Caring for Sick Pigs: 10 Critical Symptoms and Steps to Take

Pigs walk in circles for various reasons Final

Having a sick pig can be stressful and traumatic, especially when trying to find the cause of its symptoms.

When my pig started vomiting uncontrollably, I knew that this was an acute symptom. Pigs can’t tell us when they feel sick or under the weather. Luckily, I contacted a neighboring pig farmer who had been in the pig-raising game for decades. 

Pigs can develop illnesses and diseases like diamond skin, swine flu, and bacterial infections.

How do you care for a sick pig? When a pig is sick, identify acute symptoms, if it’s drinking and eating, and treat it accordingly. Acute symptoms include vomiting, lethargy, lack of appetite, continuous diarrhea, constipation, body trembling, erratic twitching, and even paralysis. Once you identify the symptoms, you can identify what’s wrong and know specific steps to take (listed below). 

I had done all my research on creating a hygienic pigsty and what foods to avoid to prevent my pigs from getting sick. Generally, pigs are pretty easy to raise if they have good hygiene and a clean shelter with wholesome, nutritious food. However, they can still develop various illnesses and diseases, so you need to be hands-on with caring for your sick pigs.  

Treating Multiple Symptoms: Vomiting, Diarrhea, Coughing…

If your pig only has one symptom, such as walking on its knees, it’s easier to identify and treat. That’s why I’ve put together a chart that identifies which combination of symptoms indicates which illness. 

Pig Illness and Symptoms Chart

Disease or Illness Acute Symptoms First Steps to Take
Porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
Isolate pig, watch to see if it vomits after drinking water. Avoid food for the first few hours after vomiting. 
Hemagglutinating encephalomyelitis (HEV) (most common in piglets)
  • Vomiting
  • Wasting syndrome
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
Ensure the pig isn’t coughing and sneezing from excessive dust, pollen, or environmental causes. Move pig to a clean area if needed. Feed only water for a few hours until vomiting has ceased. 
Gastroenteritis (TGE)
  • Vomiting 
  • Watery diarrhea
Isolate pig. Feed water as long as it can drink without vomiting. 
Classical swine fever (CSF)
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea (yellowish color) 
  • Skin discoloration of the ears
Immediately isolate sick pigs. If your pigs have CSF, they will need to be put down. Call a local vet to identify if CSF is the cause of the illness. 
Listeriosis, vestibular syndrome, or actinobacillus
  • Circling
  • Disorientation
  • Coughing
  • Sudden death
Depending on the age of your pig, it will signal which of these disease its most likely to be suffering from. 

Seek vet assistance immediately as death often comes quickly

Teschen Disease
  • Paralysis in the rear end
  • Unsteady on feet
  • Depression
Seek immediate help. Paralysis can cause permanent damage and become permanent. 
Swine Influenza and other Respiratory Ailments
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing 
  • Fever
  • Sneezing
Isolate, antibiotics are usually needed unless it is from an event such as a new pigsty that’s dirty or a dust storm
Porcine Cystitus
  • Dark Urine
  • Dehydration
Provide plenty of water, or sweeten with fruit juice. Administer antimicrobials. 

Diseases can have multiple symptoms, and while I learned about the 10 most common symptoms, your pig may have more than one sign they are sick. When you need to distinguish between Classical Swine Fever (CSF) and Gastroenteritis (TGE), paying attention to the combination of symptoms will steer you towards a correct diagnosis. 

However, if you are ever uncertain about what disease your pig has, you should first consult with your vet as misdiagnosis can cause your pig to suffer and die. 

10 Critical Symptoms of an Ill Pig and the Steps to Take

The first thing my new farmer friend asked me was what symptoms my pig was showing. As I ran through the list, he pointed out the critical signs. He warned me that missing any critical symptoms (especially if they are not caught early enough) could result in the death of my pig. 

The illness can spread to your other pigs in the herd if you don’t catch it in time and take the necessary steps to treat the disease or condition. Paying attention to your pig when they are healthy will alert you when something is off. 

