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Fran and Chantilly Marie.

 

Pet Pig Care & Training Tips

I receive many phone calls and emails from potbellied pig people with questions concerning practices that will ensure the health, happiness and well being of their porcine pals. Highlighted here are those queries I hear most frequently.

SHOULD MY PET PIG BE SPAYED OR NEUTERED?

The first and most important ingredient to having a good relationship with a pet pig is to purchase an altered one. The neutering process mitigates hormonal uproar, leaving you a more manageable pet. Boars have a distinctive odor that becomes stronger and more pungent as the animal ages. They also display very manly behaviors (humping, incessant nudging, frothing about the muzzle) beginning as early as eight weeks of age. While these male manifestations are very normal, they are not at all desirable traits in a pet pig. Hence, males should be neutered when they are very young (I prefer three weeks of age). The breeder should have this procedure done before the pig is offered for adoption.

Female potbellied pigs can start cycling as early as three months of age. From their first cycle on, you can expect your piggy to come into heat every twenty-one days, during which time she will be moody, urinate more frequently (probably making a few potty mistakes), become easily agitated...in other words, she will have PPMS (Porcine Premenstrual Syndrome). This is not a pretty predicament! If your female is to be a pet, why put her, not to mention yourself, through this distress every three weeks?

Spaying a female piglet is not any more difficult than spaying a cat or dog. The two key factors here are:

1. Work with a veterinarian who has experience spaying potbellied pigs.

2. Optimally, have this procedure done between the ages of six and twelve weeks, before the first heat cycle, and definitely NOT when the pig is in heat.

There is a bit of controversy concerning the best time to spay, but the consensus I have gleaned from talking with many breeders, veterinarians and pet owners is the earlier the better. Again, I urge you to buy your pig a la spayed if at all possible. However, if this is impractical, protect yourself in case something unexpected happens during surgery. I know of several pet owners who lost their sweetie girls after this procedure.

With any surgical procedure there is an inherent risk. I strongly believe that the breeder should take the responsibility for having their pet pigs altered prior to adoption. It should not be necessary for the new owner to risk losing the animal they love due to complications resulting from spaying or neutering. If it is not possible to obtain an altered animal, the breeder should help the new pig owner locate a veterinarian qualified and experienced with these procedures on potbellied pigs. It would be a good idea to draw up a written agreement that explains the responsibility of the breeder should something happen to the piglet during or after a spay or neuter surgery.

WHAT IS THE PROPER AMOUNT TO FEED MY PIG?

How much to feed your pig is very tricky and is dependent upon age, stage of development, genetic makeup, body type and status as a pet or breeding animal. The most important element is to provide adequate nutrition while not underfeeding or overfeeding. I have revised my feeding practices several times over the years and feel that I have hit upon a formula that keeps my pigs in proper physical condition. I am assuming you are using a potbellied pig chow that is appropriate for the developmental stage of your pig, be it starter, grower, maintenance or breeder.

Nursing Piglets through 6 weeks of age: At about ten days of age piglets should be provided with a palatable starter ration containing 17% to 19% protein. It may take them a few days to decide it’s worth eating. Be sure to keep the supply fresh and let them eat as much as they want. This is known as free choice feeding. Make sure mom cannot access this food.

6 Weeks to 3 Months: Using a 16% protein grower ration gradually decrease from free choice feeding until your pig is receiving 1 to 1 1/2 cups per day. Your judgment comes into play here, but I firmly believe that l cup per day per pig is the minimum for this age range. This age pig requires a hefty amount of food in order that the nervous system, organs and bones develop properly.

3 Months to 5 Months: In order to maintain a pig in good condition I suggest feeding a 14% protein maintenance ration at the rate of a maximum of 2 cups daily. You must use your good judgment. Try not to underfeed or overfeed your sweetie pig. If you can see the pig’s ribs, hip bones and/or backbone, you are not feeding enough.

5 Months and Older: It is fine to maintain your pig on a 14% protein ration, but 12% is also quite satisfactory. Again 2 cups per day is the general rule in terms of the amount fed.

Gestation Ration: Feed 2 cups per day until one week before farrowing. Then increase the ration by 1/2 cup per feeding per day. Also add a laxative in the form of either bran or a commercially prepared sow laxative at this time. While a maintenance ration may be used, a 14% gestation ration is preferred.

