Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pigs Feet on the Agenda, My advice on how to trim your pot-bellied pigs feet.

It is a perfect June summer day. The sky is bright blue and a few rounded rotund clouds slowly speckle the sky. The breeze is calm, gentle and refreshing. The thermometer reads 78 degrees and hasn’t budged a bit in 5 hours.
We went to bed last night with a plan for the following day at home. It is our normal scheduling for the day ahead of us events. That way we can monitor each other’s progress and provide a gentle reminder should one of us stray from the “have to get done” list. I have been planning today’s events for about 8 months. I am a nervous jittery mess the night before, and the whole morning of….Pig feet trimming time. Today is the day!
I have had a pet pot bellied pig for about 20 years now.
My first pig, “Miss Piggy,” (of course) was a rescue. She was about 150 pounds, solid black, and sweet, gentle, and affectionate. I loved her immensely. I always told anyone who ever asked about why I would have a pig that she is the easiest pet you could ever ask for. I trusted her around everyone and everything. Sadly she died about 4 years ago from old, old age at 17 years old.
After her death I rescued Strawberry. She was grown in a lab at Johns Hopkins heart center to be a heart valve donor for a research program. She was spared because the study ended before she was needed. She came to our house to replace my departed Miss Pig. Strawberry came with a long list of desirable pet traits like, “begs, sits, rolls over, answers to commands, and is affectionate.” In reality she is obstinate, short-tempered, aggressive, obnoxious, demanding, and aloof. But she is my responsibility and we have come to the place where we understand each other for what we are. She doesn’t want to hate me, and she tolerates me far better than anyone else, but I don’t trust that little white torpedo at all.

This morning was the dreaded foot trimming day. I have spent countless hours planning this event. I have researched and organized every possible piece of information, advice and available tool to make this task as quick, safe, and painless as possible.
With the help of VIN (Veterinary Information Network) I gathered the consensus of advice that was posted on “PBP (pot belly pig) anesthesia.” (It is a very short advice section full of lots of things like “good luck,” and sarcasm).
There are many things that have to come into alignment for a pig trimming to take place. The weather has to be perfect for at least two days. I had to make sure that the day we chose to trim her toes was sunny and cool and going to stay that way for at least 48 hours. I also had to make sure it was a Saturday on a week end that we could be home all day, and into Sunday, if needed. This is because pigs tend to get hyperthermia and I don’t want Strawberry to be down too long on a hot day. I also don’t want her outside passed out from drugs on a rainy day and drowned. And we can’t get her feet trimmed in the blazing sun either. I learned the hard way to provide at least 48 hours, because on the first nail trimming exercise Ms. Piggy had to be re-dosed 4 times and she slept for 4 days. I spent 4 days checking her every 3 hours, and dragging her lifeless body from one shady spot to another.
The VIN research I found had a few suggestions for sedation. I read them all and decided to go with the consensus of a nice cocktail of analgesia and sedation to include torbugesic, ketamine, and xylazine.

My VIN notes.
Now mind you I have done this at least 5 times before. It has never gone seamlessly. Actually it has never gone easily either. But no pigs have died and no human ended up in the ER, so it didn’t go awful either.
Here are some of the problems I seem to always have wrt pig anesthesia.
1.       I can NEVER estimate pig weight accurately. I have gotten somewhat proficient at dogs and cats, but that’s only because I do it every day and I have a scale to tell me how far off my guess is. I have never weighed a pig on a scale. Who has?

2.       I seem to never be able to find a needle long enough to actually get the paltry dose of sedation into the muscle of the pig. VIN says “I hit the ham.” Except I don’t know where the ham is? Is that an anatomical muscle group I missed in lab? Is that short for hamstring? Do you know how small that is in a pot belly? How the heck do I get that needle into a rapidly moving, sharp-tusked pig? So I go for the epaxial muscle (along the spine) and bury the needle (1-1/2” long) to the hub, let go, (because she has run away by this point), and catch up to her to push the plunger of the syringe. Therefore delivering the dose of sedation, 1-1/2 inches into whatever lies there. (Based on my inability to ever get sleeping resting static pig I suppose this is still fat).