What should a healthy pig look like?  A healthy pig should move around, their eyes should be bright, and they should eat a good amount of food. Healthy pigs look alert and take regular mud baths. They should be no discharge or mucus from its eyes or nose. A healthy pig’s temperature should be between 101.5 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Now that we know what the expected behavior of a healthy pig should be, let’s take a closer look at the 10 critical symptoms of a sick pig, as well as the steps you should take to treat them:

1. Excessive Vomiting is Dangerous to Pigs

If your pig has started vomiting, it’s crucial to keep a close eye on them and find the cause of the vomiting. Some reasons for vomiting in pigs are not as critical as others, but your pig may need veterinary attention if they have liver disease or are experiencing extreme pain. 

It’s a good idea to isolate sick pigs as soon as symptoms appear. This can help prevent the spread of illness and help you to identify what symptoms are unique to that pig. (Sometimes, multiple symptoms appear that may come from various pigs in the pen).

Then, identify if you’ve changed your pig’s diet, introduced any new foods, or if your pig has gotten into and eaten something, it’s not used to eating. New foods can cause vomiting. Plus, if your pig eats too quickly, it may vomit without being sick. Next, review your records for the last deworming because parasites can cause pigs to vomit. Observe your pig for signs of physical discomfort, pain, or cramping. Lastly, monitor your pig’s stool to make sure it’s passing stool Check to see if it’s runny or hard. This will help you better identify what’s wrong. 

When your pig is vomiting, you may rule out some potential causes with a checklist, so you know what you are dealing with:

  • Has your pig eaten something out of the ordinary?
  • Has your pig eaten too quickly?
  • When was the last deworming?
  • Is your pig showing signs of physical pain and cramping?
  • Does your pig have normal stool?

Steps to Take if Your Pig Vomits Excessively: 

Follow these steps when your pig presents with excessive vomiting:

  1. Don’t give your pig food or water for at least 6 hours. If your pig is under 10 pounds, you can rub sugar water (1 teaspoon sugar to 1 cup of warm water) on their gums every hour to prevent their blood sugar levels from dropping.
  2. If they have not vomited again after 6 hours, offer a small amount of water (not more than ¼ cup). Should your pig refuse to drink, they may still be nauseous, and you’d better start calling the vet. However, if your pig drinks the water and doesn’t vomit, offer ½ cup every hour for the next 6 hours. With no further vomiting, they can drink water as usual. Continue monitoring them for the next 24 hours, but withhold pelleted feed.
  3. If your pig has not vomited for at least 1 hour after drinking water, you can offer a small soft meal of soaked pellets. Thereafter, wait 1 hour, and if your pig starts to vomit again, call the vet urgently. If there is no further vomiting, continue with the soft food. 
  4. If they continue vomiting past 6 hours, call your vet. Dehydration is a severe risk and can contribute to an early death

Steps to take if your pig’s hind area is paralyzed DLX2 Final

2. Sudden Onset of Twitching Can Signal Porcine Stress Syndrome

Porcine stress syndrome (PSS) is a severe condition in pigs of all ages. PSS can be triggered by sudden muscle activity, such as when the herd is spooked and runs wildly. It’s more common in sows, weaners, and growers.

Porcine Stress Syndrome has several identifying symptoms including face twitching, rapid breathing for no reason, muscle tremors, a red rash, and a temperature above 106℉.  Additional signs include overall muscle rigidness and an inability to walk. Severe cases of PSS can cause heart failure and death. 

You will notice that your pig has developed PSS if they suddenly:

  • Twitch in their face
  • Begin to rapidly breathe shallowly for no other reason
  • Display obvious muscle tremors
  • Develop a blotchy and red rash
  • Show an increased body temperature (106℉) 
  • Tremors in the tail
  • Heart failure
  • Sudden death

If your pig has developed PSS, you need to take action immediately, as it can cause death in as little as 20 minutes. However, if treatment is provided within the timeframe, your pig has a greater chance of recovery—death results after 20 minutes from seizures and heart failure.

Steps to Take if Your Pig Has a Sudden Onset of Twitching: 

You must take immediate action as soon as you notice your pig twitching. Pigs can die from PSS in 20 minutes. Even taking immediate action may not save your pig. First, try to bring your pig’s temperature down to a normal range. You can spray them with cold water. If you are new to PSS, you probably want to call your vet to get fast help. Many vets recommend sedating a pig with Porcine Stress Syndrome in an attempt to save its life. 