Lactation Ration: If a lactation ration is available, use that. If not, the 14% maintenance ration will be fine. Follow this feeding guideline: 2 cups per day plus 1 cup for each suckling piglet. Example: Sow with five pigs would receive 7 cups of food per day. If you notice that your sow’s ribs or hip bones start to show or if she is losing condition, boost her food even more. During the lactation period, it’s nearly impossible to overfeed. You may wish to allow your sow free choice feeding while she nurses her piglets.

Boar Ration: In order to keep a boar in good condition, I often feed the sow gestation ration as it has a higher fat content than the maintenance ration. Condition will dictate the amount fed. Two cups per day would be the minimum for an inactive, docile boar. An overly active boar, one that paces a lot or has many girls to settle, will need to consume more food. One of my boars, All That Jazz, receives 8 cups of food per day. He’s a real dynamo and definitely aerobic!

Weather is a factor to consider when determining all your pigs’ food rations, whether young or old, male or female, breeder or pet. Be sure to increase the ration of all pigs housed out of doors when winter weather prevails. Your pigs will be burning many calories just keeping warm. When pigs have access to lots of fresh grass and other yard goodies, you may find it necessary to decrease the amount of pig chow provided. All my adult pigs (over one year old) receive two cups of food daily, with alteration as dictated by their individual body condition, weather, grazing availability and where they are in their breeding cycle.

MY PIG CHOKES WHEN SHE EATS. WHAT CAN I DO?

If you notice your pig coughing or choking a little while eating dry pellets, try wetting her food. Simply measure the proper amount and add enough warm water to more than cover the ration. Wait a few moments for the food to absorb the moisture and serve. My pigs prefer their meals to be this oatmeal consistency.

MY PIG GOES BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN THE FOOD AND WATER BOWLS WHEN EATING. IS THIS A PROBLEM?

This manner of eating/drinking, eating/drinking is a habit and not necessary. Your pig may urinate way more frequently than needed because of this excessive water intake. If you moisten the food and remove the water dish while the pig is eating, your problem should be solved. I am not suggesting that you limit the pig’s water consumption at any time other than meals. Always supply your pig with fresh water in a clean bowl.

HOW CAN I ASSURE THAT MY PIG WILL USE HER LITTERBOX AND NOT MAKE MISTAKES?

Pigs are naturally clean and, when provided their own space, use only one spot for elimination. So, it’s up to you to provide such a space. Remember that when pigs are not in their defined area, this cleanliness rule does not apply. They don’t care if they "mess up" your room. Hence, supervise your pig when she is out of her designated space.

A young piglet (between weaning and eight weeks of age) is ordinarily adept at using the litterbox if training was properly initiated. (Refer to The Perfect Premise for Your Potbellied Pride and Joy in my book for successful potty training techniques.) Keep in mind that a young pig’s bladder is very small; therefore, she has the need to urinate frequently. Also consider that urination is truly an unremarkable event to a pig. On the other hand, pooping is a very significant event, and I have noticed that at approximately eight or nine weeks of age, pigs decide that they no longer wish to pooh in their litterbox. If all of a sudden there is no piggy poop in the pan, take your pig outside. I’ll bet that the moment you put her down, she will present you with a little pile o’ pooh.

My experience also indicates that at between three and five months of age (and sometimes even sooner) a pig will begin to be able to control urination until escorted outside. It is unreasonable to expect your pig to have perfect potty manners before this time. You need to be consistent in your training and supervision. Pigs are creatures of habit and like the predictability of having regular times to go outdoors. Provide your pig with a definite pee dee, pooh dee schedule, and you will greatly enhance your chances of fewer potty mistakes and a confident, successful pig. A good schedule is first thing in the morning before breakfast is served; again at noon-time, if possible; before dinner; and finally just before bedtime. Eventually, you can expect that your pig will only require two potty breaks a day.

Ideally, most people prefer to train their pigs to use the great outdoors as their toilette; and, I feel that pigs prefer this idea as well. A piggy door leading to a fenced outside area is perfect. This allows your pig the opportunity to relieve herself whenever necessary. I have known pigs to "hold it" for way longer than is healthy and, most assuredly for them, comfortable. However, if you want your pig to be a totally indoor eliminator, be sure to provide him/her with an adequately-sized litterpan. As your pig grows, the litterpan needs to be larger. Because of the difference in the anatomy of males and females, females require a more generous toilette than males. If a boy pig stands with all four feet in his litterbox, there is no possibility of missing the mark. A girl pig, on the other hand, can be perfectly situated in her pan and urinate just outside due to the "fountain effect." This is not the pig’s fault, but a matter of not being provided with an ample commode. Le toilette, and problems inherent therein, are related to an individual pig’s situation. Specific potty problems need to be addressed on a personal basis.

