Scratching Pig: Is it Mange, Mites, Itch, or What?

Pig louse is a cause of severe itchiness in pigs DLX1 final

Gus is my adorable mini pig; he lives mainly indoors with my family when we are home. He is quite a spoiled little piggy and has his own room just outside our kitchen, where he sleeps at night.

About four nights ago, I noticed that Gus had the sniffles. Shortly after that, he started rubbing himself against my furniture and trying to scratch at what appeared to be an itchy spot. I didn’t pay much attention at first, as pigs enjoy a good scratch from time to time. However, I saw that this insistent itch started driving Gus crazy.

I decided to bathe him and noticed an inflamed rash on his skin. Concerned, I contacted our local vet and described the symptoms that Gus was experiencing. She prescribed some topical cream, and it worked well. 

That is until three days later when the same rash flared up again. I took little Gus to the practice for bloodwork to help us determine what was going on with him. 

Why is my pig always scratching? Pigs get itchy for numerous reasons and begin scratching to try and ease the irritation. Common causes include pesky parasites such as Sarcoptic mange mites and pig lice. Pig allergies, insect bites, and sunburn are also contributing factors. Diseases such as Dippity pig syndrome and pseudorabies are more worrisome and stressful causes of scratching in pigs.

7 Reasons My Pig Is Always Scratching and How to Stop Them

Let’s take a closer look at seven reasons why your pig is constantly scratching and how to stop them:

1. Sarcoptic Mange Mites (Sarcoptes scabiei var suis)

An unpleasant (and common) cause of scratching in pigs is a parasitic disease called Sarcoptic mange, more commonly known as scabies. This disease is caused by either the Sarcoptes scabiei or Demodex phyllodes mite.

Scabies is highly contagious and spreads from direct skin-to-skin contact with a pig or a recently contaminated surface area. Male pigs are known to spread the disease quickly as they are usually in direct contact with females when breeding.

These nasty host-specific parasites create scaly and rough skin that causes intense itching all over your pig’s body. The area often becomes inflamed and bleeds due to continuous scratching and licking.

A tell-tale sign of infection is when you notice your pig scratching behind their ears vigorously and often shaking their heads from side to side. If your pig has become hypersensitive to the scabies mite, they’ll form small, pimple-like lesions all over their body. This usually occurs about three to eight weeks after infection).

Eventually, thick crusts of flaky skin will form behind your pig’s ears, hind legs, and elbows which causes extreme discomfort. Basically, the mites dig into your pig’s skin and feed on them.

Sunburn can cause a lot of discomfort DLX1 final

How to Tell if Your Pig Has Sarcoptic Mange:

Here’s a look at some of the common symptoms to look out for if you suspect your pig has Sarcoptic mange:

  • Excessive rubbing and scratching of the itchy areas
  • Chewing or biting on their tail, vulva, and ears (out of frustration as they might not be able to reach the itchy spot)
  • Obvious aggression and frustration 
  • Lethargy
  • Listlessness
  • Depression

Top Tip: A good way to check if your pig has mange and not just dry skin is by rubbing your hand over the flaky area. The dry skin will be wiped away easily, while mange scabs penetrate the skin and are harder to remove.

How to Stop Mange-Related Scratching:

Follow these steps to prevent your pig from scratching:

  1. You need to eradicate the parasites, and the most effective treatment is Avermectin products, such as Ivomec. These injections will need to be repeated every two to three weeks.
  2. You can also spray on Amitraz solution (insecticide) to kill off the parasites.
  3. Deworm your pigs regularly to eradicate any parasites.
  4. Rub coconut or olive oil over the crusty and itchy areas of your pig to provide some relief. The oil will also soften the scabs.
  5. Purchase over-the-counter medicines to relieve your pig from the itching.

2. Pig Lice (Haematopinus suis):

Haematopinus suis (the pig louse) is another culprit of severe itchiness and scratching in pigs. These pesky parasites hide amongst the hairs on your pig’s skin. The louse is yellowish-brown and usually found in the fat folds around your pig’s neck, inside (and outside) their ears, legs, and flanks.

Each louse feeds off your pig and has mouth parts designed for piercing and sucking on the pig’s skin. Once the louse has fed, they develop a bluish coloring. In severe infestations, the lice can be found all over the body feeding on your pig, and the skin develops lesions from the continuous scratching and rubbing against fences, etc.

