TABLE 1: Most common conditions and problems reported in 102 pet pigs in a survey of pet pig owners

Problem                                    Number of pigs (%)
    Overgrown feet                    31 (33)
    Lameness                             12
    Deformed feet                      10
    Arthritic                                  3
    Sprain                                     1
    Swollen pad                            1
    Off back legs                          1
    Split between pads                  1
    Bruised feet                             1
Respiratory                                10 (10)
    Sneezing/coughing                    7
    Pneumonia                               4
    Rhinitis                                     1
    Chronic snuffling                       1
Skin                                           34 (33)
    Dry, flaky skin                        22
    Abscess                                   4
    Itchy pig                                   3
    Mites/lice                                  3
    Hair loss                                   2
    Skin allergy                               2
    Melanoma                                 1
    Sunburn                                    1
Intestinal                                       6 (6)
    Constipation                             2
    Diarrhoea                                 2
    Non-specific                            2
    Blood in faeces

Ten of the 26 pigs (38 per cent) presented with locomotor problems. Three pigs presented with overgrown feet (Fig 1) and seven animals were examined for lameness: three of these had arthritis, one was lame on its front legs, associated with osteochondrosis of the proximal ulna; one had a foot abscess and two others had sprains. Six pigs (23 per cent) pre­sented with a skin problem. Four of these had scaly skin which was not diagnosed as mange, one pig had a skin problem asso­ciated with an allergic response (Fig 2), and two others had small skin tumours, one lipoma and one melanoma (Fig 3). All other problems examined by the veterinary surgeon were individual cases of pneumonia, ileitis, behavioural aggression problems related to oestrus, hepatitis, two unrelated cases of cystitis, a chronic mastitic mass, a middle ear infection, and one pig which was grossly overweight. The Tamworth male presented with a rectal stricture.

An additional 29 pigs had veterinary procedures carried out by the club's veterinarian. There were 15 castrations; six of these pigs had a unilateral scrotal hernia and one had a Sertoli cell tumour of the testes. An additional four piglets had been presented for castration but three were monorchids and one had no palpable testes, so the operation was not per­formed. Four pigs had undergone an ovarian hysterectomy and one pig had a chronic mastitic mass surgically removed. Another pig with a middle ear infection required total abla­tion of the tympanic bulla to resolve the problem. One group of pigs needed ringing. Three pigs were examined with regard to export or import requirements.

The questionnaire also asked owners about veterinary assistance offered by general practitioners. There were 29 responses to this question. Although 10 responses stated that the veterinary assistance was good, 19 (66 per cent) stated that the help was poor. Among the comments made by the respon­dents, 12 commented that the veterinary surgeon had no knowledge of pigs, two owners complained of poor attitude towards their pets and two veterinarians were unable to pro­vide suitable 'pig' medicines.

FIG 1: Overgrowth of the lateral front toe with curvature of the horn in a pet pig. The supernumerary digits are also too long. Sedation and foot trimming was administered

The survey covered members of the UK Potbellied Pig Club which has 300 members spread over the British Isles. The 52 responses received represented 17 per cent of the members of the club and covered all areas of the country.

It was assumed that the majority of the animals described by the respondents were adults as, in the author's experience, most of the clinical workload with pet pigs involves animals older than six months of age. The prob­lems reported by this survey revealed two major areas of concern, the locomotor system and the skin. The main loco-motor problems were lameness and overgrown feet. Lameness is also common in adult • commercial pigs (Hughes and Varley 2002), as are overgrown feet in some lines. While clients often worry about overgrown feet, in the author's experience, this has more to do with a misunder­standing of the shape of the normal foot and lower limb anatomy. The provision of a concrete or hard surface exer­cise area helps pigs to keep their feet trim. Concrete is not a problem for pigs as they have evolved to cope with dry, deep, forest floor conditions, the consistency of which is not far removed from concrete. Unusually, arthritis was not commonly reported by the owners, although clinical arthritic conditions are common in commercial adults (Dewey 1999). Locomotor problems also represented the greatest part of the workload of the club's consultant veterinarian, with 10 of 26 cases being presented with lame­ness, arthritis or overgrown feet.