Avoid further stressing out your pig or moving it. Avoid additional unnecessary muscle activity. This means that you shouldn’t chase it around the pen trying to spray it or catch it. 

Porcine Stress Syndrome only happens in pigs with genes that make them vulnerable. The only way to fully prevent PSS is to eliminate all pigs in your herd that have those genes. 

Follow these steps immediately if you suspect your pig may have PSS:

  • Bring your pig’s temperature down by spraying them with cold water.
  • Try not to further stress or excite your pig.
  • Sedate the pig with a tranquilizer. 
  • Try not to move your pig, and avoid unnecessary muscle activity.
  • Seek immediate veterinary care and medication.

3. Body Trembling and Shaking

Congenital tremors is also known as shaker pigs or dancing pigs. It is an awful pestivirus (a genus of viruses that attacks mammals) that affects newborn piglets. Shaker pigs tremble and shake violently. As a result, your piglets can starve to death, as extreme trembling prevents them from nursing.

Symptoms of Congenital tremors include the head and boy trembling, splayed0 leg in the hind legs, poor coordination, sitting like a dog, and increased shaking with sudden noise. 

Here are a few signs to watch out for if your piglets have congenital tremors:

  • Piglets’ heads and bodies tremble when they walk (nodding their heads continuously)
  • Experience splay leg of the hind legs
  • Bad coordination 
  • Piglets sit like a dog
  • Sudden noise or stimulation can cause the shaking to worsen

Steps to Take if Your Piglets Tremble and Shake:

Unfortunately, you cannot do much for piglets born with congenital tremors, as this disease affects the central nervous system (CNS), which will take time and medication to heal. However, follow these steps to manage the tremors and provide comfort to the piglet:

  1. Managing the condition will reduce mortality. 
  2. You can bottle-feed the piglet to make sure they don’t starve.
  3. Ensure the sow doesn’t crush the piglet (known as overlaying) if they are lying down next to her, as they will be cold and look for body warmth (known as chilling).

Noticing that your pig is reluctant to get up DLX2 Final

4. Walking in Circles Can Signal An Infectious Condition

It may look funny if you notice your pig walking in circles, but it is a serious condition. 

Pigs walk in circles due to a middle ear infection, a brain stem infection, or a bacterial infection. If they are circling you, it may be a display of extreme aggression. Depending on the age of your pig, it’s one of three main infections: Listeriosis, Vestibular Syndrom, or Actinobacillus.

Listeriosis affects mainly sows and can cause disorientation and stillbirths.  Vestibular syndrome, or an inner ear infection or brain stem infection, mainly affects young, growing pigs and causes a head tilt and circling. Actinobaccillus usually affects preborn pigs and piglets, causing shaking, tremors, and sudden death. 

All of the above diseases must be diagnosed as early as possible to administer the correct medication. Otherwise, death is prevalent as the diseases progress, often very quickly.

Steps to Take if Your Pig Walks in Circles: 

If your pig appears to have developed listeriosis or actinobacillosis, you will need to take your pig to the vet as soon as possible.

  1. The vet may inject your pig with penicillin and aminoglycosides.
  2. Identify what caused the infection and prevent it from spreading further. A blood smear test should help in this regard.

5. Pig Paralysis Needs Immediate Treatment

Teschen disease is an infection that can attack your pig’s motor and sensory nerves. This infection causes paralysis and, in severe cases, can result in complete paralysis of your pig’s hind area.

Strangely enough, even though your pig may be paralyzed in the hind area, they can still feel pin pricks and normal sensations. You must treat this disease early, as severe cases can result in irreversible damage.

Keep a careful lookout for any of these signs so you can diagnose your pig early and begin taking steps to manage the disease. Signs of Teschen disease include the loss of its rear legs, dragging its bottom, and paralysis in the back end. It may seem depressed and stop eating for a few days. Pigs with early stages of Teschen disease will appear unsteady on their feet. They may struggle to stand up. 

