Signs of health

If you have pigs on your lifestyle farm and they are well fed with a comfortable free-range lifestyle, they are likely to be relatively healthy and content. But there are a few health problems you should know about. They are the ones that are most likely to occur, and knowing a bit about them and taking steps to prevent them is the best health insurance you can have.

Healthy pigs are always hungry, look bright and inquisitive, and love to play.

Sick pigs show one or more of the following:

  • Separation from the group
  • Dullness
  • A high temperature
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Discoloured urine
  • Discoloured skin
  • Abnormal marks on the skin
  • Panting
  • Shivering
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Dribbling at the mouth
  • Blisters on feet and snout
  • Limping and difficulty walking
  • Lack of coordination
  • Abdominal distension - pot belly
  • Swollen navel
  • Swollen joints
  • Swollen udder
  • Signs of pain when touched

Disease prevention

  • Prevention is always cheaper than trying to cure sick animals.
  • Talk to your veterinarian to work out a pig health programme and review it each year.
  • When pigs are sick, seek veterinary help at once as the disease can spread.
  • Keep good records of disease incidents and treatments used, to aid your vet to make accurate diagnosis and analysis of problems.
  • Observe withholding times for all drugs used, especially before sending pigs to slaughter.

Shade and shelter

A comfortable environment is all-important for pigs, and you must provide a warm dry adequately ventilated area for sleeping and resting.

Pigs cannot sweat, they depend on their lungs for temperature control, and they don't have an insulating layer of wool or hair. Therefore they are highly susceptible to lung infections and need much better protection from bad weather than cattle or sheep.

If no heating is provided for piglets with their mother, they must be given a warm draught-free area with plenty of bedding material for nesting.

Barley straw is the best bedding for pigs, and it seems it can be a parasite inhibitor.  Never use meadow hay as this can contain moulds and dust that cause lung damage. Sawdust is dusty too and it isn't as good an insulator as straw.  Bedding material like shredded paper is not recommended as it quickly gets wet and dirty. 

On hot days, shade from the sun must be provided, or a wallow, or both.

Foot problems

Foot problems and lameness are by far and away the most common type of health problems. They are often the result of overgrown hooves or cracked hooves. Wet and muddy underfoot conditions make things worse by softening the horn. Stony ground bruises the feet and this too predisposes to infection.

There are several ways to help prevent foot problems:

  • Make sure the pigs have a dry place for sleeping, resting and standing. 
  • Make sure the paddock is not too stony.
  • Trim overgrown horn. This is not a nice job so it's easy to put it off, but trimming an overgrown horn before it causes distortion and lameness can save a lot of time and trouble later. If the pigs are accustomed to being handled and there is someone who can apply a nose snare, the foot can be placed on a board and the overgrown horn sawn off with a small stiff saw like a tenon saw, taking care not to draw blood.
  • Over time, adding methionine and zinc to the diet can improve the quality of the horn. There are commercially available supplements containing these substances that will help prevent foot problems.

Digestive disorders

Diarrhoea can occur in pigs just as it can in any farm animal. It's most common in young pigs, particularly soon after they are weaned because sudden changes of diet can precipitate bouts of diarrhoea. If it's mild, cut back on food, or go back to the original feed and introduce new feed very gradually. Make sure the pigs have plenty of fresh water readily available. If the diarrhoea persists call a vet.

Fatness is a common problem on lifestyle farms. Pigs are always hungry and it can be difficult to ignore their demands for more and more food, but just like dogs and cats, over-eating can lead to a raft of health problems, so don't let your pigs get too fat!

The importance of boiling food containing meat scraps for an hour before feeding it was discussed in the first article in this two-part series. This is very important to try to prevent the introduction of new and very serious diseases.

Other risky waste foods are:

  • cooked bones (even fish and chicken)
  • food containing bits of string, wire or plastic
  • toothpicks
  • mouldy feed
  • chunks of indigestible food like cooked corn cobs

These can perforate or block the intestine, and this is painful and often fatal.

Garden trimmings can be dangerous too if they contain poisonous plants like rhododendron or azalea.


External parasites like fleas, lice and mange can cause problems, so if your pigs show signs like itchy skin and/or skin lesions, consult a vet. 

As with all livestock, internal worms can build up especially in young pigs until they cause diarrhoea and failure to gain weight.  If you suspect that worms might be a problem, consult your vet.  Worms can easily be treated with anthelmintic.

Other health issues


To prevent painful infections, it's important that nose-ringing is carried out with strict hygiene. If you are not experienced in this procedure, get an expert's advice on what to do and how to do it.  The nose is very sensitive so it's important not to cause unnecessary pain or infection.

Exotic diseases

  • Foot and mouth disease - lame and slobbering at the mouth, high temperature.
  • Swine fever - high fever, death, sticky eye discharge, swaying hindquarters
  • Phone 0800 809 966 immediately

We would like to thank Selwyn Dobbinson for his invaluable help with this article.