Often times I will get asked a question concerning the health of animals, and frankly many times I don’t have any knowledge of a specific disease or issue. I’m certainly not the proactive type when it comes to the biology side of things, and tend to be reactive. In short, I usually don’t learn about something until I have to deal with it first hand.
A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine called me in a bit of a panic. He had a few healthy, happy Berkshire pigs out on pasture and suddenly one of them was lethargic, loosing weight and near death. We were both at a loss as to what was going on but thru some research and a phone call to a local vet, he figured out what had occurred. What was the cause? Salt poisoning, or more specifically “Sodium Ion Toxicosis”.
I didn’t have much solid advice to offer Patrick at the time, but we put our heads together and thru a lot of care and determination, he and his wife Tania saved this little piggies life! After the dust settled, I asked Patrick if he would be willing to write a guest blog article for my website. I learned a lot thru his unfortunate experience, and hope that you can do the same. We all know that making certain our animals have access to fresh water is important, but what you are about to read demonstrates just how imperative that is:
My Experience with Pig Salt Poisoning
My name is Patrick and I am a client and now friend of Darby Simpson. He asked me to write a guest post for his blog but I am not a writer, so please bear with me as I try to walk you through my experience with salt poisoning and how it could happen to your pigs.
I received my piglets in early June from a small homestead about an hour away from me. I am located just outside Renfrew, Ontario Canada (Google Maps link) just to give you some perspective.
We started the piglets in our barn and then several weeks later we moved them to the yard where there was LOTS of grass for them to enjoy. Once they were properly trained on the electric braided wire we moved them on pasture/forest with the same setup. I was running low on feed and made an order from the farm we get our feed from. We use organic pig starter and grower from a ‘local’ farm (2 hours away) that actually grows most of the ingredients onsite. The Ingredients are organic Corn, Soy Beans, Barley and Oats. It also has a bio-ag mineral premix mixed in at a ratio of 25 kg (55lbs) of Bio-Ag per Ton of feed.
This is where my timeline starts…
Wednesday: I have an SUV with a 5×10 open trailer that I use to pick up grain in bags. On the Wednesday that I was supposed to pick up the grain it was raining so I did not pick up the grain and postponed to the next day. It would have gotten wet and eventually have molded which is obviously bad for the piggies.
I was pretty much out of feed, so I decided to look in my barn at what was close to pig starter. I just finished raising some meat birds so I had some left over chick starter so I decided to give them a full bag of that. A full bag should last them two days (at this age) and since the next day I would be gone most of the day I decided this would be perfect. Feed pickup day is long for me and with other house chores, I do not get back till later in the day.
Also, on this same Wednesday our well filter in the house became clogged with mud. We had a power outage a day before and when our well starts back up in can suck up some silt and clog the filter. I changed the filter and we had water again. It is important to note that my pigs use the same watering system that Darby recommends, ran with garden hose back to the house. I also noticed the clogged filter AFTER I checked the pigs that day.
Thursday: I made the long drive to the farm outside of Smiths Falls ON, chatted with the farmer for a while and returned home. I was going to check the piggies after unloading the grain but when inside the house, I realized I had no water again. I checked the filter and it was clogged again. I changed the filter, then promptly started to panic that my well was getting low. I started calling some neighbours for advice as I have only lived on well for 3 years so am not sure what other things could cause the issue. Then I made dinner. Note: I did not check the piggies.
What is Salt Poisoning (or Sodium Ion Toxicosis)? I had no clue before this incident. Essentially it is an excess of salt that goes to the brain and is caused by excess salt in the diet or having no water for as little as 24 hours. When they start drinking again, they gorge, which then forces the salt to the brain. Here are some better explanations and resources:
Friday: I wake up, try to make coffee and no water again. Panic is over, now I am just depressed and frustrated. I am not working off the farm right now, so money is tight and this well thing sounds expensive. I go and check the pigs and bring them some pig starter and check their water (like I do every time) and I realize that they do not have water. I just changed the filter in the house and was getting water again, so they should be getting water. I start to backtrack down the hose and find that one of the hoses has become disconnected and water is just constantly flowing… into pasture. I swear a lot at this point, hook the hose back up and make sure the piggies have water. At this point I realize that this was the cause of the mud in the house filter and that the pigs have been out of water since Wednesday afternoon. I feel bad, but the pigs are happy and now have fresh water, so no harm and lesson learned… or so I thought.
