The scared helpless feeling we get when our pig is sick is a feeling not soon forgotten. If we have not developed a good working relationship with a veterinarian and our pig is ill, it’s even worse. Then we have a pig in a poke.

Under the best of circumstances, our pig becomes ill or develops a medical problem and we take her to a veterinarian. We explain the problem, the onset, if we know, and describe the present deviation from normal behavior effect. We list symptoms, ascertain the duration of such and give an accounting of whatever efforts we, as pet owners, have made to correct the problem.

The veterinarian examines the pig. We, as pig owners, are not just paying the veterinarian to look at our pig and listen to our description of the problem. Sometimes the owner’s interpretation of the problem has nothing to do with the present medical situation.

Diagnosing is an art. Education, experience, common sense, extrapolation and continuous exposure to pigs themselves all contribute to overall knowledge of pigs and the medical problems they encounter. All the knowledge in the world won’t help diagnose a medical problem in a pig if the information is incorrectly interpreted.

Medical articles describing medical syndromes in pigs are basically similar. Etiology and onset of symptoms are described, symptoms are listed, appropriate diagnostic tests are run to determine course of action, treatment is begun and progress, or lack thereof, is carefully monitored and documented. What makes the difference is intuitive interpretation along the way, not only from the standpoint of diagnosis, but response to treatment as well. Understanding the “whole picture” enables the veterinarian to approach the medical problem from different directions simultaneously. Many possible causes can be rapidly eliminated and treatment can focus on the primary problem in a more timely manner. The safety and medical welfare of the pig can remain in tact. We pig owners have a lot of answers, but veterinarians pose the right questions!

Determining whether or not a pig is in a medical crisis is difficult unless the pig is standing in front of the veterinarian. Assessing the medical condition of a pig is a judgment call, based on that vet’s level of experience, medical knowledge, intuitiveness and appropriate interpretation. This art is what we pay our veterinarians for.

It is a challenge at best for a vet to get enough usable information from the pig owner talking face to face, to clarify a medical problem. The vet relies heavily on a “hands-on” examination of the pig. Background history is helpful but often not as important initially as the vet’s own observations. (For example: a pig hit by a car is brought in comatose. Does it really matter how fast the car was going?) Background information can be helpful, but nothing can replace the immediacy of a “hands-on” examination along with a personal assessment of the present condition of that pig.

We try to educate ourselves in order to help our own pigs. We try to learn by talking to each other so we can help each other’s pigs. We sometimes spend hours or even days discussing medical problems in each other’s pigs, searching for solutions. There is a time and a place for everything. Those pigs in trouble may not have hours or days before they face an emergency. We might better spend that time and energy in locating veterinarians. Sometimes valuable time is lost and the pig in jeopardy would be better served in the hands of a professional.

It is to our veterinarians that we should go when a serious medical problem arises with our pigs. It is our veterinarian with whom we should be cultivating an in-depth working relationship. We need to begin when our pigs are healthy – not wait until we are faced with a crisis. We can help our vets by developing our own skills so that when we look at our pigs we really see, and when we listen to our pigs we really hear. We need to work with and train our pigs so they are more manageable during times of duress or medical crisis.

Developing and cultivating a mutually respectful relationship with our veterinarians means that much less time is lost getting our pigs medical attention when needed. This means less suffering for the pig and a greater chance of a positive outcome due to timely appropriate medical intervention. Otherwise, we are doing a disservice to ourselves, our veterinarians, and most of all, our pigs.