The skin conditions described by the owners were char­acterised predominantly by 'dry, flaky' conditions. The major­ity of the pet pigs were treated medically for mange and clinical experience indicates a non-specific cause of the flak­ing skin. This is also commonly seen in adult commercial sows (J. Carr, personal observations). The flaking skin is non-pruritic but tends to cause anxiety to the owner of the pig. The pig is generally unconcerned and the skin condition responds well, albeit temporarily, to medicated shampoo combined with two doses of ivermectin (given orally, if possible, at a dose rate of 33 mg/kg). Skin problems were also the second most common area where advice from the club's veterinarian was sought (six of 26 animals).

FIG 2: Allergic response with gross thickening of the skin in a pet pig. This was associated with a coloured blanket used as bedding. When removed and replaced with white cotton the problem resolved

FIG 3: Tumour mass on the flank of a potbellied pig which was confirmed to be a melanoma by biopsy. No treatment was provided

Respiratory problems affected 10 of the 102 animals covered by the survey. No specific pathogen was associated with the problems described and pneumonia in four pigs out of 102 is a low incidence and is in line with the author's experi­ence in commercial adult pigs. Sneezing and coughing were more prevalent but tend not to be life threatening and it should be remembered that the survey only recorded memorable events in the pig's life.

A particularly interesting area was the behavioural prob­lems recorded. Eight pigs were said to have premenstrual ten­sion, which resulted in two pigs having an ovariohysterectomy, following which the problem resolved. One pig presented with aggressive behaviour associated with oestrus; advice was sought from the club's consultant veterinarian and the behav­iour ceased after ovariohysterectomy.

Eye conditions were reported in five pigs in the survey, which is quite low in the author's general clinical experience, particularly when only one pig was reported as overweight. The author's experience indicates that some 30 per cent of pigs examined are overweight and the possible under-report­ing may be a reflection of owners' perceptions of their pig's weight. The name 'potbellied', and an expectation that the stomach should touch the ground, does not help to encour­age dieting.

Surgery was relatively uncommon in the pig population surveyed, with eight males being castrated and only two females having undergone an ovariohysterectomy. The work­load of the club's consultant veterinarian was, as might be expected, slanted towards veterinary procedures and of the 15 male pigs presented for castration during the study period, six had a scrotal hernia. This is a much higher inci­dence than would be expected in commercial animals (Smidt 1972).

A Sertoli cell tumour in one nine-year-old male pig required castration and removal of the growth by the club's veterinarian. While not obvious from the findings of the pre­sent survey, reproductive tumours of pet pigs, particularly female, appear to be becoming more common as the popu­lation of animals age into their teenage years (J. Carr, personal observations).

A particularly worrying finding from the survey was the criticism of the veterinary care provided by general practi­tioners. Many of the conditions reported are simple and require common sense, basic medicine and need little detailed knowledge of pig conditions. In addition, there are veterinarians who hold postgraduate qualifications in pig medicine, from whom advice can be sought if needed. It is important that practitioners continue to offer a high standard of care, even when faced with an unusual species.


DEWEY, C. E. (1999) Diseases of the nervous and locomotor systems. In Diseases of Swine. Eds B. E. Straw, S. D'Allaire, W. L Mengeling, D. I. Taylor. Iowa, Iowa State University Press

HUGHES, P. E. & VARLEY, M. A. (2002) Lifetime performance of the sow. In Perspectives in Pig Science. Eds J. Wiseman, M. A. Varley, B. Kemp. Nottingham, Nottingham University Press, pp 65-87

SMIDT, W. J. (1972) Congenital defects in pigs. 7th International Congress on Animal Reproduction and Artificial Insemination. Munich, pp 1145-1148