HOW CAN I KEEP MY PIG’S SKIN FROM BEING DRY AND FLAKY?

While it is not unusual for potbellied pigs to have somewhat dry skin, you may need to make a dietary change or oral supplementation in order to help relieve an extremely dry skin condition or dull coat. The most beautiful coats and good skin conditions I’ve seen are on those pigs fed a large variety of vegetables daily, going light on the fruits, along with a nutritionally complete potbellied pig chow. Providing your pig with 200 IU’s of natural Vitamin E daily is sure to help with dry skin, as well. There are several oral treatments containing fatty acids to alleviate this problem available from your potbellied pig products distributor.

Many products are available for shampooing and conditioning your pig’s coat and skin. These products are similar to cosmetics. What one person likes another may find totally unsatisfactory. Here, personal preference prevails. Try several products until you hit upon the ones that are perfect for your pig. Go to your local farm, health, drug or pet store and check out their grooming supplies. Products with coconut oil are especially nice. I prefer products that are not harsh, but meant for sensitive, dry skin.

For after-bath emollients, I suggest olive oil in the winter, warmed up either by rubbing between your palms, or heating a bit in the microwave. In the summer I favor Avon Skin So Soft, because it acts not only as a skin conditioner but also an insect repellent, and pigs simply adore it. When I apply Skin So Soft to myself after a shower, my house pig loves to rub her shoulders up and down my lubricated legs. Both oils are best applied when your pig’s skin is wet. The application of Skin So Soft is enhanced when diluted with one half water and sprayed on. The fine mist and thinner consistency provides a fine sheen while not becoming overwhelming to the olfactories.

HOW DO I TRIM MY PIG’S HOOVES?

It’s always better to do maintenance procedures on your pig at home where the environment is familiar and your pig feels safe rather than to have, who your pig perceives as a stranger (the vet), work on her. If your piggy is touchable all over, you should have no trouble keeping her hooves in good shape. You may need to take the time to acquaint your pig with the trimming tool you will be using so she is not afraid of it. This can be accomplished simply by letting her see it in her environment and nose around on it (making sure she doesn’t hurt herself, of course). This toe job will be much easier if you enlist a helper. One person rubs and loves up pigger while the other provides a careful pedicure. I last trimmed the hooves of my favorite sow, Aggie, while she was a-farrowing. Aggie was so centered on her motherly duties, that she paid no attention to me.

Be sure not to cut too much of the hoof or bleeding will result, then you will have a tenderfoot to contend with. If you examine the toe and pad structure of the hoof, you will see where and where not to trim. This is especially easy to note on pigs with white hooves. Make sure to snip off the sharp points on the dew claws as well. Work slowly and prudently and don’t expect to complete the job in one session. It may take several attempts. File off any residual, rough edges that could scratch either you or your pig.

The most effective tool I’ve found is a 7-inch trimmer that looks much like a pair of small pruners. The cutting blade is two inches long and the handles work on a spring. You can usually locate this type of trimmer tool at the hardware or farm supply store. Two brand names to look for are: Union and Shear Magic.

Regularly exercising your pig on concrete, or securing an asphalt shingle to an area your piggy frequently walks upon (such as an entrance ramp), will minimize your toe-trimming duties. Set up a passive pedicure situation by placing concrete patio tiles where your pig waters (as an outside application). When setting up a concrete pedicure platform, be sure it is large enough that all four feet pass over it. I recently made a very successful watering station comprised of twelve-inch square concrete patio tiles that are available at lumber, hardware and garden centers. The area is three blocks wide by four blocks long with the water dish at the back. Every time piggy goes for a drink, her hooves are receiving a little carefree filing. If you simply cannot get this job done at home, which is definitely advisable, your veterinarian will be able to complete the task.

MY PIG HAS A RUNNY NOSE AND WET EYES. WHAT DOES THIS INDICATE?

If your piggy exhibits chronic runny eyes and nose, perhaps with sneezing, and/or nose bleeding, she may have Artophic Rhinitis (AR). Now, don’t freak out. Fifty percent of all commercial pigs have mild AR and do just fine. It is only in severe cases that the nose becomes disfigured and twisted. When this damage to the turbinates (a sophisticated filtering structure within the nose) occurs, pigs are more prone to respiratory infections and will not be as thrifty. AR is caused by two bacteria, Bordetella bronchiseptica and Pasteurella multocida. This infection is primarily transmitted from the sow to her offspring. The secondary avenue of diffusion is through the air, or aerosol spread.