3.       I never have a farm hand on hand. Which leaves me and my protective, “Get out of the way, I’ll do it!” husband. He is trying to protect me, but really he doesn’t know what he’s doing, so I ignore him, which turns into a heated discussion in the pig pen. While we are arguing a punctured pissed off pig circles around us looking for any means of escape. (This is exactly why vets hire technicians and don’t use spouses).

4.       “No,” I didn’t have an extra hand to catch all of this on video, and “Yes,” it would make a hilarious video. Moving back to tusk (bad pun) at hand.

5.       As the sedation clock ticks into the 45 minutes and still the pig paces, my husband gets impatient and tries to schedule the “now eating into my time” foot trimming into his day and I am forced to give replies that sound something like, “Well honey, in dogs it takes 15 minutes for them to get sleepy,” or, “No honey, I didn’t expect this to take four dosing’s and have her still walking. I am not a PBP expert. I do not do this for a living.” (This is why I stress about this task). Not only is the pig not an ideal patient but my farm hand is calling “mutiny” and bailing ship.

After four injections of sedation she was wobbly had her head lowered and eyelids drooping. It had been about an hour and a half since we started to try to sedate her and I was pretty sure this was as good as we were going to get.
I always write medical notes to myself.
Todays listed how much I gave of each drug, and then summarized it all as "barely worked."
Joe looked at me doubtingly and said “Don’t you want to give her 15 more minutes?”
“Nope, we either try now or reschedule.” (God, the thought of making another attempt at perfect weather, timing, and self-psyching was too much? I couldn’t abandon all hope).
I jumped into the pen and cornered her. He followed with his usual valiant “I’ll save the day” heroism.
Let me tell you how strong a pig is. They seem to possess some demonic like supernatural ability to produce unforeseen amounts of brute force, even if sedated. It took both of us to wedge her into a corner and pin her against the fence. It then took 5 minutes to trim her feet. (One of the VIN experts suggests “bruticaine” as his sedation of choice. He explained it as “brute force and ear plugs.” I took part of his advice and made sure we both had our ears plugged before we started our trimming. (Seriously sage advice. Pigs scream, period. Be prepared and don’t let it scare you. But warn your neighbors, they will call the police if you don’t).
Another piece of advice I can offer. If you are silly enough, (and, or you can’t find anyone else silly enough to do this for you) have multiple pairs of clippers on hand. I have found that the best pair I have used are the heavy duty branch trimmers. Make sure the blades are sharp, and pay attention to where the flesh of the foot is, and don’t trim above that. Pig’s feet are not like dog or cat’s nails. They are hooves. They will peel easily if you cut too close. As hard as it is to do when you are wrestling a screaming, fighting, bucking bronco pig, try to cut low and trim from there. They will bleed and hurt if you are too aggressive (a hard tid-bit piece of advice when you are trying to go as fast as you can and to save your own neck from being broken in the process).

It all amounted to 3 hours for 5 minutes worth of vet care (sounds about par for us). Ask any equine vet how long the average horse call takes? It’s about the same. And they leave with a $45 call out bill. (Boy do we vets have a poor estimation of our time value).
I called a lawyer the other day. Guess what he told me in the first 30 seconds we were on the phone? Yep, $100 for 15 minutes. I don’t get paid for my phone calls, and we charge $45 for a call out.
Thankfully, after all of the shenanigans Strawberry has four trimmed feet. They aren’t perfect but we are all still alive. She ended up with a scrape on her nose and bruising to her check. I ended up with what feels like 2 days of Ben-Gay and ibuprofen ahead of me and a cut on my arm and a load of laundry that I am hoping Oxi-Clean can handle.

