When I met Spike he was living in a second story apartment. He was three years old and weighed about 250 pounds. The pet store where Spike was purchased said he would only get to be 25 pounds. The then proud new owners of the tiny pet pig felt stairs were not an issue since he would always be small enough to carry. So Spike was carried up and down the stairs until he became just too heavy. Spike became so obese that it was a chore for him to leave his sleeping area to walk a few feet to get to either the kitchen where he ate or to his huge litter pan. Consequently, he only got up a few times a day, depending upon if he needed to potty or eat.
After joining the Delaware Valley Potbellied Pig Assn. the previous year, Spike’s parents, Joe and Marie, realized they had made several critical mistakes with Spike and wanted desperately to get on the right track with their overweight, inactive pig. They began by trying to control his diet by lowering his pig chow intake and allowing only veggie treats. But since Spike didn’t do stairs and lived on the second floor, he couldn’t exercise and hence he was not loosing weight even though his food intake was reduced.
It was decided, for Spike’s well being, he would come to Ross Mill Farm & Piggy Camp, until Joe and Marie found a new home to move into that would be more appropriate for Spike.
A custom diet and exercise program was designed for Spike after consulting with Dr. Arlen Wilbers. We agreed it would take a good year to achieve our goal of loosing about half of Spikes weight. We decided to start the diet by changing the amount as well as the kind of pig food Spike was eating. The food would be a complete potbellied pig ration, low in protein and high in fiber. The amount would go from his current amount of one cup a day with some veggie treats, to only 1/2 cup a day and completely eliminating all treats. On the days he grazed the amount could be lowered to 1/4 cup. We would exercise Spike by scattering his food on the ground instead of using a bowl, thus giving him grazing/rooting time.
In April, I went to pick up Spike and there he was, sprawled in front of a love seat. I maneuvered him from his spot into the giant crate then slowly slid the crate down the stairs onto the waiting wagon that pulled him to the Ross Mill Farm van.
Spike’s nails were so long that we decided to make a stop at Dr. Wilbers on the way home for a quick trim. (I still have Spikes 5-inch nails. I use them for show-and-tell at my lectures.) By the time we reached the farm Spike was extremely stressed. It was a nice, warm afternoon and I’m sure the sun and fresh air felt good but I was concerned about Spike’s health. He was so scared that his heart was racing and his breathing was labored. We disassembled the crate to make it easy for Spike to step out, but he remained inside for over an hour before he seemed settled down enough for us to help him out of the crate and into his new home.
Spike was given a large stall with one step up to a 14′ x 16′ fenced outside area. The step was too much for Spike and a ramp had to be built. The ramp was ineffective because Spike refused to leave his familiar pile of stuffed animals and blankets. His hearing seemed to be impaired and he was completely blind which must have contributed to his apparent depression and inability to adapt to his new environment.
For two months Spike refused to consume anything but an occasional piece of vegetable or fruit. Dr. Wilbers continued to monitor Spike’s diet and suggested I keep him on the diet as well as encourage him to drink and try to exercise. Spike was to start his exercise program slowly. Gatorade was the only thing Spike got up for and seemed to enjoy.
Ross Mill Farm is a busy place with boarders coming and going and piggy owners and enthusiasts stopping over for feed, tours, boarding, club meetings, etc. Those who visit the farm on a regular basis would go to visit Spike and be witness to Spike’s eventual change.
Then on a very warm May day, Spike wondered away from the barn into a grove of evergreen trees. He made a nest of pine needles and he wasn’t going to budge. We were trilled to see Spike so active. I let him stay there that night. The next day was so hot I had to get Spike in. It took four of us to move him along very slowly with encouragement and communication. It was obvious that Spike wanted “just to be left alone.” Spike was told over and over again we would not give up on him and he had to travel back across the yard and into his stall in the barn where it was cool and safe. We managed to succeed with the squeeze boards and by stopping every four to six steps so Spike could catch his breath.
Finally in June, Spike began eating 1/4 cup of feed two times a day on a regular basis and would get up quickly when it was his turn to eat. We had tried to give Spike stall mates to keep him company. I tried two different fat girls and a smaller adult male; but Spike wasn’t thrilled with any of these choices. When I put some newly weaned piglets with Spike, he came alive — even if it was just to get up and grump at them for jumping on him or scampering across his tubby self — any activity was a plus. Spike needed a job to get him out of his funk (a job Lulabelle, the mother of the young piglets, was happy to turn over to Spike). He was showing signs of happiness, his new stall mates must have helped him get over his depression.
In January I told Joe and Marie that Spike was ready to go home. It had only been nine months, but the last few months Spike lost more weight than we expected. Only now, Marie was expecting a baby and they still had not been able to afford to move from the second floor apartment. Spike would extend his stay at Piggy Camp.
Spike didn’t seem to mind. When spring arrived, he began to enjoy his long walks around the property with the spoiled, snotty house herd. The Snotty Herd often spent the day with Spike in his pen area instead of the confines of the human house.
Today, Spike jumps up on his stall door and begs for me to hurry up with his dinner, which has now been increased to 2 cups a day! Even though Spike still can’t see very well, his hearing is impaired, his hooves point outward and he can’t hold his ears erect (all from excessive weight), Spike loves his life.
Spike’s story is an important one to be told because there are so many valuable lessons to learn. As a pet pig owner, you are totally responsible for your pig’s health and well being. Inappropriate diet and housing can shorten and detract tremendously from your pig’s quality of life. Do the right things for your pig. If you don’t know the answers, contact a veterinarian, breeder or other pig professional to help you.
About the Author: Susan Armstrong, of Ross Mill Farm and Piggy Camp, lives in Pennsylvania. For information call 215-322-4898.