Hygiene and Routine Care


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Germ:  a term often used to describe a  microorganism or microbe; an organism that is microscopic (too small to be seen by the naked human eye).While there are many kinds of beneficial microbes, in our environments and in our bodies, we will be referring to those germs called pathogens which cause disease.

 Diagram from Wikipedia


Bacteria enter the body through ingesting it along with food or water or simply by breathing, or through a break in the skin from a wound or sore.

Control is accomplished by:

Prevention: washing dishes, daily bedding changes, disposal of manure and wet bedding. fresh clean water daily Cleaning and changing beds and disposal methods will reduce the population of bacteria able to invade the pigs body. It's all about numbers. One small colony of germs can be washed away with a little soap and water and never have a chance to do any harm or it can,  left undisturbed for 24 hours,  become a massive colony of millions.

Immune Function: Pigs have incredible immune systems to fight invasions of pathogens. This immune function is developed over their lifetime as a result of genetics, proper nutrition and environment. Foraging/grazing plays a key role in building the immune system,.


Those pesky Germs

We all know that germs (Bacteria)  are  wee creatures who cause disease. They, along with their cousin the virus and their other cousins, the fungus and the parasite,  cover most of the disease conditions caused by outside influences.   Understanding  these invaders and how to control them in a daily setting can be very helpful in keeping pigs healthy and in assisting in recovery from a disease  

Bacterial invasion or infection involves millions of bacteria.  More detailed info on bacteria here at Wikipedia:

Simple cleaning is the best protection.

Germs which cause disease do so by multiplying. No small family of germs can take down a  pig. So keeping the population of germs down is the process to aim for to keep infectious illness out. Unless you are doing surgery there is little need for antiseptic conditions, and using extreme chemicals is more dangerous in most cases than the germs you are killing. The age old remedy of good hot soapy water is the best choice for their eating and drinking dishes, blankets and other objects that can be washed. Daily raking and fresh clean hay for barn areas.. Raking and manure removal, keeping feeding area clean of uneaten debris.. these simple steps will keep the area about as safe as you can make it. Germs multiply by colonizing.. they grow where they are, building cities with populations big enough to cause harm. The don't wander across the yard to start a new colony on their own. They can however be carried to the next stall or barn by your shoes, flies, lice, and cats and other animals in the area.  A clean home is a healthy home.. and fresh air and sunshine do as much for cleaning the environment as any antibacterial spray you can use, without the hazards that such sprays present to pigs lungs and nasal passages. By routine cleaning you keep the germ populations below dangerous levels.  Wash your hands every time you handle a sick pig, rake manure or pick up dirty dishes.



Antibiotics:      Antibiotics, whether produced by a pharmaceutical company with extensive laboratory testing for efficacy or through  benefits known in homeopathy, they act essentially the same. They single out a specific type of bacteria and kill it, reducing the numbers of colonies to a level the body can "throw off" the disease and recover.  The many ways they do this are numerous and complex.  There are many classes of antibiotics.

To get the best results from antibiotics requires culturing the infection to determine which antibiotic is effective. Some diseases are easily killed and a wide array of antibiotics can be used successfully but some have a very narrow window and unless you can pinpoint the precise drug most effective, no amount of other antibiotics will do any good. One of the simpler processes, and one I spent a lot of time doing after college working in a microbiology lab, is culturing pathogens. A sample of the infected cells is swiped in a prescribed pattern across a glass petri dish that has been prepared with an agar ( a dried food coating for the bacteria to eat) and put into a controlled warm environment and allowed to grow  for a specified time. Then the dish is viewed to see if sufficient colonies are present and antibiotics of various types or applied to precise places. The kill rate determines which antibiotic is going to work well, if any. There are some infections that resist all known bacteria, though these are relatively rare.

The Clean Bed

Clean beds are one important key to good health. Daily (or with sick pigs twice daily) changing means any accumulated germs are carted away and gone.  

But if you observe your pigs when fresh clean blankets or straw or hay are put down you will see a major psychological effect as well.  They absolutely LOVE a clean bed. They like to arrange it and rearrange it to suit them. As a healing tool, a clean bed offers both freedom from germs and a lift in the spirits.


Clean dishes and water pans every day.

Baking Soda is safe and effective for neutralizing the ph on dirt surfaces under the bedding. When you remove old bedding just sprinkle liberally and put down fresh hay or straw.  It absorbs odor and creates an unfavorable ph for germ growth.


