Neutering Your Pig”
By Valarie Tynes, DVM
Q: I have a three month old male potbellied pig that needs to be neutered. I have received estimates of $50.00 to $150.00 from different veterinarians. Why the disparity in cost? Do all veterinarians do the same procedure? I am really worried because I have heard horror stories of pigs dying after this surgery! Help!
A: The differences in cost for the pig neuter varies between veterinarians for a variety of different reasons. Many of these are small differences that can add up to a big difference in price. First of all, all veterinary services will vary in cost depending upon their location. The prices of veterinary services vary all across the country. This is simple economics. For example, the prices of veterinary services in a large metropolitan area will probably be higher that the prices of veterinary services in a rural community. The cost for real estate, utilities and staff are all higher in the city than in rural areas. Therefore, the veterinarian’s prices must be higher to keep their facility in operation.
Another difference in cost may be based upon the fact that different procedures may be performed. For example, whenever I neuter a potbellied pig I remove their scent gland” (actually called the preputial diverticulum, it is a pouch next to the opening of the penis that produces and holds a very foul smelling liquid) at the same time. Not all veterinarians do this procedure. Removal of the”scent gland” causes the entire procedure to take longer, therefore the cost is higher. If you do not care about the “scent gland” being removed, fine, but you should be aware of whether or not it is being done, because it is one justification for a higher price.
There are two different procedures commonly used to neuter pigs. One procedure is the same one used to castrate commercial piglets. This procedure is usually performed without anesthesia, when the piglet is between 3-5 days old. It consists of making two separate incisions, one over each testicle, removing the testicle and leaving the incision to heal without sutures. This procedure is quick and safe when performed on commercial swine at this very young age, but it is not considered acceptable for potbellied pigs. It might be safe for most potbellied pigs if done at 3-5 days of age, and as I understand it, some breeders of potbellied pigs perform this type of castration with minimal death losses. However, once a potbellied pig reaches weaning age and goes home with it’s new owner, no death loss is acceptable.
One reason this type of castration is dangerous for the potbellied pig is that potbellied pigs have a fairly high incidence of inguinal hernias. An inguinal hernia is a hole in the abdominal wall where the testicles exit to the scrotum. In a normal pig this hole closes shortly after birth, but in some pigs it remains open and if the castration is performed as described above, the pigs intestines may fall through the hole and out of the surgical incisions. Obviously, this can be a life threatening complication!
The safest way to neuter potbellied pigs is by using the same technique that is used to castrate dogs. This procedure involves one surgical incision between the scrotum and the penis. The testicles are then removed one at a time through the incision. The surgeon can then feel for the existence of inguinal hernias and surgically close them if necessary, before closing the single skin incision. This type of surgical procedure takes longer and is therefore more costly than the other, but is inherently safer for the patient with less chances of dangerous complications.
Another reason that potbellied pig neuters vary in cost is due to the type of anesthesia used. There has been much discussion lately in other potbellied pig publications about this subject and it could be the subject of an entire column all it’s own.
Suffice it to say, that there are two types of anesthesia used in the potbellied pig that you should be aware of. Inhalation, or gas, anesthesia and injectable anesthesia.
Gas anesthesia is safer, because it is simply inhaled and exhaled. The body does not have to metabolize it. A normal, healthy animal will awaken quickly after gas anesthesia is discontinued and there are virtually no lingering affects. The gas anesthetic agent and the equipment to use it is more costly than injectable agents.
Injectable anesthesia is inexpensive, but less predictable in it’s effects. Most injectable agents used in swine must be administered in the muscle. Because of the pig’s thick layer of body fat, sometimes these agents are accidentally administered into the fat where they are absorbed slower. In this case the pig may either take a long time to go to sleep, or it does not relax enough for the procedure to be performed at all. As opposed to gas anesthesia, injectable agents must be metabolized by the animal and cleared from their system before the animal awakens. The time this takes can vary with the individual because of their age, general health status, amount of body fat and a variety of other physiological reasons.
Again, the most important thing for you to do is ASK your veterinarian what procedures will be performed on your pig and then make an educated decision based on your new knowledge! Then all that’s left to do is love and care for your precious pet piggy for the remainder of it’s life!
© Valarie Tynes 1996