I knew after I hung up the phone this was not going to be an easy appointment. This three year old spayed pig was on the top of my “most difficult to examine” list. She was very attached to her owner and at times even challenged the owner’s husband. So when the owner called about a “very small lump” she wanted me to examine, I took a deep breath and again accepted one of the many challenges I have encountered since I started treating pigs several years ago.
The lump was on the right rump area and protruded from the skin. It was no bigger than half a raisin. The owner had just noticed it a few days ago. Since I couldn’t get close enough to her to aspirate a small sample for the lab, the owner and I decided to watch it closely. If it continued to grow, we would surgically excise it.
The owner called me about a month later and stated that the lump had doubled in size and now would bleed at times. We both agreed it was time for it to come off and scheduled surgery immediately. Surgery went smoothly and while she was anesthetized I also removed one other suspicious skin lesion.
The lump was sent to the pathologist for a diagnosis. When the results came back as “Malignant Melanoma”, I called the owner with a guarded prognosis. In dogs and people, malignant melanomas tend to spread to other parts of the body early on in the disease, invading vital organs.
I could find no references on malignant melanomas in potbellied pigs so I called my best pig information source, Dr. Bruce Lawhorn at Texas A&M University. He told me that there isn’t much information on melanomas in potbellied pigs. He suggested I warn the owners that if it did spread, it would do so in the next few months. On a positive note, he also told me that in the farm pig, some pigs will actually destroy the tumor. Their body will destroy all the pigment (melanin) and the pig will turn white. If this pig starts turning white, she will be curing herself.
I informed the owner of my discussion with Dr. Lawhorn and the waiting game began. Two months later, the owner called me with much joy to report the pig was getting white spots. The spots started mostly on her belly and spread over her sides. In the next few months her nose and feet turned white and continued to change.
There are probably are many potbellied pigs out there that are turning white for no apparent reason to the owner. Most likely they too are fighting a melanoma somewhere in their body. By understanding and investigating this phenomenon further, we will hopefully some day be able to apply it to people, perhaps saving someone’s life.
I graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 1989. When I walked through those college doors, I thought I would never treat another pig. My interests were horses, cats and dogs, and all the little creatures such as hamsters and gerbils.
After about two years of practice, a man walked into my office one day pleading for my help. He had a potbellied pig named “Otis” and no one was willing to treat him. I told him I would be glad to help him but warned him my pig experience was very limited.
I started collecting every veterinary article I could find on potbellied pigs. I called numerous veterinary schools and asked for any information they had. I talked with experienced pig vets around the United States. Then the word got out. Seems “Otis” has many other pig friends that are looking for a vet. Then other vets found out I was be willing to help their client who just got a baby pig. I started getting calls from neighboring counties. Since many pigs don’t ride in the car, I started heading out to farms and houses to treat them. Finally, I ended up on the local TV station with one of my clients pigs, educating children.
So now, several years later, I am affectionately known as “The pig doctor”….even my mother sends me pig items such as pig ornaments for my Christmas tree. To help pig owners new to the area, I included a picture of one of my pig clients in my yellow page ad. Although, at times the work has been tiring and out in some of the worst areas and weather, when I am old and retired, you can bet that my best vet stories will involve a potbellied pig!
I met my husband in vet school and after each having several jobs we now have a hospital of our own. After work I continue my passion for horses, training my two show horses daily and competing in dressage and jumping.
Although born in Ohio, I spent most of my childhood in Holland. My family returned to the United States when I was in high school and we lived in Pennsylvania. I attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for my undergraduate studies and majored in animal science/prevet. My first love has always been horses and I truly thought I would graduate and manage a horse farm somewhere. One of my old professors urged me my senior year to apply to vet school…with a vet degree you can do anything you want relating to animals (I can still hear him say). So I applied to several vet schools and was amazed I got in! The Florida weather was conducive to horseback riding year round (plus the tuition was affordable) so off to the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine I went.
Note: Dr. Christy Lund currently owns Lund Animal Hospital with her husband/partner, Dr. Scott O. Lund in Boca Raton, Florida.