Monday, March 26, 2001

Pig Pals - Things Of Interest

Article On Cancer and Pyometra In The Pet Pig

Things Of Interest

by Phyllis Battoe (Originally presented at the National Pot-Bellied Pig Congress in March 2001)

This has been a bad year for hearing and seeing some things that are new or that have been here that we just had not had diagnosed in earlier times. Just as we found out as time went on about the different pneumonia's that probably accounted for a good many deaths of pigs in the early days of their entry into this country, we are constantly finding more things to worry about.

As our vet care and pet stewardship has progressed, our pigs are living longer lives and more is learned as we go along. We are hearing and seeing more cancer and non-malignant tumors and more uterine infections (pyometra) in our older females.

Non-Malignant Tumors:

We all remember the pig in California two years ago with the 70 pound tumor that was removed and the pig survived and is doing well. This was not as unusual a case as we all thought at the time, there have been several pigs across the country with the same problem just this year.

As pet people what you want to know is how do you know if your pet has a problem like this. This rescue pig with seventy pound tumor was not hard since the pig had a belly so big that it couldn't get up if in a prone position and the pig for the most part was skin and bones. It didn't take a brain surgeon to figure out something was wrong with that one.

There are cases where the tumor isn't that large and the symptoms are very hard to catch except by the most discerning pet owner. Maybe a slight swelling on one side or a too full look in the belly area. For the most part in the beginning the pig continues to eat and acts almost normal. The pig usually does not have a temperature so why would one think there is a problem?

We find it interesting that in all cases that we have heard of and seen at this point in time were in un-altered older female pigs.

Picture of a pig with a tumor.

Pictures of the tumor that was removed from Popcycle the potbellied pig













So far this year we have seen or heard of just about all forms of cancer that affect humans showing up in potbellied pigs.  We have had inquires about skin cancers from pigs in Arizona and at our own sanctuary in the last two years we have seen cancer of the mammary gland and pancreatic cancer. This was the exception as far as unaltered goes as he was a young altered male pig. Also cancerous growths have shown up on the vulva of two very old intact female pigs.

We have removed one cancerous testicle from a boar that was brought in with one retained testicle. The visible testicle was twice the normal size and had a golf ball size tumor in it. The males however still seem to have a less likely chance of having the problems that the unaltered females seem to have.

When I spoke here last year I reminded people to do those tummy rubs often and be thorough about it. You are checking for lumps and bumps and giving the pig the time of it's life at the same time. The same holds true for the rest of the pig's body. Any lump or growth that you find needs to be seen by your vet as soon as possible. Pigs can have fatty tumors that are not life threatening and they may have lumps for other reasons, but better safe than sorry.

My veterinarian tells me that there is no blood test available that will pick any of this up at the early stages of development of either of these types of tumors.

Pyometra or Uterine Infections:

Pyometra is an infection inside the uterus of un-spayed female pigs. Those of us that have had dogs for many years are probably more aware of this problem and how it affects the animals. The only saving grace for this problems is the fact that it can have very definite symptoms and the animal will run a fever. This makes the diagnosis much easier for your vet.

Most are older females (have had some in younger females) showing a discharge from the vulva. There has been however several cases where the infection is confined inside the uterus without showing the discharge or in such a manner that it was not noticed by the owner.

Pyometra, if left untreated can be fatal to your pet. In untreated cases the uterus may burst and spread the infection through the body in the form of peritonitis. We have discussed several times about the time to worry being when your pet refuses his food or does not eat with the gusto that you are used to seeing.

The best "fix" for Pyometra is to have the pig spayed. Antibiotics may help in the beginning stages and even hold the infection down when it is further along, but it has been our experience that it returns with a vengeance in most cases. If not treated aggressively and early and the uterus bursts than you have the peritonitis to contend with which is even more life threatening than the Pyometra itself.

This problem and the others that we have talked about here might make one wonder how much part the hormones play into all of this? This also tells that a spayed female pet pig has a better chance of living a long healthy life without these problems. In other words, it is ANOTHER good reason to spay your young girls that are pets!

This is not saying that we should all run out and have all our older girls spayed. It tells us that when we get them young it is to their advantage, and ours, to get it done if possible.