  • The loss of the hind legs and rear end
  • Dragging their limbs
  • Depression
  • Not eating for a day or two
  • Unsteady on their feet when moving around
  • Difficulty standing up out of a dog-sitting position

Steps to Take if Your Pig’s Hind Area is Paralyzed: 

Teschen disease mutates over time, and there is no effective treatment that can be given to your pig. The best thing for your pig is to take them to the vet for antibiotics if they have any infections and provide them with a preventative vaccination before symptoms arise.

You must ensure that piglets have consumed enough colostrum after birth to prevent them from catching this disease. Colostrum, or the sow’s first milk, is rich in antibodies, which can help prevent this disease in the piglets (if the sow has been vaccinated). Therefore, drinking colostrum will help boost the piglets’ immunity.

 

Congenital tremors are also known as shaker pigs DLX2 Final

6. Obvious Lethargy, A Main Sign of Swine Influenza

You should be able to spot a lethargic pig easily: they suddenly don’t move around as much as they usually do and lie down more often and for more extended periods. Your pig may also look quite pale, especially along their gum line, ears, and nose.

Lethargy is often a sign of illness such as swine influenza (a respiratory disease in pigs), and paying attention to your pig is vital. Signs of swine influenza (SIV) include coughing, sneezing, rapid, shallow breaths, a snotty nose, fever, and loss of appetite. Swine influenza is passable to humans so take care when treating a sick pig. It also passes very quickly among the herd. 

Here are a few noticeable symptoms if your pig has swine influenza:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Taking shallow and strained breaths
  • Discharge oozing from nose and eyes
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Fever

Steps to Take if Your Pig is Lethargic: 

If you suspect Swine Influenza, take precautions to keep yourself safe. Wash your hands, avoid contact with any cuts or scrapes you have. Personally, I’d even change my clothes after helping my pig.

Follow these easy steps to treat your infected pig. There is no specific treatment for influenza; sadly, the illness has to run its course. But, you can avoid spreading it and help your pig to recover better. Isolate your pig to reduce the likelihood of passing it to other pigs (although it may already be spreading).

If your pig has a fever, give it antibiotics to help them avoid getting additional secondary infections. Usually, penicillin or streptomycin can be prescribed by your vet Give your pig electrolytes to help balance their blood pressure and give them more energy. Avoid further stressing them out. 

  1. Isolate all sick pigs
  2. Give antibiotics to all pigs with a fever or coughing for at least three days. 
  3. Provide your pig with electrolytes

You can make a simple electrolyte solution at home by mixing:

    1. 34 fluid ounces of water
    2. 0.7 ounces glucose
    3. 0.1 ounces salt
    4. 0.08 ounces baking soda
    5. 0.05 ounces potassium chloride

7. Reluctance to Get Up Is Not Healthy For Pigs

Noticing that your pig is reluctant to get up, especially if it’s feeding time, is a cause for concern. Your pig may be experiencing joint pain from an injury or a bacterial muscle infection, such as one of the Clostridial diseases. Clostridial diseases arise from bacteria that are found everywhere in the environment. They include diseases such as tetanus, blackleg, black disease, pulpy kidney, botulism, and malignant oedema. 

Symptoms of clostridial diseases include swollen muscles, lethargy or listlessness, red rashes, stiff legs, severe lameness, paralyzed tongues, and other muscle and functional issues. Pigs may also have diarrhea that’s blood-tinged. 

A few symptoms you will notice are:

  • Swollen muscles
  • Lethargy
  • Red rash on the skin

Steps to Take if Your Pig Doesn’t Want to Get Up 

If you suspect a Clostridial disease, it’s critical that you call your vet and get your pig tested. Your pig will need penicillin for about a month and will need anti-inflammatory drugs to help reduce the painful swelling of its muscles. Pigs should be encouraged to move around, which will facilitate healing. It can be a bit of work to get your pig back up to normal, but if you don’t, it can face paralysis and death. 

  1. Test your pig for Clostridial disease through your vet
  2. Administer Penicillin for about 3 to 4 weeks.
  3. Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the swelling of the muscles.
  4. Gentle walking promotes blood flow.
  5. Moving your pig to a pen with sand or sawdust shaving flooring can also help exercise and loosen the muscles.

