Environment in the Management of Miniature Pet Pigs
Miniature pet pigs (MPPs) are sensitive to extremes of heat and cold and should be provided a clean, dry, draft-free environment. Access to the outdoors should include with an area for the pig to root in, as minerals in the soil are beneficial to the pig. Access to a spacious, clean, outdoor environment is enriching for both sows and piglets and increases the chance that piglets will receive the iron they need naturally.
Adults are usually comfortable in a temperature range of 18.3°–23.9°C (65°–75°F). Pigs have only a limited number of functional sweat glands, and excessive heat can challenge their thermoregulatory mechanisms. Temperatures > 29.4°C (85°F) are stressful to adults. Extended exposure to high temperatures combined with high humidity may be fatal to pigs not acclimated to such an environment. Cooling methods for adult MPPs include moving air across the body, wetting the skin for evaporative cooling (which is more efficient at lower humidity), providing shade, and providing cool surfaces to rest on. In the absence of an appropriate cooling method, pigs may upend their water bowls to make a wallow for cooling and, in so doing, might be left without adequate drinking water, resulting in dehydration and, potentially, salt toxicosis.
Newborn pigs are susceptible to drafts and chilling, and they require an environmental temperature of ~32°C (90°F). Chilled pigs pile on each other and shiver, and their hair stands on end. A poor environment may cause neonates to become moribund and hypoglycemic within 24–36 hours (see Immediate Postpartum Care Overview of Management of the Neonate in Large Animals Appropriate management in the peripartum period can substantially reduce morbidity and mortality for large animal dams and their offspring. As much as 5% of foals, 5%–10% of calves, and 10%–15%... read more ). Heat lamps or pads can be used to provide supplemental warmth; however, their use should be monitored closely because of the risk of electrocution from chewed cords. Pigs prefer sleeping in contact with conspecifics, but pigs that become too hot spread out and pant; pigs observed resting without touching each other may indicate a problem such as overheating or illness.
Housing in the Management of Miniature Pet Pigs
MPPs may be housed outdoors or indoors (or both); however, they must be appropriately acclimated to the specific environmental situation.
Those housed outdoors should be provided with as much space as possible. Pigs explore by rooting and are destructive if allowed full access to a landscaped yard, so some pet owners may prefer confining them to a pen within the yard. The space should provide shade, feeding, and watering areas, and enough space that elimination can be performed at some distance from these areas. Pigs choose to eliminate in one place, given the opportunity. Feces should be removed regularly from the yard.
Pigs should also have a shelter for avoiding inclement weather. Straw or blankets should be provided for warmth. A plastic child-size wading pool can satisfy the pigs desire to wallow and may limit destruction from the pig attempting to root and make a cool place to rest when temperatures begin to rise. Maintaining two fenced areas for the pig allows for rotation and regrowth of vegetation in one pen while the pig is limited to the other. Water dispensers must be secured to keep pigs from spilling the water by rooting or damaging the device by chewing.
Pigs housed indoors should have a particular area (eg, a laundry room), with an elimination area in one corner and a sleeping and eating area in another corner. Confinement to this area when unsupervised is critical to prevent damage to the home from the pigs' exploratory (rooting) behavior. A litter box with the side cut down to accommodate easy entry and exit may be used for elimination. The box should be large enough for the pig to turn around in completely. Nontoxic material should be used for litter because pigs may eat it. Shredded paper, wood shavings, straw, and hay are the safest materials. Blankets, pillows, or stuffed animals should be provided so that the pig can partially satisfy the need to root while indoors. Foraging boxes filled with dirt, mulch, large smooth stones, or plastic balls can also be provided for rooting. The pig's meals and treats should be scattered in the foraging box.
Exercise in the Management of Miniature Pet Pigs
MPPs should be exercised, whether kept outside or indoors. They may be trained to walk on a leash or released into exercise areas. Daily exercise is important for both physical and mental health, to relieve boredom that may otherwise manifest as destructive chewing or rooting or even as aggression. Even if the MPP does not exercise much when given the opportunity, the various stimuli from an outside environment appear to be beneficial to overall temperament. Many household and garden plants are toxic to MPPs, which are adventurous eaters (see Plants Poisonous to Animals Poisonous Plants ).
Behavior in the Management of Miniature Pet Pigs
As healthy, neutered MPPs mature, some become more aggressive and threaten people. No one fully understands why this happens in some cases; however, inadequate opportunities for normal social interactions with other pigs may be a contributing factor. A lack of opportunities to express normal species-typical behaviors as a result of living in an underenriched environment may also contribute. Such threatening behavior needs to be addressed immediately and appropriately, or the pet may learn to use aggression to control its environment. Punishment and other aversive techniques (eg, yelling, stomping, hand clapping, and slapping) should be avoided because they often prompt the pig to become fearful of the punisher and increase its aggressive behavior. Failure to appropriately manage this unwanted behavior is a common reason why MPPs are placed in rescue operations or abandoned.