If you look closely at your pig’s skin, you’ll notice the eggs, which appear as yellow, crusty patches on the bristles of your pig’s hair. The eggs will hatch after 12 days, and the lice will be fully developed between 29 to 33 days.

Did you know: that the louse can also be a vector for the swine pox virus? So it’s vital to treat the infestation and avoid further infection.

How to Tell if Your Pig Has Lice:

Here are a few more symptoms associated with a lice infestation in your pig:

  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Continuous scratching and rubbing against objects
  • Anemia 
  • Weight loss
  • Ulceration inside the pinna of the ears 

How to Stop Lice-Related Scratching:

To stop the scratching, you’ll need to treat and control the lice infestation by:

  1. Apply lice treatment to your pig’s skin through injections, feed medications, and pour or spray on solutions.
  2. Two rounds of treatment must be given 10 to 14 days apart to kill off the lice, as treatments are ineffective against the louse eggs.
  3. Use coconut oil and comb through your pig’s hair and bristles to remove any dead lice and eggs. Dip the comb in hot water to remove the debris.
  4. Pay close attention to your pig’s ears (inside and out), as this is usually a hot spot for lice infestations.

Pseudorabies has the nickname the Mad Itch DLX1 final

3. Swine Allergies

Just like us, pigs also suffer from allergies. They can have allergic reactions to different materials, environments, and food. These allergies attack their skin, intestinal tract, and respiratory tract, which can cause discomfort.

Certain allergies affect your pig’s skin which causes abscesses, lesions, or dry skin that leads to intense itching. It’s important to remember that each pig is unique, and certain things will trigger an allergic reaction.

Here’s a quick list of a few everyday things that can trigger an allergic reaction in your pig:

  • Nuts
  • Soya
  • Flax or linseed
  • Moldy food
  • Parsnip tops
  • Hay
  • Pollen
  • Dirt
  • Dust
  • Insect bites 
  • Insecticides and pesticides
  • Parasites
  • Straw

How to Tell if Your Pig Has an Allergic Reaction:

When your pig comes into contact with an allergen, their skin swells or breaks out into a rash. This is due to the white blood cells working to fix the underlying issue. Here’s a look at some common symptoms that occur when your pig is experiencing an allergic reaction:

  • Snorting excessively or sneezing
  • Reddening of the skin
  • Development of lumps or bumps on the skin
  • Bleeding from a rash where your pig has been scratching
  • Broken and weeping skin
  • Moodiness
  • Listlessness
  • Coughing
  • Continuous scratching and licking at certain areas
  • Inflamed and raised skin

How to Stop Allergy-Related Scratching:

If your pig has developed an allergy to their food or environment, you’ll need to monitor them so that you can remove the allergen. In severe cases, the allergy may get out of hand, in which case you’ll need veterinary assistance.

Follow these simple steps to stop your pig from scratching:

  1. Apply an antihistamine cream such as Allermin to the affected area to relieve the troublesome symptoms of the allergy.
  2. Monitor your pig closely; if the allergy symptoms worsen, take them to the vet as soon as possible (especially if respiratory issues flare up).
  3. Remove any potential allergens from your pig’s living environment and feed area.
  4. In severe cases, you can administer injectable Avermectin, such as Panomec, to help ease the symptoms. You’ll need to get the injection from your vet on a prescription.
  5. Apply an extra-virgin olive oil emulsion (mix equal parts water with oil) to your pig’s skin. The olive oil will soften and smooth the skin while locking in moisture.

Pigs also suffer from allergies DLX1 final

4. Insect Bites

Biting insects such as ticks, mosquitoes, sand flies, and horse flies can cause severe irritation for pigs. The saliva from these insects causes an allergic-type reaction and can make the skin very itchy.

Even worse is when these insects attack in numbers and bite your pig all over their body. Mosquitoes, in particular, can be pretty troublesome. A mosquito pierces the pig’s skin with a proboscis (funnel-like mouthpart) which it uses to suck up the blood.

While it feeds, it injects saliva back into your pig’s skin. Your pig’s body then reacts to the saliva and begins to itch as the skin develops an inflamed, red bump. The more your pig scratches and rubs the mosquito bite, the itchier it becomes.