8. Severe Constipation is Serious for Pigs

Severe constipation in pigs can be a serious condition, especially if your pig has not had a bowel movement in over 72 hours. If this is the case, you will need to call the vet.

Constipation is more common in sows and is related to milk and colostrum production. Pigs with constipation may drink more water than usual, display a humped back, nervousness, and moan or grunt during bowel movements. Prolonged constipation can decrease it’s appetite. Signs of a belly ache, lying down with a reluctance to stand up can also signal constipation. 

Symptoms of constipation in pigs are:

  • Increased water intake 
  • Humped back
  • Passes hard fecal balls
  • Straining and moaning while defecating
  • Lack of appetite 

Steps to Take if Your Pig is Severely Constipated: 

If you suspect your pig has constipation, there are several things you can do to help. Provide your pig with adequate water and change it more frequently so it’s clean and cool. you can offer fruit juice, particularly cranberry, prune or apply juice. Soften its feed with warm water so your pig eats more moisture when eating.

Feed your pig high-fiber foods, including pumpkins, prunes, and blackberries, to help with constipation. Other steps can help such as a warm bath (if you dare bring it inside and it’s small enough), enemas and suppositories, and animal lard (may be illegal for slaughter pigs). 

  1. Plenty of cool water
  2. Mix cranberry, prune, or apple juice with water
  3. Soften your pig’s food with warm water.
  4. Increase your pig’s fiber intake.
    • Pumpkin can be fed to pigs for up to 2 weeks and regularly
    • High-fiber cereals and laxatives (decreasing over 2 weeks)
    • High-fiber fruits: Prunes, blackberries
  5. One teaspoon of lard (or any animal fat) can be given once or twice daily (check your state regulation as this may be illegal in pigs bred for slaughter).
  6. Use enemas or suppositories to help your pig have a bowel movement.
  7. If the constipation is not severe, a warm bath will help ease their constipation.

9. Pig Respiratory Issues

There are several illnesses that can cause respiratory issues in your pig, such as influenza A, mycoplasma hyopneumoniae, and porcine circovirus. Symptoms of respiratory illnesses include sneezing, a runny nose, coughing, barking, panting or rapid breathing, a fever, skin discoloration, and an effort to breathe. Your pig may seem out of breath for no reason. 

    • Continuous sneezing, coughing or barking
    • Discolored nasal discharge
    • Fever
    • Discoloration of skin

Caring for a Sick Pig DLX2 Final

Steps to Take if Your Pig Has Respiratory Issues: 

If your pig struggles with respiratory functions, check that nothing has changed. Some respiratory issues may arise from a dust storm, a dirty and dusty pen, or abnormally high dust levels and pollen in the air. You may also see respiratory illnesses spike during wet/cold seasons or during the spring when the weather vacillates from cold to hot quickly. 
Make sure the pigsty is clean, as dust can further irritate your pig. I like to spray the pigsty with some warm water with a safe disinfectant like hydrogen peroxide or ammonia once a day to reduce dust and kill off bacteria. Chlorine-based antiseptics are also safe and great for removing droppings, pig slurry, and dust when washing the sty. Remember to move the pigs for a few hours while the fumes dissipate.

You can also feed your pig a warm broth. Check your local regulations if it’s an animal-based or bone broth (as opposed to a vegetable broth). 

If you suspect a respiratory illness in your pig, take it to the vet quickly. It will need antibiotics. 

  1. Antibiotics will need to be administered by your vet.
  2. Make sure the pigsty is clean
  3. Give your pig warm broth.
  4. Encourage your pig to move around for little bits at times.

10. Dark-Colored Urine

If your pig has dark-colored urine, it’s usually an indication of dehydration or a urinary tract infection such as Porcine cystitis or urinary stones. Treating your pig as early as possible would be best to avoid further bacterial bloom, leading to renal failure.

A few symptoms of porcine cystitis are:

  • Weight-loss
  • Reduced productivity
  • Frequent urination, with little amounts of urine
  • Blood-stained and cloudy urine
  • Foul-smelling urine (more than usual)

Steps to Take if Your Pig Has Dark Urine:

These steps will help alleviate the symptoms of dark-colored urine:

  1. Give your pig analgesics to help with the pain (Flunixin meglumine is the common choice at 5-10 mg per 10 pounds).
  2. Provide plenty of clean, fresh water to flush the urinary tract.
  3. Antimicrobials will need to be injected to remove the organisms.
  4. Water mixed with fruit juice will keep your pig hydrated.