I also hope this will last two years, (although all the experts say to “do yearly.” Hey experts wanna make a pig call to my house for $45? I’ll provide the drugs, but you better guesstimate her weight, turns out I am not so good at that).

Strawberry gets to have one power nap today. She is asleep in a mound of fresh straw. Her sedation should keep her calm, quiet, and pain free today.
A clean pig house.

My filthy farm hand, toasting himself for saving his wife from certain mauling by porcine.

You know she's going to be fine when she eats her dinner.


My "other" farm hand.
Update; September 2014

The magic of bruticaine works!

It has been years, over two decades of pig wrestling that we have subjected ourselves to in an effort to maintain optimal hoof length on our pigs. Here is what I have learned.

Drugs don't work on pigs unless your plan is to anesthetize them, which wouldn't be prudent for the quarterly frequency that they need attention. I will clarify. They seem to work until you approach or touch your pig and then suddenly they aren't working. So we have abandoned trying.

Here is how I prepare these days;

Here is what we do now;
  1. Block her out of her house. She has no place to hide.
  2. Calmly corner her with a large heavy thick blanket.We use a moving blanket. Hold it open at arms length in front of you edges to the ground. She perceives it as a wall and will allow us to lower it over her once she is cornered. We are slow, quiet, and gentle. If she starts charging it is time to back off. Don't scare, threaten or harass, and don't talk to her. She won't understand you and the whole point is to keep her calm.
  3. Once the blanket is over her my husband kneels on the edge at his feet and wraps it around her. As long as we are slow and gentle she allows us to roll her over. 
  4. Keep her face covered bu tip of her nose exposed. She needs to breathe and pigs are significantly compromised in their ability to breathe on their side or back (worse), so let them breathe and monitor the respiratory rate. If she is not bright pink (blue or purple are very very bad, stop and let her up if she is off-color). Also it is imperative that you not lean on her chest.
  5. We then hold her front and back feet so I can trim them. 
Here is how we restrain her.No more drugs. They didn't ever work well, and the risk of overdosing (death by respiratory or cardiac arrest) isn't worth the benefit. Video on pig capture and restraint here;

We have both gotten much more proficient on how to do this calmly, slowly, safely, and effectively. We used to need ear plugs. Now she gives a few obligatory objection snorts and surrenders.

Start with the worst nails. Use a trimmer that is safe and allows you to make small trims. Ideally, use two cuts per hoof. Do not cut across the hoof. One cut will twist the nail and pull it away from the foot. Think of it like trimming your toe nails. Even with large nail trimmers it is easier to cut a toe nail from the left side to the middle an then the right side to the middle. Thereby removing the nail in two cuts instead of one.

No one gets hurt, everyone remains calm. It actually works.
Lastly, remember that the most dangerous part (really the only dangerous part) of a pig is their mouth. Just keep your eyes on that, and your hands, body and face well clear of it. They are strong but can't injure you seriously unless they bite. They can break your arm, and shred your skin. Tusk trimming in pigs is not for anyone other than a professional! I don't even contemplate doing it without anesthesia or a large animal vet with experience.
If you have any questions about this you can find me on I am happy to answer any pot bellied pig questions. Or, any other pet or animal questions. Pawbly is free and open to everyone.

You can also find me at the clinic, Jarrettsville Vet, in Harford County, Maryland. Or find me on Twitter, @FreePetAdvice.


  1. Thank you for that. I have laughed so hard I am crying!

  2. I am about to trim the feet on a 250kg (560lb) breeding sow, who is not pregnant by the way. Do you have any recomendation on sedation?

    1. I have tried everything. And been very disappointed. The problem is multi fold. Getting an IM injection truly in the muscle. Don't want to do iv bc very difficult to intubate and even if you think you got enough sedation in the second you touch them it seems you haven't even slowed them down an ounce.

