Pet Talk: This little piggy had a healthy, balanced diet; avoiding pig obesity
The age-old saying “you are what you eat” is not an exception for our swine friends.
Even though pigs are primarily portrayed as round and plump, this may not be the healthiest lifestyle for them.
Dr. Evelyn MacKay, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, offers some guidance on healthy pig weight, how to maintain it, and the consequences of not doing so.
According to MacKay, a healthy weight may look different in appearance, depending on the breed of pig.
While many breeds, such as the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, characteristically possess a round belly, all pigs should have a “waistline” when viewed from above.
Many veterinarians turn to the Body Condition Score (BCS), which allows the veterinarian to visually assess an animal based on their shape and the amount of fat they have and categorize them as ideal, over-, or underweight.
“When evaluated on BCS scale of one through nine, a healthy pig will be a BCS of four to six,” MacKay said.
Fat deposits are a tell-tale sign of surplus weight gain. Obese pigs have fat deposits around their eyes; the development of these deposits can lead to what is called “fat blindness,” which occurs when the pig’s upper lids/brows cover their eyes.
“A pig should not have so much fat that it obscures the pig’s vision, causes its belly to drag on the ground, or makes rolls on its face or neck,” MacKay said. “Healthy pigs are active, vocal, and engaged with their environment.”
Pigs that have gained an overabundance of weight become less active and more sedentary.
When overweight, pigs are much more likely to struggle with lameness and unwillingness to rise. This change in behavioral lifestyle can quickly lead to a string of unwanted health problems.
“Extra weight puts more strain on their joints and can cause them to be less active,” MacKay said. “This then creates a vicious cycle of weight gain and decreased activity.”
In addition, pigs, and especially pot-bellied pigs, are naturally prone to arthritis as they age due to their conformation, including small legs and large body size.
When it comes to a healthy diet, the stereotype of pigs eating “slop” or garbage could not be more wrong.
Pigs should be fed a balanced diet formulated to meet their specific nutrition requirements, such as a commercial pelleted diet formulated for mini pigs. Starchy or sugary goods such as oatmeal or sweet fruits should be avoided or fed in very limited amounts.
For a low-calorie treat, pet owners can try feeding their pigs watermelon, celery, leafy greens, and carrots.
For guidance on pig nutrition and addressing the needs of overweight pigs, MacKay encourages pet owners to consult with their veterinarian.
“Weight loss should be gradual and not in excess of 0.5-1% of bodyweight per week,” she said.
Integrating daily activity to a pig’s routine can better help pet owners balance the scales.
This can come in the form of teaching pigs tricks; constructing puzzles with their food; giving them a small mud wallow or kiddie swimming pool to play in; or training them to walk on a harness.
“Preventing inappropriate weight gain is always easier than getting an obese pig to lose weight,” MacKay said. “Having regular wellness examinations with a veterinarian and discussing the appropriate amount to feed a pet pig from a young age will help prevent obesity and ensure that pet pigs can maintain a healthy weight and enjoy maximum quality of life.”
Knowing the needs of their animals and working hard to maintain them is important for pet owners. Through a balanced diet and regular activity, owners can help their pigs live a long, active, and healthy life.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.