11. Fever

If your pig’s skin appears dull with a slight reddish shade, this can indicate a fever (high body temperature). A fever can be one of your pig’s first signs of a viral or bacterial infection. Fevers can also be brought on by inflammation caused by allergies or the ingestion of toxins.

A pig’s baseline temperature should be between 98 – 101℉. Not all fevers are bad, as it’s the body’s way of fighting off infection. However, if the temperature goes over 104℉, you need to call the vet urgently.

A few diseases or conditions that can cause fevers in pigs are:

  • Classical Swine fever (otherwise known as hog fever)
  • Aujeszky’s disease or pseudorabies
  • Heat stroke
  • Flu
  • Cystitis
  • Eclampsia (convulsions)

Here are a few symptoms of fevers in pigs: 

  • Rapid breathing
  • Skin is warm to the touch
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Your pig may seem unstable on their feet
  • Vomiting
  • Yellow-colored diarrhea 

Steps to take if your pig has a fever:

These steps will help reduce the symptoms of fever:

  1. Your vet should administer a broad-spectrum antibiotic to treat any infection that could be causing the fever.
  2. Check your pig’s temperature regularly.
  3. Increase your pig’s fluid intake and offer them ice cubes to help cool them down. You can also mix ¼ cup of apple juice with a ¾ cup of water and freeze it in a popsicle mold before giving it to the pig to lick. 
  4. Use a cool, wet cloth to dampen your pig’s coat. Focus on the ears and feet, which generate the most heat.
  5. You can wrap ice packs in towels and place them where your pig lies down, to try and cool down the area and their body.

Why Does My Pig Have Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is one of the main symptoms that sick pigs may display. Finding out which pig is suffering from the runs is a process of watching the herd, noting any fouled bottoms or runny poop on the pigs. Isolate your pig to determine the extent of their diarrhea. 

Your pig can develop diarrhea for different reasons, such as:

  • Your pig may be ill
  • The hygiene in your pig’s living space is poor, causing infections
  • Your pig may have eaten something that doesn’t agree with them – food toxicity
  • A pig may be stressed
  • Poor nutrition
  • Overeating
  • Eating a high protein diet, which will affect the kidneys and liver
  • Your pig might have parasites

How to Prevent a Pig from Getting Sick?

Luckily, there are a few ways you can prevent a pig from getting sick. I treasure the advice from my local pig farmer, and I’ve made some substantial changes to my pigsty and herd management. Therefore, I haven’t had further sickness among my pigs for weeks since. 

These practical suggestions should make a massive difference in your herd:

  • Make sure your pigs’ living space is clean, hygienic, and not overcrowded
  • Vaccinate your herd accordingly
  • If your pigs are in a shed, make sure there is good ventilation
  • Isolate a sick pig from the herd to prevent the mass spread of their illness
  • Deworm your pigs often
  • Provide nutritious and healthy pig feed
  • Ensure there is always clean and fresh water available
  • Monitor your pigs’ health daily and keep a record of each pig so that you can build a baseline

Conclusion

Luckily, with my neighbor’s helpful information and guidance, we treated our pig successfully. The piglet is now running around happily and being his usual piggish self while he scoffs pellets, hay, and a few pumpkins. 

If anything, this whole experience has taught me that you need to monitor your pigs daily and get used to their behaviors so you can successfully pick up on any issues or signs of illness. Being alert will give you the knowledge to treat them timeously and correctly and avoid critical situations.

To learn more about pigs and how long they live, you can read on pig longevity too.

Talitha van Niekerk

Hi, I’m Talitha van Niekerk, and I made the leap to farm animal ownership when I decided to fulfil my lifelong passion to own horses. Now, over a decade later, I run a public stable facility on 180 acres of land, caring for over 75 horses of all breeds and sizes. I love to write about my experiences, sharing the knowledge I have gained and helping others achieve their life’s passion to live on the land.

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