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What makes a good pig diet?

What makes a good pig diet?

What makes a good pet pig diet?

Cathy (Zolicani) Corrigan, DVM


There are several factors that must be considered before selecting a diet for your small breed of pig. Our goal is to provide our pet pigs with superior nutrition for a long and disease-free life. We must consider the basic nutritional requirements of the pig, ease of production and storage, origin of ingredients, bioavailabity, the energy needs of the pig, palatability, ease of feeding, price, and access to the product. 

1. Basic nutritional requirements

The basic nutritional needs of our small breeds of pigs (for adults) include: 

Protein % 13-16

Fat % 3.5 

Fiber % 14

Calcium % 0.95

phosphorus % 0.80

Selenium ppm 0.48

Zn ppm 140

Vitamin A (IU/kg) 6000

Vitamin E (IU/kg) 180

Vitamin D (IU/kg) 1120

2. Ease of production and storage

A homemade diet with completely fresh ingredients would be ideal for all of us – but homemade diets that are balanced for a pig are time consuming, difficult to make, and expensive.

A pre-packaged diet, covering the basic nutritional needs, but supplemented with a variety of fresh foods and graze is a reasonable compromise. There are many pelleted diets available for pigs. Most of them cover the basic requirements, but many are produced for production pigs and may not meet our standards for a pet pig’s diet.

3. Origin of ingredients

This is when it begins to get complicated. 

The larger food companies often buy ingredients on the commodity market…corn may be substituted for barley because corn is cheaper at that time. OR corn from China or Chile may be cheaper than locally grown corn. Care may not be taken to make sure the product is not contaminated with toxins (like the melamine contamination in dog foods causing kidney failure) or is not a GMO product.

The soil used to grow the ingredients may also be depleted of certain nutrients – either due to over use or because of the geography. The soil in the pacific northwest of the United States has almost no selenium or magnesium, so grains or hays grown in this area do not provide adequate levels of these nutrients when eaten.

Shelf life is a factor also – the longer the product stays on the shelf, the more nutrients leak out of the food due to oxidation. Contamination from moisture, mold, rodents, and bugs is also more likely.

4. Bioavailability

This involves the ability of the pig to digest and absorb nutrients from the food. Some pigs do not have the digestive enzymes and intestinal flora to absorb nutrients. Foods that contain preservatives or have fewer nutrients are harder for these pigs to digest. 

Fresher ingredients are usually, but not always, easier for a pig to digest. The more nutrient-dense a product is, the more likely that the pig will be able to utilize it. Production and preservation tend to dilute nutrients or render them unusable. 

Another factor to bioavailability is the ratio of nutrients and their use in the body. The Calcium/Phosphorus ration of foods is critical, especially to young growing pigs, or to the elderly pigs, who may be developing bone disease. The dietary requirements of Calcium:Phosphorus should be 1.2 (Ca):1(phosphorus). Appropriate levels of Vitamin A and D must also be available to utilize these minerals properly. In addition, other foods can alter the metabolism. In a condition call bran sickness, too much wheat bran is fed. The wheat bran has a very large amount of phosphorus in it. The “overdose” of phosphorus causes the calcium to leach out of the bone, and the bones spontaneously fracture. This is called nutritional hyperparathyroidism or Nutritional Osteodystrophy.

5. Energy needs of the pig

Young, growing pigs need more food. Creep feeding (having food spread out in the pig enclosure for piglets to root and find – small amounts constantly available through the day) any diet is necessary for growing piglets.

Active pigs need more food than inactive pigs.

Obese pigs need less food (and more activity). These pigs still need a BALANCED diet, just less of the food.

6. Palatability

If a pig will not eat the food, or if they eat only parts of it, but not the total diet, then they are not getting a balanced diet.

7. Ease of feeding

A dry packaged food is easy to feed, easy to store, easy to find and buy.

8. Price

Large batch commercial foods are usually quite reasonably priced.

Small batch, local foods are more expensive, but often are more nutritious. They may be harder to find.

9. Access to the product. 

Not much of an issue due to the internet. Except for handmade diets, which can be difficult.

A plan for healthy skin.

