaining too much weight. Cheerios are a great treat but should be limited to <10/day.
  7. No to children, dogs, and horses:  Although some pigs are fine with children, all pigs can bite, and when they do, they can take a piece of finger off pretty easily. There are more ideal pets out there for a youngster. Lots of pigs get along with dogs, but Dr. Edson doesn’t recommend they be housed together. He’s seen dogs suddenly injure pigs they’ve tolerated without incident for years. In addition, mini pigs should not be placed with horses. For some reason, many horses aren’t comfortable around pigs and will try to stomp them.
  8. Hooves: If a pig is not regularly walking on hard surfaces such as concrete, expect that their hooves will need to be trimmed every few months.
  9. Tusks: Males have tusks and they too need to be trimmed at about 1 year of age and every year or two afterwards.
  10. Identification:  Pigs can and should be microchipped behind the left ear.
  11. Preventive care:  Vaccinations, parasite testing, dental cleanings, spay/neuter, and hoof/tusk trims are all part of basic care.
  12. Adult size: Despite all the assurances received at purchase, it’s difficult to examine a piglet and estimate its future adult size. Disreputable breeders add to the issue by selling 4-month-old piglets that are really 4-weeks-old. Some grow up to be 30 lbs. and some grow to 300 lbs; a 300 pound pig, is a lot of pig.
  13. Food animal restrictions:  Pet or not, a pig falls under the classification of "food animals" and is subject to the same drug use restrictions and regulations as a farm pig destined for the slaughterhouse. Veterinarians interested in treating pet pigs can familiarize themselves with the Animal Medicinal Use Clarification Act (AMDUCA) regulations and the AVMA Extralabel Drug Use site. If looking for information on determining forbidden substances and withdrawal time for acceptable substances, visit the food animal Residence Avoidance Databank, which also has a free iPhone app (vetGRAM) that can provide needed information when away from a computer.
What happens to too many piglets after they become adults?  Some stay in their wonderful “forever” homes, but many end up homeless or in sanctuaries. According to Dr. Edson, there are a few main reasons pigs are abandoned. One is legal—people are not aware of zoning laws prohibiting farm animals nor did they consider how much their neighbors might object to their new family member. Another is size – as these animals grow, they are more difficult to care for. The third is personality – Dr. Edson compared owning a pig to having a permanent toddler in your life. He described them as stubborn, smart, sweet, and (repeat) stubborn.
 
His advises any colleague that has a client thinking of getting a pig, that they at least know what they are getting into before they get that cute little Ms. or Mr. Piggy.
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​Dr. Thompson is a small animal veterinarian, animal health executive, developmental editor and writer who produces informational and educational material for veterinary professionals and pet owners in all media. She started her career in mainstream publishing and video production, returning to school to earn degrees in marine biology and veterinary medicine. After working in small animal and feline only practice, she taught and co-directed an AVMA-accredited program for veterinary technicians.  As her interest in education grew, she held positions as EIC of Veterinary Technician journal, Executive editor of Compendium journal, Vetstreet.com and Healthy Pet magazine as well as Medical Director, VP of Business Development and VP of Content for organizations from Veterinary Learning Systems to Vetstreet and NAVC.

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