The Healthy Pig

Follow these tips to keep your pigs in good health.

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Unsplash/Kenneth Schipper
Keep your pigs healthy by giving them exercise, fresh air, adequate food, and a sturdy shelter.

Choosing and Keeping Pigs (Firefly Books Inc., 2009), by Linda McDonald-Brown is an expert guide for anyone interested in keeping pigs. The book details everything readers need to know about caring for and keeping a pig, covering topics ranging from housing to health and habitat management. The following excerpt is from Chapter 3, “Pests and Diseases.”

Traditional pig breeds are hardy and usually enjoy good health. To keep them in peak condition, you’ll need to give them plenty of exercise, fresh air, adequate food and a sturdy shelter.

The owner can look for various indicators in a pig’s physical appearance and manner to check that the animal is healthy:

• Bright eyes and an alert appearance

• Shiny coat with no flakiness or red skin, free from skin problems such as lice

• A tightly curled tail

• Well-formed stools

• Good appetite and body well covered, but not too fat

• Able to move without limping

Basic health matters

Most pig owners know when something isn’t quite right. Occasionally pigs will go off their food or go lame for no obvious reason, and just as quickly they will recover. However, if symptoms (even mild ones) go on for longer than a couple of days, summon your vet.

Loss of appetite can occur if the weather is hot or the pig is in season. Rather than continuing to put your pig’s usual food out every day, try tempting it with other food, such as fruit or vegetables. Pigs love bananas, and many a sick pig will prefer them to other food. Make sure you do not give your pig any illegal foods, such as kitchen waste or meat products. Often, pouring milk over the usual feed will tempt the pig into eating again, although you may have to register with your local authority as a milk user.

You take the temperature of a pig by inserting a thermometer in the rectum. A healthy pig’s temperature should be 101.5-102 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher than this usually means that the pig has a fever, which can be lowered by a course of antibiotics. Lower than this, and the pig should be kept as warm as possible using a heat lamp and blankets.

Pigs should be wormed regularly. Depending on your farming practices, you may wish to vaccinate, although if you are organic neither worming nor vaccination may be permissible.


To save on vet’s fees, it is worth learning how to inject. The skin of a pig can be quite difficult to penetrate, so you need to approach injecting with a positive attitude.

There are two ways of injecting a pig: into the muscle (intramuscular) or under the skin (subcutaneous). Muscle injections are easier and quickest to do. When injecting, ensure that you use the correct gauge needle. In general, a 16-gauge needle should be used on adult sows and boars; a 21-gauge needle on piglets up to about 22 lbs; and a 16-19-gauge needle on older pigs of about 130 lbs. Needle size also depends on the type of medicine, so consult your vet.

Inject approximately 2-3 inches behind the ear, at the point where the loose skin borders the taut skin. If the injection is too far back, you might inject into fat, which will lower the pig’s immunity response. For subcutaneous injections, pinch a fold of skin just behind the ear and insert the needle at an angle, to ensure that you inject under the skin.

Pigs must be well restrained when injecting them. Try not to stand the pig on straw, because if you do drop the needle, it will be hard to find. If you feel that you may have problems keeping the pig standing still, consider using a pig twitch. However, most breeders inject while the pig is eating — more often than not, it will simply grunt and carry on eating.

Ensure that all needles are sterile before use and that, once used, they are disposed of correctly and in accordance with your country’s current waste regulations.

Withdrawal periods

Most licensed medicines have a withdrawal period (usually 28 days), during which time you are not allowed to use the animal for food production. In many countries, forms have to be filled in when an animal goes to slaughter, confirming that no medicines have been given during this time Natural products such as aloe vera do not have a withdrawal period, but you should still keep a note of any such products that you have given your pig.

If you suffer the misfortune of a pig dying on you, the carcass must be disposed of in the correct manner and in accordance with your country’s regulations. Burying or burning on your property may not be permitted and you may have to arrange for your pig to be picked up by a licensed collector for disposal elsewhere.

Bad Signs

It is important that the pig is checked every day so that even minor problems can be dealt with quickly. Some of the signs that all may not be well are as follows:

• Lameness

• Wounds

• Flaky or angry, red skin

• Vomiting

• Coughing

• Rapid breathing

• Standing hunched up

• Loss of appetite or thirst

• Change in stools

• A general air of looking miserable

More from Choosing and Keeping Pigs:
Health Problems for Pigs
Natural Remedies for Your Pigs
Plants That Are Toxic to Your Pigs

Excerpted from  Choosing and Keeping Pigs, by Linda McDonald-Brown. Used with permission from Firefly Press, Inc., © 2009.