Saturday: I go check the piggies in the morning with the kids, check the water and all is good. Feeling pretty good that I avoided disaster, I then notice that only 5 piggies are coming to greet me and normally all 6 come visit. I see that the solar panel I use is on the poly wire (like it was knocked over) and so I right away assume that the pig is out. I do a quick look and do not see her so head back to get my wife ‘cause catching a pig will be a two person job. My wife comes back and we do another walk to look for her and Tania (my wife) finds her ‘sleeping’ under a bush. We go to get her up and she starts to stumble as she walks. We follow her for a bit and she just lays down again. Tania is able to pet her, roll her over and move her around without any reaction from the pig. Very weird… We also notice that she just looks skinny and not as nice as the others. We assume she has some dehydration or something, and decide to take her back to the house.
Back at the house we put her in a large dog kennel filled with hay and let her rest in the barn. We try to give her water, but she is not moving her mouth at all… It is just not getting into her. We call a local vet, and the receptionist tells us the vet is not available. We call another vet, speak to the receptionist and after she consults with the vet she tells us that our pig most likely has Salt Poisoning and that the vet will not come out as he will just be taking our money because the pig will most likely die very soon. We are devastated and in tears. We start doing some reading online about salt poisoning and realize that most pigs die if they get a severe form of the poisoning and our pig looks like she has the severe symptoms (like being almost comatose at this point). She is also having convulsions that seem to be getting worse. We go and buy a large syringe so that we can try and get some water in the piggies mouth. That seems to work a little bit. Sometimes she is just comatose and does not move, and other times she laps some up. We check her and try to give her water every hour, but do not leave a container in the kennel.
Sunday: Piggie is up and moving but also is having much larger contractions than the day before. We think they are farther apart but without being in the barn with her at all times, it is hard to tell. She is now drinking from a container on occasion and seems more lively, but those convulsions are a bit violent (and demoralizing). You wonder if you are letting her suffer for nothing, but we make the decision that since we have seen improvement, we will continue. In the afternoon, we give her a small amount of feed which she eats.
Monday: Much better day. A lot more lively, but still doing things like resting her snout on the bars to the point that it leaves a depression. We find out that this is a symptom of head pain and they are trying to counter the pressure that is in their head. Sigh… Call the vet again, to see if they have any ideas and they tell us to buy some electrolytes. Turns out that the local feed store has electrolytes for pigs (same stuff for cows and horses, just different amounts) so we start giving her water with that in it to hopefully help out. We decide if all goes well over night, we will move her back to pasture the next day.
Tuesday: She looks good in the morning and is REALLY wanting to get out. We give her feed and more water and decide to wait on moving her as we have friends coming out in the early afternoon that can help us. When they come and we go out to move her, we see an empty Kennel. Luckily she escaped and ran back into the original barn we raised her in. After much work, we catch her, and wrap her in a towel because she was cutting herself as she was ramming the inside of the kennel so hard trying to get out. Once wrapped in the towel (over her face as well) we can hang on to her and bring her out to pasture with the others. The other pigs sniff the heck out of her, but accept her back just fine. She looks happy and nervous to be out there, but it was a stressful couple of hours.
For the next couple of days, she looked fine, and was getting right in the feed and water with the rest of the pigs. She is below weight but as of this writing seems to be gaining well (almost 3 weeks after return to pasture).
Some of the hard lessons we learned were:
- Water is absolutely critical to the health of the pig. This seems obvious, but our screw up almost cost us a pig and did cause the pig a whole lot of unnecessary suffering.
- We also started an animal first aid kit that includes the syringes and the electrolytes.
- Have a relationship with a vet and find a good one before there is a problem.
- Have a backup way to water your pigs (we had this, but did not use it because I thought they had water).
- Have a place and plan to isolate and control a sick pig. Steel cage kennels will not hold a pig.
Thanks for reading and I hope this article saves you from one day experiencing the same problem, or helps you get through it if you do run into it.