A plan for healthy pig skin

Cathy Zolicani (04/28/15) (aka Cathy Corrigan, DVM)

Healthy skin and hooves depend on a healthy environment, proper skin care, and proper diet.  Pigs have a naturally dry skin, very few sweat glands, coats that will blow causing them to go bald overnight ,and productive oil glands and scent glands. Diet is probably the most important factor in keeping skin healthy.  Some pigs need supplements in order to develop a healthy skin and hooves.

It will take 6 – 8 weeks of care to see improvement in the skin and hooves.


1.     Vitamin D3. Healthy pigs will get enough vitamin D3 if they have 15 minutes of sunlight per day.  Sunlight filtered through window glass will not provide the correct wavelengths of light to allow the pig’s body to produce vitamin D.  Healthy thickened skin (a condition called lichenification) will not absorb and utilize sunlight correctly, so oral supplementation is required.   Vitamin D3 capsules (1000 – 2000iu) can be given once a day for 2 weeks , then once weekly.  All indoor pigs should have vitamin D supplementation.  A full spectrum light, marketed for people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can be used for 15 minutes per day if you would prefer to avoid supplements AND if you pig already has healthy skin.

2.    B-Vitamins (especially biotin), trace vitamins and trace minerals – here are 30 or so trace vitamins and minerals that are necessary for healthy skin.  B vitamins, especially biotin, are also very important.  Fortunately, there are several horse products that have been formulated for healthy skin and hooves that work very well for pigs.  They are formulated in a pelleted feed form and can be obtained at the local feed store.   Farnam’s horseshoer’s secret is an excellent product for this, but there are several that would work.  1 teaspoonful per day for 2 weeks, then once a week for a long time.

3.    Dietary fat.  Dietary fat is necessary to provide healthy oils, hair, hooves.  It is also needed for the pig to absorb vitamins and minerals from the digestive tract.  Animal fat (also called lard) works best for this. Lard can be purchased at the grocery store or at Walmart.  Divide the lard into small batches and freeze the rest to prevent it from becoming rancid. (I put mine into ice cube trays for easy feeding).  Coconut oil can also be used, but if your pig is having severe skin issues, animal fat is a better choice.

4.    Vitamin C – vitamin C is needed for healthy metabolism and absorption of other vitamins and minerals.  Vitamin C, 500 mg once a day for 2 weeks, then once a week.

5.    Vitamin E 400 iu once a day for all pigs – helps with the balance of selenium and magnesium in the body.

6.    A diet with lots of fresh greens, limited fruits, and a balanced pelleted or homemade diet is essential.

7.    A selenium/vit e/magnesium product is also a good idea, especially in areas of the country where the soil is poor in selenium (like the pacific northwest).  A horse feed-through product works very well, 1 teaspoonful once a week.  Available at the feed store.


   Pigs will root and scratch on anything and everything.  We must make sure that they have a safe environment – no wires, glass, poisonous plants and that sort of thing.  In addition, they must be provided with shade (sunburn is very common in pigs),water and mud (to help keep bugs, stickers, and sun away, and to help them stay cool), and graze for rooting and eating. 

   Sunburn is very common in pigs.  Some plants, medications and illnesses will cause photosensitivity, which will cause the sunburn to be much worse, or will cause a pig to burn even in the shade.  If your pig is on medication (other than the dietary supplements, and de-wormers), keep it inside until it has been off of the medication for 2 weeks.  If your pig is sick, keep inside until it feels better. Sunscreen is useful in preventing sunburn.  Use a children’s sunscreen with the highest spf that you can find – and apply it frequently (every 30 minutes is recommended).  Make sure that your pig has shade and mud to roll in – this is a great natural sunscreen.  Or – only allow your pig outside for a limited amount of time early in the morning, or at twilight.

Skin care:

1.    Bathing – house pigs need to be bathed and most love it.  It is important to use a gentle soap and to rinse completely.  Do not overbathe—it can strip the natural oils out of the skin and cause dryness.  Brushing and forking is always good.

2.    Oils – there are several good quality moisturizers that can be used to soften a pig’s skin.  Try some on a small area of skin first to make sure that there is no allergic reaction. Coconut oil can be used as a skin lotion.

