Arthritis in Potbelly Pigs

Pot-bellied pigs often live 15 years or longer.  Arthritis is one of the more common problems of these senior citizen pigs, often causing crippling leg lameness.  Fortunately there is hope for these arthritic pigs with a multi-faceted veterinary care program. 

If you have a young pig, take steps now to reduce its risk of severe arthritis.  Keep the hoofs trimmed and groomed, keep its weight within a healthy range, and exercise it regularly.  Provide a balanced diet and make sure it's diet provides enough vitamin E, selenium, and glucosamine.  Consider having it screened for mycoplasma, an infection that can cause arthritis to develop in multiple joints even in very young pigs, and treat it with appropriate antibiotics if needed.

If you have a pig that already has arthritis, have it examined by an experienced companion pig veterinarian.  Radiographs, bloodwork, and other tests are often needed to better understand what will help your pig feel better.  Appropriate hoof care, a proper diet and exercise are just as essential as for young pigs.  Depending on what your veterinarian finds, the following therapies may be recommended:

  • Hoof and foot care: proper trimming of the hooves, proper cleaning of dirty feet and treating any wounds or infections that have developed
  • Proper diet and exercise: a weight loss program may be needed.
  • Nutritional supplements: anti-oxidants such as vitamin E and Coenzyme Q may be helpful. Red palm oil helps reduce inflammation (pain and swelling). Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate help restore damaged cartilage.  Hyaluronic acid may be given by injection or by mouth to improve the lubrication of the joint fluid.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications: Meloxicam, carprofen, and other medications will reduce pain and swelling associated with arthritis. Pigs that are placed on these medications long-term will need bloodwork periodically to monitor how their livers and kidneys are functioning.
  • Antibiotics may be prescribed if your pig has laminitis (infection of the hoof), foot abscesses, or mycoplasma infections.  It's important to give antibiotics as directed. Do not stop an antibiotic early just because your pig appears to be doing well.
  • Physical therapy: many pigs will benefit from gentle range-of-motion exercises, swimming, and other exercises that are used on people and dogs.
  • Complementary therapy: acupuncture, cold laser treatments, massage, and other complementary therapies may help improve the overall response to treament.
  • Surgical arthroscopy: a look inside certain joints allows removal of injured cartilage and can improve healing.  This is quite expensive as it requires an orthopedic veterinary surgeon willing to work with pigs and may not be available in all areas.

If your pig is slowing down, limping, or just is acting like it used to, have it examined by a veterinarian.  If arthritis is the cause, you may be amazed at how much better your pig will feel once its treatment starts.