Hoof Care

Many pigs require routine hoof care. Some do not. It depends on many factors of genetics, diet and environment. But when they do need regular trims and you do not trim them they can go lame and eventually be unable to walk. Being immobile brings on other, even more dire health concerns. Not trimming feet can end a pig's ability to live a healthy life, and under some states abuse law would be a chargeable offence; its that serious!  It is absolutely essential that you either trim them yourself which is the simple, free and quick or have your vet do them. Long hooves may look like any of these shown. All need trimming.

Above hoof grows like an elf shoe, upward and curling. It needs about 1/3 trimmed off. Below is crossing claw type. It needs about 1/2 trimmed off. Both sides should be the same length.

Pigs hooves are not like horses hooves.

The hoof has a quick, just like a dog's toenail. The quick extends further and further down the hoof as it grows. Short hooves need only a short quick, long hooves a long one. When you cut a hoof too short you may cut into the quick and it will hurt the pig and bleed a good bit. Avoid this by keeping nails cut regularly (usually once or twice a year). But if you do nick the quick it is not a serious accident, it will take care of itself and soon be forgotten.


The Tools

For small, thin hooves a good pair of pruning shears will work. For larger hooves on bigger/older pigs medium sized lop shears work well. Goat hoof nippers can also work on some hooves.  Buy good quality tools and replace them as needed to always have good sharp cutting surfaces.  You can find these tools at most large farm supply places like Tractor Supply and Southern States. Also at a zillion places on line like and gardening retailers.


There are several techniques for holding the pig while trimming or nipping off the end of a tusk. All will involve a lot of noise as pigs find being held against their will the worst possible thing to happen. Ignore the screaming and trim the hoof and in 3 minutes it will be over and he will go back to what he was doing.

While many people can hold a pig upside down between their legs and do a good job of trimming alone; for most people its best to have someone hold while you trim. First, both people grab the feet and flip the pig onto his side in a soft pile of hay or grass, then gently roll him up on his back. Being centered on his back has some calming effect to most pigs. Wasting no time, the holder should present you one foot at a time and you nip it off. Don't worry about shaping or grinding, but do flatten the bottom if the pig has the sort of hooves which roll over and make the walking surface round instead of flat. I use a palm sander for this.

The rocking chair is a good method for pigs with arthritis  where legs thrashing or back twisting can be hard on them. A strong person is required and one with some agility. He should step behind the pig and firmly grasp both front legs and raise the pig into a slight standing position, then rock back onto his heels so the pig is gently supported in his lap.



All pigs have tusks. They appear as young as 2 years old and often fall out as young as 14 or so. As the pig ages, tusk grows slows. Early in life they may need trims once a year, then 8 or 10 years later, they don't need it at all.

In females they seldom grow enough to be a problem or need trimming. The growth is driven by testosterone in early life and the longer a pig has been unaltered as a young pig, the thicker the tusks will have formed. Keeping tusks trimmed is done for his good ehalth (abberant growth can kill a pig) and to protect family and other pigs from accidental injury.

Why Trim Tusks?

  • Keep normal and  abberant tusk growth under control so tusks don't grow back into gums, roof of mouth or face
  • Keep long sharp tusks from hurting your legs
  • Prevent cutting or gouging of other pigs as they go about their activities which often include a few disagreements about food and beds.

Can tusks be removed?

No. This was attempted a couple decadwes ago and found it causes major problems later in life. Tusks removed can break the jaw bone and cause other long term problems. Good dental care is essential to prevent tusk infections as they cannot be easily remedied either surgically or via medcations.

Who should trim?

Your vet.

Only your vet has the knowledge of tooth geometry to correctly cut the tusk so its return won't present a health hazard.

This is done under mild sedation or tranquilizer (we use Midazolam at out vet clinic which is very safe and the pig never really goes "under", just dozy and wakes slowly and naturally.  A fine obstetrical wire is used to saw the tusk down to the gum line. Tusks do not have nerves within them so this is painless although a lot of heat is generated which can be uncomfortable.

(Warning note: I took in a herd of pigs whose keeper used saw wire himself and when examined our vets found many with dangerously regrown tusks from his ignorance of mouth geometry. Don't let non veterinary persons who profess experience touch your pig's mouth. Its a job for a professional)

In the early days many of us sanctuaries used bolt cutters to nip off the ends of long tusks. We found through the pigs' later health problems  that this can cause fractures below the gum line which leads to bone and dental decay. Don't try to trim tusks yourself.





More to come