My vet still does not like to do an older female unless there are medical problems that make it absolutely necessary. Problems like we are talking about here. The risk on older pigs is much higher and surgery is much more difficult with older pigs. I refer to my wonderful Dr. Meyers famous quote "IF IT AIN'T BROKE DON'T FIX IT".

This is meant as new information to give us guidelines to go by now that we know a potential problem may show up down the road. It gives us more incentive to get even that single family pet that has no contact with males or a chance of being bred into a vet when they are still young enough to be spayed easily.

It also is a help to the sanctuary that does not adopt out, but who keeps these pigs for their entire lifetime. They have always neutered males as a matter of course, but have not seen the females being intact as a problem since no breeding could take place. We may now want to consider any young female under a year or even two years if the condition of the pig is good, as eligible for a spay upon arrival.

Copyrighted by Phyllis Battoe - All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 26, 2001

Pig Pals - Uterine Infections, And Tumors: Another Reason To Spay Your Pig

by Phyllis Battoe (February 2001) 

The uterine infections and tumors has become a problem for pigs across the Country and seems to affect mostly the older girls that people have. The uterine infections happen only to females still intact. This may have to do with heat cycles etc. 

Tumors:  There are few symptoms of the growth of the tumors except to the most discerning eye of the owner. The pig may appear to have a swelling on one side or a distended stomach in one area. Eventually the loss of weight and overall well being of the pig is affected. In the early stages and sometimes in the later stages, there is no rise in temperature nor lack of appetite, both key things we watch for with our pigs.

Most of the cases with these kinds of tumors are non malignant, but not always. The tumors can grow to very large size before the diagnosis is made. One in CA was weighed in at 70 pounds (Pictures, warning: graphic) and one in PA caught early at 35 pounds. In most cases the prime area seems to be an attachment to the uterus.  The only cure for this is surgery.

It is far better to have that young pig spayed than to have to put an older pig through the surgery when it is compromised by the tumor once a tumor exists.  This is not to say that everyone should run out and spay these older females now that we know this, but it is reason to watch a little closer and mention should your pig show any of the above symptoms.

Spaying is not easy on an older pig and my vet personally really does not want to do them unless it is a medical necessity. So we aren't saying go out and find a vet to spay your old girls. This does however tell us that when at all possible, get them spayed as youngsters when it is easy on them. We have always known that spaying the one and only house pig still had lots of merit as the once a month PMS that the females can go through made life uneasy for all of us. This is another more important reason to have it done on our pets.

It also gives us something else to watch out for as much as possible. It is good that we are now aware of this problem and gives us a chance to discuss it with our vets should we think it's a problem to our own animals. 

Uterine Infections:  The uterine infections are also called Pyometra. This is an infection inside the uterus that can cause major problems and even death if not treated. Symptoms include running a temperature, poor appetite, general malaise of the pig and sometimes a discharge from the vulva. This is something that only intact females have and the most thorough treatment is a spay. 

Pigs that have the discharge are less likely to be as bad as those with no discharge. At least some of the infection is moving out. The discharge can be yellow or white and sometimes green.  Some pigs do not have any discharge and that means the uterus can be full of pus and infection. In severe cases left untreated the uterus breaks and peritonitis sets in which is often fatal.

Antibiotics can hold the infection down and in some early cases may appear to fix the problem, but it has been found that the safest surest way of treatment is a complete spay. This problem if caught early and treated can be fixed. Once again if the pig is spayed this would not be a problem at all.

Cancers:  We have long known that pigs are able to get cancer. One of the most common is the mammary gland type where you might find a hard knot on the teat line of the pig. (Gives you good reason for that belly rub every day as you feel for this.) Pigs have shown up with pancreatic cancer, skin cancer, lymph gland melanomas etc.

Females are showing cancer growths in the vulva area and intact males have shown it in their testicles. Its important that you go over your pig looking for any unusual lumps, bumps etc. on a routine basis. Not that I feel all are operable, but the vastness of our scientific research says that some are fixable.

I would never suggest surgery on old pigs that will stress easily or who will  probably be gone before the cancer ever gets them. For these a good quality of life for the time remaining, as long as the appetite stays good is the best we have to offer.

Copyrighted by Phyllis Battoe