Training in the Management of Miniature Pet Pigs
MPPs should be habituated to wearing a harness and walking on a leash as early as possible, ideally while still very young and small so they are more tractable. If these objects and activities are introduced to the pig while it is being fed treats, the pig learns to associate the activity with feelings of pleasure. The pig should be taught cues for some basic behaviors, such as sitting, staying, and lying down. Teaching the pig to ask for something by performing a cued behavior before getting what it wants is one method of teaching the pig that it cannot demand things by using aggression. In short, appropriate behavior should be rewarded and inappropriate behaviors ignored, or reinforcement for those behaviors removed (eg, if a pig begins using threats because someone attempts to move it aside or sit next to it on a piece of furniture, the pig should not be allowed to sit on the furniture at all).
The pig should wear a harness and leash at all times when people are home. If the pig threatens someone, the leash should immediately be picked up and the pig should be calmly and quietly removed from the room and confined to its pen or room for no more than 3–5 minutes. If the pig ever threatens a visitor, it should be either prevented from meeting visitors in the future or kept on a leash and under the owner's control to prevent threats. Visitors can be allowed to ask the pig for learned behaviors and then toss (not hand-feed) the pig treats.
Vaccinations in the Management of Miniature Pet Pigs
Vaccinations should be chosen on the basis of the pig's potential for exposure to other pigs, wild animals, and other pets, keeping in mind that pigs may carry pathogenic organisms subclinically, serving as a source of infection for other pigs as well as for humans in some cases. Later in life, under certain stressful conditions, the pig may then become ill. Tetanus toxoid is especially important in MPPs housed outside in contact with other species (eg, petting zoos). The leptospirosis vaccine (6-valent) is likely to cause high fever after being administered; however, this effect can be mitigated with aspirin as needed.
Routine vaccination against various pathogens not only minimizes sickness but also helps prevent zoonotic disease and may satisfy requirements for pet licensure. Vaccines specifically approved for miniature pigs are not available, so commercial domestic swine vaccines are used. Safety and efficacy are concerns when these vaccines are administered to MPPs. Consideration should always be given to antigen dose, especially in small pigs. Administration of excessive antigen may cause adverse reactions. Attempts should be made to identify brands or types of vaccines that require the smallest possible dose for injecting MPPs. When possible, vaccines should be administered over multiple visits rather than all at once. No rabies vaccine is approved for use in MPPs; the incidence of rabies in swine in the US is low.
Parasite Control in the Management of Miniature Pet Pigs
MPPs can be infected with the same external and internal parasites that infect other swine. Owners should be made aware of the zoonotic potential of sarcoptic mange and roundworms. Fecal flotation may be used to evaluate MPPs as early as 6 and 10 weeks old for whipworms and roundworms, respectively. Sarcoptic mange is the most common parasitic disease in pet pigs. Depending on the environment in which the pig originated, internal parasites are less common. Fleas are rarely found on MPPs. Ticks may attach to the thin skin behind the ears or in the axillae or inguinal regions. Permethrins labeled for use in pigs can be applied to treat these infestations.
Dental Care in the Management of Miniature Pet Pigs
Rarely do the needle teeth (deciduous canines and lateral incisors) of newborn miniature piglets need to be trimmed. The risks of fractured teeth and subsequent infection typically outweigh the minor injury that these pigs can inflict upon each other and the sow. Permanent canine teeth erupt at ~5–7 months old and grow continuously. Elongated permanent canine teeth can easily cause injury to a person and damage to furnishings. When excessively long, they can lead to malocclusion and pain.
In MPPs, the canine teeth may need to be cut every 6–12 months using obstetrical wire, mechanical saws, or other cutting instruments. Crushing tools must be avoided because they can fracture the tooth longitudinally and lead to pain and infection. Sedation or anesthesia is required. Care must be taken to avoid cutting the pulp cavity because it remains open to allow continued growth. The length of the pulp cavity varies between individuals, so the tooth should be cut approximately 2–4 cm above the gingiva. Tartar buildup can be removed manually by instrument scraping at the same time the canine teeth are cut. Dental cleaners for small animals may be used with care; to prevent water aspiration during use, the head of the MPP should be positioned downward (ie, so that water drains out the mouth, away from the pharynx). Intubation with a cuffed endotracheal tube for anesthesia also protects the airway.
Geriatric MPPs may have abscessed or exposed tooth roots; sedation and examination of the oral cavity with or without endoscopy are indicated if anorexia or bruxism is reported. Radiographic evaluation may be necessary to diagnose a tooth root abscess. Swelling followed by a draining tract at the angle of the mandible, especially in geriatric MPPs, indicates a canine tooth abscess. Removal is challenging even for skilled surgeons and may result in mandibular fractures. However, MPPs seem to recover well after tooth extraction followed by the administration of antimicrobials and tetanus prophylaxis.
Nail and Hoof Care in the Management of Miniature Pet Pigs
The nails of most pet pigs require regular trimming so that they do not become overly long. Overgrown nails cause an abnormal gait with the feet hyperextended, which places abnormal stress on the joints, resulting in pain and eventually leading to joint disease. The frequency of trimming depends on the surfaces the pig walks on and the amount it is exercised. Annual trimming is sufficient for most MPPs.
Nails can be trimmed using small horse hoof nippers or goat hoof trimmers. Once the excess nail is trimmed away, then a rotary tool can be used to smooth and shape the nails.
Some pet owners can train their pigs to lie still for nail trimming; most pigs, however, need to be anesthetized for the procedure.