Learning what constitutes a healthy pig is essential. Not only will it help you when buying stock, it’ll also help you if you ever need to diagnose pet if they are ever ill.
Your Piglets or Pigs Head
1. Ears– should be clean and warm. They should be erect and not floppy. The ears should not lop over the eyes.
2. Eyes – Eyes can vary in colour; they should be clear looking. The pig’s eyes should be alert and responsive.
3. Nose – A pig should not have a runny nose. Its nose should be cold to touch and slightly moist. The pig should also be able to breathe through it easily.
4. Feet/Hooves – The pig should look level and not be limping. Make sure you watch the pig when moving, ensure that it moves evenly and without a limp or discomfort. The pig should distribute its weight evenly on all feet. Each foot should have two toes which should be neat and tidy, and equal in length. Adult pigs’ toes can become overgrown so keep an eye out for toes that appear long in length, uneven, or that bend upwards. If you are buying or adopting an adult pig and the animal appears to have overgrown toes you will need to trim them. Excessive toe length can stretch the tendons of the hoof and leaving it untreated can cripple a pig in later life.
Body, Tails, Rump
5. Body – should be even looking and symmetrical. Ribs can be seen slightly, on some pigs, but the pig shouldn’t be excessively thin. Thin pigs might mean the breeder is underfeeding them, or it could be a sign that the animal is ill.
6. Piglets – should look chubby and well rounded. Piglets younger than five weeks old have a large head in proportion to their bodies.
7. Adult – a pig’s body shape varies depending on sex. Sows tend to have a more rounded shape; boars tend to be leaner looking, thinner and longer in length.
8. Tails – Micro Pigs and Potbellies should have straight tails, they shouldn’t be curly. A curly tail could indicate another breed. Kune Kunes’ tails can be curly, but these pigs are easily recognisable due to their unique hair style and colours (see the Kune Kune section earlier in the book for more details). Also, a pig’s tail should never be wet or dirty. Backsides and bums should be clean and not soiled. A dirty bottom could be a sign that the pig is sick or ill.
9. Hair and Skin
These should be healthy looking and shiny. The condition of the pig’s hair can vary depending on the time of year. A pig’s coat can become dull looking during winter.
Very young piglets’ hair can be soft to touch; an adult’s coat is usually bristly and can be thin-looking with age.
Most pigs can have a winter and summer coat of hair. Usually they shed their coat around autumn; this is called ‘blowing the coat’. When they’re in between coats, they may have bald patches and suffer from hair loss, this is perfectly normal.
You should be concerned if a pig has uneven bald patches, and red and inflamed skin. This could indicate that the pig has mites or some other illness.
Piglets should be non-aggressive and docile. Young piglets are naturally curious about new objects, people and experiences. They’ll approach new things, sniff them, nibble at them and even bite them (be careful of their sharp teeth). Young piglets should be full of energy and vitality. They should be happily running and darting about their pen/field and they should be noisy – they will sometimes growl and bark. Be wary of sickly looking piglets that appear weak and lethargic – this could be an indicator that something’s wrong.
Adult pigs should also be non-aggressive and docile. They might be wary of new faces and visitors so don’t be worried if the adult you are looking at keeps a short distance away from you. This can be worked on over time.
Pigs respond well to tone of voice and commands, so try talking to them when you get up close. Observe which ones seem the most responsive and friendly. Don’t just choose a pig, let them choose you.
11. Pet Pig Behavioural Problems
Pigs can have behavioural problems such as aggression, tendencies to bite, a wariness of humans, or other bad behaviour. A common cause of these problems is trauma and previous bad treatment in the past.
Rehoming a pig with behavioural problems is a very honourable thing to do, but make sure you can take care of the animal properly first. A pig like this might not be safe around small children; it might also need plenty of space and extra room.
Pig sanctuaries save lots of pigs like this from bad owners. The good thing is that a pig sanctuary will fit the personality of the pig to the owner. They won’t let you take a pig with problems home unless they are sure you can look after it properly.
Poo and excrement can be a good indicator of the health of a piglet. Their poo should be fairly hard and solid. Be wary if the excrement is very soft, runny or has traces of blood in it. These can be signs that the pig you are viewing is sick.
Pigs are very clean animals. They do not poo in their beds. Usually they find an area or spot to poo in, and they continue to use it. If there are sizeable amounts of poo in their bed then this could be an indicator that something’s wrong.
13. Size and Weight
The rule of thumb concerning piglets and healthy weight gain is this – a piglet should gain approximately one pound of weight per week. So, a year-old pig should weigh approximately 52lbs. However, you can only use this technique for a piglet which has been fed correctly. If they’ve been overfed or underfed this way of measuring their age won’t work.
Does the pig look thin or fat? A thin pig isn’t usually a problem, they may have been underfed or have an infestation of worms. Other causes can sometimes be an internal blockage or constipation. Canned pumpkin can be used to help a constipated pig’s bowel movements. More severe blockages may need to be diagnosed by a vet using x-ray.
An overweight pig can suffer all manner of health problems, such as: becoming lame, a higher risk of becoming blind and a higher risk of arthritis. An obese animal may need to be placed on a diet to help him/her lose weight. It can be a tough job to slim a pig – they are very stubborn animals, changing their diet can lead to them becoming noisy, aggressive and problematic.
Just like us, when a pig reaches its senior years (around ten years or older) it’s more prone to the afflictions of old age. Arthritis is a big problem for senior pigs; there’s always a chance that you will have to purchase medication to relieve the worst of their symptoms. We’ll be covering senior pigs elsewhere on this website..
The best way to identify possible health problems is to get a vet to take a look at the pig before you commit to anything.
When viewing stock you need to be able to walk away if you think the pigs are not up to standard. Do not let your heart rule your head. You need to buy the healthiest stock with the best genes you can afford. Buying anything less, or purchasing a sickly animal, could lead to additional vet bills and heartache in the future.
Also, make sure you look at as many different breeders and stock as possible. This will help you build up a better picture of what makes good and bad stock.
A pig can live to around twenty years old, so you need to make sure you get everything right at the beginning to ensure you, and your new pet’s happiness.
Just remember, 100% health cannot be guaranteed, but if you follow all our guidelines you’ll be off to a good start.