3.    Hoof oil – there are several good quality horse hoof moisturizers/oils that can be used to moisturize the hooves.  These can be found at most feed stores.  Coconut oil can also be used.

Things to have on hand, to help your pig UNTIL you get to a veterinarian:

Things to have on hand, to help your pig UNTIL you get to a veterinarian:

*Strawberry Kool-Aid – for pigs who do not want to drink, or have low blood sugar.  Can be used to give some meds since it can mask the taste of a bitter compound  

*Strawberry Koolaid – for pigs who do not want to drink, or have low blood sugar.  Can be used to give some meds since it can mask the taste of a bitter compound  

*Gatorade(regular/original) or pedialyte – balanced electrolyte solutions to replace fluid lost if vomiting or diarrhea occur.  

*Low sodium chicken broth – can be used to replace fluid lost if vomiting or diarrhea occurs  

*Campbell’s vegetable soup – many pigs will eat this when it is warmed up when they will not eat anything else.  *Canned pumpkin – high fiber to help if constipation or diarrhea occur  

*Applesauce – many pigs will eat this when they have poor appetite.Can also be used to hide medication  *Heating pad – for the cold pig. Set on low so piggie doesn't get burned. Also adds security for new pigs – they sleep better on those first nights home.           

*Karo syrup – a sugar source to help very cold or inappetant pigs  

*Sugar –  1 teaspoonful in a cup of warm water can be put on gums to raise blood sugar of cold pigs. They do not have to drink it, it can be absorbed through the mucous membranes of the lips and gums.  

*Instant oatmeal – many pigs will eat warm oatmeal when they do not eat anything else  

*A few syringes of different sizes or a turkey baster so that you can give liquids orally  

*A digital thermometer – to be used rectally (get one for only pig use)  

*A fan for cooling  

*Ice packs (or frozen peas in a bag) for cooling and in case of a injury to a leg.  Put a small towel between the ice pack and the skin.  

*Honey – a sugar source for cold pigs – rub some on the gums. Can also be mixed in with canned pumpkin if they are reluctant to eat it  

*Full spectrum light (SAD light) – can be obtained online. Provides sunlight for pigs that are indoors only - needed so that Vitamin D can be produced and used. 10 minutes per day.  Especially useful for piglets  

*Kwik Stop – a styptic powder to help bleeding hooves if you quick them during trimming.  DO NOT USE ON SKIN because it can burn the tissue  

*Super Glue – if you quick a claw during trimming, you can glue a cotton ball onto bleeding area and it will stop.  Cotton will fall off or can be removed later  

*Q-tips & KY jelly or Vaseline (or both) – can be used to lubricate and moisten tissue. A small amount on a q-tip can be used to clean the outside of the ear  Handy bandage material (in case of a cut, scrape, etc):  

*Disposable Diapers or Sanitary Napkins – clean absorbent material, easy to store and always have about.  

*Masking Tape (does not stick to skin, but sticks to bandage material) 

 *A couple of pairs of athletic socks or some boots made for dogs – to cover feet  *

1 inch white bandage tape  *Rolled gauze  

*Vet Wrap

                                                         WRITTEN BY : CATHY ZOLICONI, DVM.

What to do if you pig eats something that MIGHT be poisonous????

January 12, 2016  Cathy  (Zolicani), DVM  

What to do if you pig eats something that MIGHT be poisonous????  Do not panic – you need to be ready to help your pig.  

***If your pig has a seizure, collapses, has trouble breathing, or cannot be awakened, transport immediately to your local veterinarian or Veterinary ER center*** 

 Have the phone number and address of your local pig veterinarian and local veterinary ER posted on your refrigerator.  Have the Animal Poison Control numbers on your refrigerator door.    

