I recently received an email regarding a rescue pig named Lucy who is extremely obese. Her new owner requested advice on a sound dieting program. Here is my reply to her.
I have had several pigs that have successfully dieted with advice from Dr. Wilbers, my veterinarian. Spike, my most known achievement, lost half of his body weight. So has Ziggy, Miss Mini, Penny, Opal, etc. I feed just pig food, no veggies, no fruit…just pig food (Champion Potbellied Pig Food). Gradually I take the pig down to only 4 oz. of food with warm water. For a treat and for the health of their urinary tract, I give Gatorade or orange juice in water to encourage water consumption. During the summer, I will reduce the pigs daily intake to as little as 1/4 cup once a day and make them go for a walk and graze for any additional food.
The obese pigs I have worked with seem to follow a pattern while they are dieting. First they come here very depressed, barely moving at all. All of them have been blind from fat and some have been hard of hearing. The fact they can’t and don’t hear so well makes them cranky or whine with fear. The cranky ones jump forward while barking, trying to scare you, and if they made contact they could bite! For the most part, I just ignore them and the behavior subsides.
It takes about a month for them to start feeling comfortable and they stop being cranky after about a week. Short walks around the barn common area then they graduate to just outside the barn door and eventually….usually the day they get their site back…they go for a walk around the property.
All along they have been losing some weight but it really becomes recognizable when they start to exercise. Intact female pigs are highly motivated during their cycle. Their true personality starts to shine.
I find that the weight comes off from the rear first. The hardest place to lose the weight is the jowls and around the eyes. Once the weight is off it seems to stay off. I then feed them the same as the others which is approximately two cups per day.
It has been taking 9 months to complete the diet. In Spike’s case, I have been feeding him extra. He started to lose weight and he didn’t seem to stop so I actually think Spike is a little underweight, which is good because we want to do eye surgery on Spike so he can see better and he is at less risk when he is on the thin side. By the way, Spike is about 5 years old.
I think we are working with two issues, one being the health hazard of obesity and the other is the mental well being of the pig. We must also consider the general comfort – warm, not threatened, safe and a consistent routine. Mental health is very important. Daily encouragement is needed. First you act like a sergeant. “OK let’s get up and get going. Time to eat and exercise.” At the same time you give belly rubs and messages and tell them how important they are, etc. Spike needed to be told every day that he wasn’t going to give up and it wasn’t acceptable. He wasn’t alone and someday he was going to see again. (Note: I felt Spike wanted to die, so did others.)
I have never had one that walks on their knees but I have heard of a couple. I wonder if that is a sign of arthritis. A diagnosis from a vet would be indicated and appropriate medication prescribed.
I wouldn’t worry too much about Lucy not leaving her stall very much. Pigs have a tendency to sleep away the bad winter weather. Lucy is burning calories by trying to stay warm so it just helps the diet along very nicely.
I hope these few lines encourage you to keep up the good work you are doing for Lucy.