Pigs tend to be very hardy animals; however, they aren’t completely immune to all ailments, especially as babies. Baby pigs, or piglets, are much more susceptible to disease and injury than mature pigs. So how do we prevent illness in piglets and how do we care for them when they get sick?
Recognizing Illness in Your Piglet
Observing your piglet and learning how it behaves normally is the first step to ensuring you keep him or her healthy. Piglets are a lot like puppies. They will take frequent naps, but they also love to play and wrestle. They also LOVE to eat. Some key signs that your piglet may be sick include:
- Loss of appetite
- Acting lethargic (sleeping more than usual)
- Weight loss
- Red, irritated skin
- Diarrhea and/or vomiting
So how can you help your piglet if they are experiencing some or all of these symptoms?
The first step in caring for your sick piglet is to treat their symptoms and help them feel better. This will include separating from any other pigs and piglets, providing warmth, and providing fluids and nutrients. Fluids and nutrients may need to be given with a syringe if the piglet isn’t eating and drinking. There are also injectable vitamins available such as B Complex and A, D, & E. These will help to provide energy and may encourage the piglet to eat.
Common supplements that are available:
- Iron – Iron is required for the synthesis of hemoglobin that transports oxygen in red blood cells, myoglobin in muscle tissue, and iron-containing enzymes. Piglets are commonly deficient in iron until they start eating grain. Some piglets may get iron from the soil if it is iron rich. It can be given orally or through injection.
- B Complex – B Complex vitamins aid in energy production, digestive health, and neurological development. In some cases, high doses of a specific B vitamin may be needed to treat a disease, but B complex is a good first line of defense, especially when a piglet has gone off of feed and is becoming vitamin deficient. High dosage B vitamins are available from your veterinarian.
- A, D, & E Vitamins – These fat soluble vitamins are essential for coordination and skeletal muscular health. However, because they are fat soluble, they can build up in the body and create an excess and so should only be given sparingly. They can be given if the B Complex vitamins are not improving coordination and if the piglet is not receiving the vitamins through other sources like food.
More information about vitamins and minerals essential to pig health can be found: http://porkgateway.org/resource/trace-minerals-and-vitamins-for-swine-diets/
If skin irritation is also present, a sulfur based cream can be applied to help ease the symptoms. Nu-Stock works very well to relieve irritated skin, and can also be used to heal a variety of common skin ailments. You’ll also want to move your pig out of the sun to avoid sunburns further damaging the skin.
Test and Treat for Parasites
Intestinal parasites are very common in pigs, and are a common source of digestive distress. Before throwing a lot of time and money at treated a variety of diseases, you should first see if your vet will run a fecal sample to test for parasites. Many veterinarians will run a fecal sample without charging for an office visit, but it doesn’t hurt to call and ask first. It also helps if you have a relationship with your veterinarian ahead of time. Some dog and cat vets can also run fecal samples for livestock, although they may not be as familiar with treatment options.
If you can not have a fecal egg count run locally, you can mail a fecal sample to Mid America Agricultural Research. The fecals are cheaper than most veterinarians, but you’ll have to pay for shipping and insulated packaging. It works best if you’re sending multiple samples as part of a preventative routine. Turn around time is also reasonable with most test results being read the same week.
Offer a Variety of Food
It’s important to continue trying to get food and water in your piglet. You could also try giving sports drinks via a syringe. Does your piglet have a favorite food? Tempt it to eat whatever you can. Food is fuel and will help the piglet retain energy and fight off infection.
Should You Give Antibiotics?
The decision to give antibiotics is a tough one and should not be taken lightly. On one hand, even viral infections can result in bacterial secondary infections. Yet on the other hand, giving antibiotics unnecessarily can result in resistant bacteria that will be more difficult to treat next time. Factors to consider when deciding to use antibiotics:
- Have you successfully treated similar symptoms with antibiotics in the past?
- Do the symptoms match any common bacterial infections in pigs?
- Have you exhausted other options?
When in doubt, consult a veterinarian. If this is a pig that you are raising for meat that you may potentially sell, you are required to have a prescription from a veterinarian before administering any medications. Proper withdraw times must also be observed before the pig is butchered.
When to Consult the Vet
Any time you feel that a disease or injury is beyond your scope to treat, it’s a good idea to involve a veterinarian. Swine vets are not common in many parts of the country, and good ones are worth their weight in gold, so you should research who to use and develop a relationship with them before an emergency arises. If your piglet has gone more than a day or two without eating, and/or is not showing signs of improvement, it is important to call the vet.
As with any animal, it is often far easier to prevent disease than it is to treat it. Here are some easy steps you can take to help ensure your piglet remains healthy:
- Provide a clean living area – while pigs have a well known affinity for mud, they also need an area that is dry and clean to maintain their health. A feeding and watering area that is clean, dry, and shaded will help avoid issues with parasites and sunburn. It will also help avoid some infections that can be contracted through the soil or standing water. An idea living area will also be large enough for a separate restroom area since pigs prefer to defecate away from their food and water sources. A larger pen will also be easier to keep clean and dry and will produce fewer odors.
- Use a vaccination schedule – Piglets can be very susceptible to disease, and a vaccination schedule is the easiest way to prevent illness and death. If you are breeding your pigs, consult with your veterinarian about a vaccination schedule that is appropriate for your area. If you are purchasing a piglet from a breeder, consider purchasing one that has been properly vaccinated. Most vaccines are given before the piglet reaches 6 weeks of age. This includes an iron vaccine to prevent anemia.
- Provide a balanced diet and fresh, clean water – while it is true that pigs will eat all of your kitchen scraps, these do not provide a balanced diet and can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. A commercial feed available from your local store or feed mill is the best way to provide a balanced diet, with scraps as a treat. Clean water is also important, although it can be challenging since pigs want to lay in most water troughs. The best way to ensure your piglet’s water stays clean is to install a stainless steel pig water nipple. These are difficult for the pig to destroy and protect the water supply from contamination.
Pigs are very hardy animals and have an amazing ability to heal from disease and injury. With some preventative and supportive care, you will find that they are quite easy to care for. You’ll soon understand Why Every Rural Homestead Should Have a Pig.