 1.  Call Poison Control  Animal Poison Control:    1-888-426-4435  ($65 consultation fee)  Pet Poison Helpline:  1-855-764-7661  ($45 consultation fee )  Animal Poison Hotline:  1-888-232-8879 ($35 consultation fee)  National Animal Poison Control Center at the University of Illinois:  1-800-548-2423 ($30 per case)   Kansas State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital:  1-785-532-5679 (no fee)  Human poison control: 1-800-222-1222     

2.  Information that you will need for the toxicologist:  a.  what poison – have the label available if possible – they will need to know the toxic agent, its concentration, and how much your pig ate  b.  how much does your pig weigh – this helps determine if your pig ate a toxic dose.  c.  How LONG ago did the pig eat the toxic substance – this helps determine how treatment should procede.  d.  Is your pig showing any signs of illness?  If so, what are they doing    

 3.  have a pen and paper available so you can write down your case number and the recommendations of the toxicologist     

4.  If you have the label, read the instructions for “what to do if this is swallowed” written on the label – it is especially important to note if it says ‘DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING.’     FIRST AIDE FOR THE POISONED PIG:  

***If your pig has a seizure, collapses, has trouble breathing, or cannot be awakened, transport immediately to your local veterinarian or Veterinary ER center***  

Have the phone number and address of your local pig veterinarian and local veterinary ER posted on your refrigerator.  Have the Animal Poison Control numbers on your refrigerator door.  

1.  If the product swallowed is burning, irritating, or caustic (if your pig chews on a battery, for example), and your pig is conscious and not having convulsions, then you want to rinse and coat the mouth, esophagus and the stomach – you can give water or a little milk, then give up to ½ cup of a coating agent (peptobismol, Maalox, sucralfate, barium).  Then call poison control or seek veterinary help.     

2.  if the product got in the eye:  use room temperature water to rinse the eyes for 15-20 minutes.  Then call poison control or seek veterinary help.  3.  if the product got on the skin, rinse the pig with room temperature water for 15-20 minutes (put your pig in the shower) Then call poison control or seek veterinary help.

                                                WRITTEN BY: CATHY ZOLICANI, DVM.