Female sand fleas (Tungiasis) will burrow into your pig’s skin and lay their eggs while they feed off the pig’s blood vessels. This is an excruciating condition; the bites are located on your pig’s feet, between their toes and legs. The fleas are often found in stables or barns and thrive in warm conditions.

How to Tell if Your Pig Has Insect Bites:

Look out for these typical symptoms if you suspect your pig has insect bites:

  • Swollen and red blister-like bumps appear on the skin
  • Continuous scratching
  • Frustration and irritation
  • Hive-like rash
  • Itchy, swollen eyes
  • White, raised circles with a black center (sand fleas)
  • Ulceration

How to Stop Insect Bite-Related Scratching:

Follow these precautions and steps to stop your pig from scratching: 

  1. Clean your pig’s living area regularly, as insects are drawn to moist areas with rotting straw, vegetation, or manure. 
  2. Empty and clean water troughs regularly, as insects such as mosquitos will breed in any water that isn’t flowing. (So watch out for that little swampy fishpond in your backyard.) 
  3. Use animal-safe insecticidal sprays to keep the insects away, such as:
  1. If your pig lives indoors, use repellents such as Bug Soother Spray, Window fly traps, which can be applied to the walls and surfaces where flies and mosquitoes land.

Plug-in insect repellers such as BugMD No Fly Zone is also an effective option for keeping insects out of your home 

  1. If your pig has been bitten by a tick, use a repellent that contains pyrethrin or pyrethroid to remove the tick properly. Ensure you disinfect the wound to avoid further infection.

Pigs also suffer from allergies DLX1 final

5. Dippity Pig Syndrome

Dippity pig syndrome, also known as bleeding back syndrome, is a horrible disease for pigs to contract. Sunburn and sudden loud noises such as thunder can bring on flare-ups of this condition.

This skin condition develops along a pig’s hindquarters and back and creates painful sores that weep pus and blood. This awful disease also causes weakness in your pig’s back legs. According to research, this disease is hereditary and typically affects younger pigs.

This syndrome gets its name because an infected pig has a temporary loss of use of its hind legs and has to make a “dipping” motion to move. Interestingly, the syndrome does not affect the front legs.

The exact cause of Dippity Pig syndrome is not known as yet, but it’s been suggested that it may involve the herpes virus (similar to shingles).

How to Tell if Your Pig Has Dippity Pig Syndrome:

You’ll know if your pig has Dippity Pig syndrome by the following signs:

  • Sores on their back and sides
  • Squealing and moaning from pain
  • Itchiness and scratching
  • Unsteady on their feet
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of weight
  • Sudden aggression as a result of the pain

How to Stop Dippity Pig-Related Scratching:

Follow these steps to treat the effects of Dippity Pig syndrome:

  1. Most importantly, you need to calm your pig down. The pain and itchiness from this syndrome cause them to panic. Reduce their stress by playing soft and soothing music.
  2. To alleviate the pain and itchiness, apply topical hydrocortisone creams to the infected areas. Your vet will need to prescribe this medication, as you can’t buy it without a prescription.
  3. Ensure your pig is hydrated and comfortable. Fortunately, this syndrome will only last a couple of days (two to four days).

Dippity pig syndrom is a horrible disease for pigs to contract DLX1 fin

6. Sunburn

A fun fact about pigs is that they sometimes sunbathe for hours. However, this can be dangerous for their sensitive skin, especially during summer. The ultraviolet radiation from the sun penetrates their skin and causes cellular damage.

Sunburn is no fun for your pig and can cause a lot of discomfort. Lying in the sun for too long leads to dry skin, peeling, scratching, and itching. Your pig cannot sweat, which means their skin will dry out even quicker, and this can cause further aggravation.

How to Tell if Your Pig Is Sunburnt:

One of the first signs that indicate that your pig is sunburnt is when their skin turns a dark shade of red. Here are some other symptoms that are caused by prolonged exposure to the harsh effects of the sun:

  • Hunched over in pain
  • Visible blisters on the skin
  • Panting and coughing
  • Lethargy 
  • Increased water intake
  • Not wanting to move around
  • Lying on their stomach 
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle trembling
  • Dehydration
  • Fever

How to Stop Sunburn-Related Scratching:

Ensure there is adequate shade and a wallow pool close by when your pig spends time outdoors. Wallowing in a mud pool helps them cool down and protects their skin from the sun. Ensure you rub sunscreen lotion on your pig’s skin for extra protection against the sun.