      Here's what the experts (my vet school professor) recommends. Add 2.5 ml of 100mg/ml xylazine and 2.5 ml of ketamine to telazol powder. Hence tkx. Give 1 cc/150 pounds IM for sedation.

      That's the best option I've found. After that be fast, be safe, manage the head (aka the only thing that they can kill you with) and monitor for breathing. They tend to get so worked up they become cyanotic due to upper airway respiratory difficulties.

      Oh. And good luck!

  3. I find it easier to wait till sow is in season to cut hoofs 1/2 days before she is ready for hog. Find she is to hormonal to notice I'm cutting or at least not bother.

    1. Hello Alastair,
      Very sage advice! My Strawberry is spayed and a hot head regardless of time of day, month, year. But perhaps this will help others.
      Many Thanks for reading.


  4. I trim the bad toes while she's laying on her side on the couch. Easily
    we are going to give her a beer soon to get her drunk. Talk about slipping a micky lol
    husband will hold her sitting on her rump and I'll trimming the excess I couldn't do on the couch. She always let's me trim with really no problem.

  5. That was a great read!! I added a link to our website's hoof trimming section. Everyone who is even considering a pet pig should be required to read these kinds of articles.

    1. I am happy to help! And I have LOTS of practice! Please tell your friends that Pawbly is also here to help provide assistance (FREE) to anyone who needs help with their pets. Thank you for all you do to help the little pigs of the world.. Hugs from my Strawberry to all of your friends!

  6. How do you trim the side nails? Thank you for your advice, very helpful.

    1. The nails on either side of the foot are smaller and easier to trim. They too are cut with sharp trimmers at an angle. Trim a little at a time and dont be afraid to use a file. follow the angle of the nail when trimming. I hope this helps. I will do my best to add a YouTube video the next time we trim.
      Best of luck!

  7. Hi! Thanks for all the great advice! Any ideas on how to calm my female pot bellied pig calm during her cycles? She gets so frustrated and becomes aggressive and destructive. She's too old to be spayed I'm assuming since she's about 6 years old... I've heard of beer, and Benadryl, those are the only things I could find trying to research this... Just want her to not be so upset kills me seeing her like this every month!

    1. Hello,
      I would inquire about spaying. Try to find a vet who is comfortable with this surgery. Without this it can be manipulated by medications. But this is not likely to be the safest option. I also doubt that your recommendations will work. My first pig lived to be 17. I did not spay her, but she never had any recognizable or worrisome heat cycles. I did spay Strawberry ( my current pig) at 6 months old.
      If your pig is overweight it might influence your vets comfort level in spaying her.

  8. I love your videos. There is such a lack of pot belly expertise anywhere that these types of blogs really help people. I have 2 pot bellies who will be 3 in July. One was struck by lightening just before her 1st birthday and has a spinal injury that caused her to have to walk on 2 legs. With time she has developed the ability to crawl with back legs. Caring for these babies is a struggle but I love them.

    1. Hello,
      thank you for taking the time to leave a note and thank you for being so kind to the piggies,, even with challenges. I agree with you on the lack of available good practical info, I will do my best to keep providing it. Much love to you all.

  9. I have serrated sheers. Are this ok? My Carl just lays there and let's me trim away. But I need to know if this type of sheer is bad for the hoof before I continue. He's on concrete a lot so I'm just maintaining.

  10. Hello! I never planned on pigs, but have them anyway. Six mini hippos, around a year and a half old littermates. Got them with their mom (who is no longer sun-side) at about 6 months and they are, for the most part, more feral than pet like. One boy (four are neutered boys two are intact girls) is mulefooted, and needs assistance. He's had a sore/bleeding spot at what would be the top of the cleft of a front foot, if his hoofs were cloven. He's limpy, sad, and needs his toes clipped. They are free range/barn pigs so the wrangle is going to be difficult; he doesn't even accept pets during special treats. Any ideas why his foot is ulcerated (no physical injury, just sometimes bleeding and now swollen in the cold weather). No house call vets in my area!