If breeding animals have been properly vaccinated against rhinitis, you adhere to a rigid and complete vaccination program for offspring, and your animals are not exposed to unfamiliar swine or environments, one could control this problem. Preliminary diagnosis can sometimes be made from a nasal swab, though it is nearly impossible to make a positive diagnosis of rhinitis without a postmortem. Consult your veterinarian if you suspect AR. Your pig could simply have allergies.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I BATHE MY PIG AND WHAT ARE OTHER GROOMING CONSIDERATIONS?

Bathing: Pigs are so naturally clean that baths are required only occasionally. That’s not to say your pig cannot enjoy more frequent bathing. This is fine, especially if your pig has good skin and coat condition, as too much bathing can exacerbate the dry skin condition that can be such an annoyance to the potbellied pig owner. Bathing can be accomplished in several ways depending on the size and temperament of your pig. An outdoor pool with sun-heated water is a good option in the spring and summer. With your pig already familiar and happy relaxing in her pool, you can grab the brush and your bathing supplies and get to it. Float cheerios atop the water to keep your piggy contented and busy while scrubbing behind those cute little ears!

If you have a walk-in shower, this is ideal for the larger pig. Serve your pig’s meals in the dry shower for a few days. After she is used to this routine, let a slight stream of water fall as she feasts. Gradually, she will become accustomed to this wet dining experience and you can provide the full body deal while she is enjoying the full meal deal. No problem. If you are looking for success with the least amount of stress, desensitizing your pig to activities you expect her to participate in is such an important pig rule.

Small pigs can be bathed in a bath tub or large basin, tank or sink. Be certain to provide a non-slick surface for your pig to stand on in any of these bathing situations. Whatever method you choose to bathe your pig, the water should be tepid, not cold and the pig dried quickly and kept out of drafts.

Eyes and Ears: Routine cleaning of the ears and the area around the eyes is recommended. A brownish discharge will collect in the hair and eyelashes around the eyes. This is particularly noticeable on white pigs; and, I might add, not very attractive. While quite normal, this discharge should be cleansed away on a regular basis. Use a warm, damp cloth for these grooming jobs. The brown "gunk" that collects just inside a pig’s ears is kind of waxy and gooey. Q-Tips are not necessary, but should you decide to use them, follow the same precaution that you would with yourself or a child.

A pet pig generally relishes in all this attention and physical contact from her care giver. Along with a belly rub, it is easy to do a little ear and eye cleaning. Be gentle and don’t use products that will sting or hurt your pig. Take special notice of any thing out of the ordinary. Is there excessive tearing? Does your pig tend to squint or blink abnormally? Can you see her eye lashes? Do her lashes appear to be touching her eyeball? Potbellied pigs are prone to various eye maladies including runny eyes, matter build up, entropi, scratched cornea, ulcerated cornea and eye trauma. Work with your vet should any of these conditions exist.

Tusk Care: If you have a neutered boy pig (barrow), keep an eye on his tusks. At some point they may need to be cut back. This is definitely a job for the vet as anesthesia is often required. A barrow probably won’t need his tusks trimmed until after he is two years of age.

MY PIG COMES IN FROM THE YARD WITH A MUDDY SNOUT. SHE JUST HATES HAVING HER NOSE CLEANED OFF. ANY SUGGESTIONS?

You need to fool your pig into cleaning her own nose. I know of two techniques that work. The first, is to fill a non-tippable bowl with water, adding some cut-up carrots that will sink to the bottom. Your pig will snorkel and dive and blow bubbles while retrieving the sunken goodies, thus self-cleaning her snooder. The other method is to hold a piece of food inside of a dampened cloth. While your pig is trying to get the food out of the cloth, you go about wiping her nasty nose. Try both methods to see which suits you and your pig the best.

What’s with all the nudging? My pig is driving me crazy!

I am convinced that when a pig nudges (incessant pushing with the snout) she is imitating the nursing motion. Pigs must get a secure feeling when they engage in this activity. However, this conduct can become annoying, not to mention it hurts! My best advice is not to allow this behavior on your person. Redirect the pig’s nudging by providing a pillow, rug or soft toy for her to push upon. Hopefully your pig will outgrow this tiresome tactic.

I hope this article has provided you with some practical and useful information. Good luck with your pig parenting.

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