Running sprinklers in your garden will also help keep them cool and make a good wallow pool. Here are some tips to help ease the itchiness of sunburn:

  1. Soak a towel in tepid water (cold water can send your pig into shock, which can lead to a heart attack and death). Place the towel on your pig’s neck and back to cool them down. Soak the towel often to ensure that it’s cooling your pig down.
  2. Provide your pig with electrolytes to ensure they don’t dehydrate or develop heat stroke.
  3. Spraying a solution of diluted vinegar on your pig’s skin is an excellent way to “remove” the heat from the sunburn as the vinegar evaporates. This will help significantly.
  4. Apply an emollient or rescue cream to sunburnt areas to help heal and ease the burning and itching. The cream will also help soften dry and flaky skin.
  5. Take your pig to a shady area (oils can cause a deeper burn when exposed to direct sunlight) and rub coconut oil on their sunburnt skin to help with the itchiness. Mixing coconut oil with their food is also a great option.
  6. Using the “forking” method is an effective and gentle way to help with the itchiness. Use an object such as a fork (or anything that works as a back scratcher) and gently run it along your pig’s midline and on either side of their body. 

This has almost a tickling effect, relaxing your pig and easing the itching. Forking is a great way to bond with your pig as well.

 

Clean your pig’s living area regularly DLX1 fin

7. Aujeszky’s Disease (Pseudorabies)

Here is a disease that literally drives pigs mad with scratching, and that’s why Pseudorabies has the nickname the “Mad Itch.” Aujeszky’s disease (also known as Pseudorabies) is a strain of the DNA herpes virus that attacks your pig’s immune system.

Unfortunately, as a result, your pig will be susceptible to other diseases and infections, as their weakened body won’t be able to fight off bacteria. This can lead to severe illnesses or death if not caught in time.

Patches of skin develop concentrated and intense itchiness, which causes your pig to rub, lick, and chew at the itchy skin. Doing this causes lesions, which lead to further irritation and itchiness.

Did you know: Pigs can carry Aujesky’s disease and not show any symptoms of infection?

The “mad itch” disease is most common in young pigs and is deadly for piglets under seven days old. This herpes virus is highly contagious and can spread as an aerosol for about 1.24 miles.

Nose-to-nose contact and ingesting contaminated feces is another way this disease is spread between the herd. The virus can survive for up to seven hours in water and two days in contaminated pig feces.

How to Tell if Your Pig Has Pseudorabies:

One of the first tell-tale signs that your pig has contracted Pseudorabies is their continuous scratching at an “itchy spot.” Here are a few other common symptoms of Pseudorabies in pigs:

  • Listlessness
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Coughing fits
  • Pneumonia
  • Paralysis
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sneezing

How to Stop Aujesky’s Disease-Related Scratching:

Prevention trumps a cure at any time, so you must vaccinate your pig with a modified live vaccine. Ensure that your pig’s living area is clean, as the Pseudorabies virus can survive in damp and soiled straw/hay bedding.

If your pig is scratching continuously and hasn’t opened any sores, then you can apply topical hydrocortisone cream or Benadryl to the itchy area. This will drastically ease the “mad itch,” and you should see a noticeable difference in a couple of days.

If the scratching is getting worse and sores are opening on your pig’s skin, then you’ll need to seek veterinary assistance.

Biting insects can cause severe irritation for pigs DLX1 fin

Conclusion

Taking Gus to the vet was the best thing we could have done. It turns out that Gus had developed an allergy to the straw we used as bedding for him. Thinking back on it now, I had recently changed his bedding from hay to straw.

This explained why he had developed all these sudden symptoms (with the itchiness definitely being the worst). I threw out all the straw and thoroughly cleaned his room before putting down some good-quality hay for him.

The vet also advised that I keep some antihistamines on hand just in case he flared up again. Another tip she gave us was not to bathe Gus too often, as it strips away his natural skin oils, which keep his skin moisturized. I am happy to report that it’s been two months since we changed his bedding to hay, and there have been no more flare-ups. 

To learn more about why pigs lose hair and ensure your pig is the best piggie on the block. 

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. See my about page here.

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