Salt Toxicity & Water Deprivation in Mini Pigs

Salt Toxicity & Water Deprivation in Mini Pigs Written by: Cathy Corrigan (Zolicani), DVM Salt poisoning is a complicated thing that depends upon the BALANCE of salt and water. If salt has just been ingested, and there are no symptoms, then we treat it by giving lots of water. This allows salt and water to be absorbed in the correct amounts at the same time and prevents the salt from reaching poisonous levels. If it has been many hours and symptoms are present (neuro symptoms) then treatment is much different. Here is why: when pig ears lots of salt and little water, then the salt gets into the brain cells and sort of dehydrates them, causing them to shrink. If you give lots of water at this time, water will rush Into the brain cells to rehydrate them and Dilute the salt out. This causes the brain cells to swell. This causes the brain to swell, which can cause death. Another thing that can happen is that the pig can dump its water over or have its water frozen. No excess salt is ingested. But dehydration shrinks the brain cells. If you give lots of water, the water rushed into the brain cells, cells swell, brain swelling. In this case, you have to give an electrolyte so that the salt and water rise together at the same time, to prevent the rush of water into the brain cells. Once symptoms develop, IV fluids are needed….we start with a half strength saline and slowly bring the blood salt levels down over 3-4 days to prevent excess swelling. In these cases, permanent damage is often done. The name “salt poisoning” is a bit misleading because it usually takes both a salty meal AND limited water to cause a problem. A few potato chips or pretzels or salted nuts will NOT cause salt poisoning in your pig. COMMON CAUSES OF SALT TOXICITY IN MINI PIGS:1. Ingestion of large amounts of sodium rich breakfast cereals, especially if water is restricted. (Many cereals are prepared with baking soda, which causes high levels of sodium to remain in the finished baked product).2. Ingestion of baking soda, table salt, baking mixes, especially if water is restricted.3. Ingestion of Play-Doh, home-made Play-Doh, and ornaments made of home-made clay (like Christmas ornaments made for kid’s handprints). These products contain a HUGE amount of salt.4. Frozen water or water dispensers that no longer work, empty bowls, or pigs that are locked in rooms with no access to water.5. Ingestion of road salt or salt used on sidewalks during the winter. HOW SALT POISONS YOUR MINI PIG: Under normal circumstances, the pig’s body keeps the blood level of sodium within a very narrow range. When the pig eats salt, it is absorbed into the blood stream. At the same time, water is also absorbed to counterbalance the salt and maintain a steady level. In cases where a huge amount of salt is eaten (so water cannot be absorbed fast enough to compensate), or where moderate amounts are eaten but there is no water, the sodium levels in the blood will rise. At a certain point, the sodium levels get so high, that the brain is poisoned by the sodium. SYMPTOMS: It usually takes about 24 hours for the signs of salt poisoning to occur in pigs. Pigs with salt poisoning tend to move their heads forward and back, in a motion that looks like a turtle trying to retract its head into its shell. They will be blind and stagger about. They will not place their feet normally and may knuckle or stumble when walking. They are able to stand and move in a straight line but may fall down when turning. They have no appetite and usually have a normal temperature. Pigs that recover from salt poisoning will often have permanent damage – they may have personality changes that interfere with their ability to bond with people. They may be permanently lethargic and spend the majority of their time sleepy. TREATMENT for Salt toxicity in Mini Pigs: It is very difficult to treat salt poisoning in the pig. When the brain is poisoned by sodium, the sodium enters the cerebral spinal fluid and brain tissue. If the sodium levels in the blood are lowered too rapidly, the water rushes into the spinal fluid and into the brain and causes the brain to rapidly swell. This can cause very severe brain damage (herniation of the brain, edema of the brain) which will be fatal. In the hospital, we place iv catheters and measure the serum sodium concentrations of the blood. We then give sodium rich fluids that have 10% less sodium than the measured blood concentrations – this slowly dilutes the sodium out of the system without causing brain swelling. We measure the blood sodium concentrations every 6 hours and adjust the fluids accordingly. These pigs are on iv fluids for about 3 days, until blood levels are normalized. Many of these pigs do not survive. FIRST AID FOR THE SALT POISONED PIG: If you suspect that your pig may be suffering from salt poisoning, seek medical attention as quickly as possible. If you suspect that your pig may be suffering from salt poisoning, but cannot seek veterinary care, it is very important that you do not give plain water to your pig. If it is drinking, offer 50/50 water and Gatorade or Pedialyte rather than plain water. The Gatorade and Pedialyte contain electrolytes that will help slowly dilute the sodium levels in the blood AND sugar which will help maintain blood sugar levels in a pig that is not eating. Keep the pig indoors so that it will stay warm (or cool in the summer) and where it cannot hurt itself if it is staggering about. If you see your pig eat Play-Doh or a LARGE salty meal, and it has been less than 6 hours, and it is not showing any signs of toxicity, induce vomiting if possible. Give 2 cups of plain water, then 50/50 water and Gatorade or Pedialyte free choice and encourage frequent drinking of this mixture. Then see your veterinarian so that blood sodium levels can be measured. Your veterinarian will want to keep your pig for approx. 12 hours to measure the sodium, and will start appropriate treatment if the sodium levels begin to rise.If your pig is already showing symptoms, do NOT induce vomiting (your pig will aspirate vomitus into the lungs because it will be impaired). Seek veterinary care immediately.

Pig sedation/anesthesia

Pig sedation/anesthesia   BY: Cathy Z  

Pigs are a challenge to sedate or anesthetize for procedures.  There are many different choices for your veterinarian – in general, they will use the meds that they are most familiar with.  Here are a few common choices:  

1. TKX (telazol/ketamine/xylazine) – 2.2 – 4.4 mg/kg IM, can use additional 2.2 mg/kg iv as needed (reconstitute telazol with 2.5 mg of ketamine (100mg/ml), and 2.5 ml of xylazine (100 mg/ml)).  

2.  telazol can be used alone for sedation – 4 mg/kg IM  3.  for minor procedures like nail trims or tusk trims:  

Pre-treat with buprenex 0.03 mg/kg orally – absorbs through mucus membranes of mouth.  Then  midazolam internasally (0.1-0.2 mg/kg IN)  Finally dexdomitor 15-20 ug/kg IM  can be reversed with antisedan.   Isoflorane gas is by far the best anesthetic to use if available.  It is often not available in the home.     

The least possible sedation to get the job done should be used.

                                                            WRITTEN BY: CATHY ZOLICANI, DVM.