When using the Body Scores in assessing the condition of our pet pigs, both lateral and rear views should be of value. However, frontal or facial views vary greatly among pigs of similar condition and probably will not be too much benefit. There is no doubt there will be some disagreement as to the optimum condition for our pets. Age and muscularity will need to be factored in when deciding on the best body condition for your own pig. Body scores are done on a 1-5 scale, though some pigs are off the scale in reality.
The following is a description of the various body scores:
Body Score 1 is a very thin, weak and frail looking pig. The spine and tail head protrude noticeably and the muscle angles sharply off the back and hip bones. The ribs are easily seen and the flanks are hollowed. The mandible is easily visible and only covered by skin. Facial folds are little more than skin folds.
Body Score 2 pigs are somewhat less angular with a barely visible spine and hip bones are covered by a thin fat layer. The tail head is almost flush with the rump, but still slightly noticeable. Ribs are easily felt but not seen. The jaw angle is slightly rounded and covered. Skin folds on the face are slightly thicker and softer. Flanks are basically flat.
Body Score 3 shows hips and back well rounded. Hip bones are only felt with firm pressure. Tail head is flush with the rump, which is rounded. Flanks are somewhat rounded and a fat hump is slightly visible on the top of the head behind the cars. The jaw line is now covered by a small jowl and facial folds are thicker with deeper grooves.
Body Score 4 pigs have a flattened back from excessive fat. Hips are now somewhat bulbous as is the larger fat hump behind the ears. The ears are now starting to push forward and resulting in fat pads between the ears and eyes. The tail head is recessed somewhat into the rump, which sags down onto the thighs slightly. The flanks and abdomen are now somewhat bulbous and pendulous as well.
Body Score 5 pigs are often blind or close to it from skin folds covering their eyes, which sag down from the forehead and ears. The ears, in turn, are displaced in a forward and lateral direction from the excessive hump of fat extending from the head back onto the shoulders. The tail head is deeply sunk into the rump, which sags noticeably onto the thighs. The abdomen and flanks are pendulous, as are the jowls, which have multiple folds. The back is quite flattened and pigs placed on their back have some difficulty rolling back to a sternal position.
What is the optimum score? In my opinion, a 2 is ideal for a young pig up to 8 years old and probably a 2.5 for older pigs in order to have some reserve in case of medical problems. Yes, this probably means that many of our pets are overweight, in my opinion, but pigs who score around 2, in my experience, seem to be the healthiest and most active.
The last question is, "How do I deal with obesity in a pig?" I plan to address this from a veterinarian's perspective.
In order to help the pig, the owner must first buy into the plan. However, denial and disbelief are the most common responses. "Pigs are supposed to be fat." "Fruits and vegetables aren't fattening, are they?" "He's always hungry." "He's not fat. He's just big boned." "He's put on muscle lately." "He only gets treats once in a while." "I see other pigs fatter than mine." "My other pig gets fed the same and he's not fat." "He begs for food and wakes me at 5 am every morning." "Grass can't put weight on a pig. Can it?" "It's my husband's fault." "No matter how much we cut back, he won't lose." "If he only gets 1/2 cups of pig food twice daily, he'll starve." "He needs fruits and vegetables to get his vitamins." "He begs for food until I give him some."
I'm sorry, but these excuses don't cut mustard with me. Fat is nature's way of storing excessive calories for a time when they may be needed in the future. Take control. Make that future time now. You control the "fridge." You need to decide now to change your pig for the better. How is this done? Diet and exercise.
Pigs are omnivores just like us, but they do not have the same caloric needs as humans. For most pigs, 1/2 to 1 cup of a commercially formulated pig food, specifically for potbellied pigs, is enough, fed wet or dry twice daily with free choice water. This will meet the nutritional maintenance needs of your pig. Grazing in pasture or lawns will also be a fairly well balanced diet, and if your pig is also getting commercial food, it will need to be decreased substantially or stopped during this time.
All the other things you add to their diet is extra and seldom beneficial or necessary. These include fruits, veggies, human food, dog food, popcorn, cereals, juices, mineral supplements, wheat germ, and herbal remedies. All these can, and sometimes do, cause harm by contributing to obesity and other metabolic interactions. Please consult your veterinarian before starting a program to see if it will actually benefit your pig.
When putting your pig on a healthy diet, consider the plan to be long term. Weight should be lost over 6 months to 2 years, not 1-2 months. Scales are the best way to monitor weight loss, but the pig should only be weighed weekly. Harnesses that have to be tightened are also a good sign of weight loss. Be aware that a young pig will naturally be gaining weight as it grows, so body condition, not weight, will be the most important diagnostic tool in determining the necessity to alter the diet in a young pig.
Exercise is the area in weight loss most often ignored by owners. Simple procedures, such as scattering the food in a yard or turn out time will increase muscle activity and burn fat. Leash walks on sidewalks in town will do the same as well as helping to keep the feet worn in house pigs. The bottom line to weight loss is — calories in vs. calories burned.
After a pig has lost weight, often excessive skin folds persist around the eyes and forehead causing impaired vision. Removal of these folds can be done to alleviate the vision difficulties. This will be addressed during the surgical lab portion of the symposium. Abdominal folds of skin can also be excessive, even to the point of self-inflicted injury due to being stepped on during normal ambulation, causing sores and wounds. Surgically removing these skin folds is relatively easy under general anesthesia. Both of these procedures should be done after weight loss has been accomplished. If, however, the pig regains the weight, the same difficulties may occur.
In summary, keeping your pig at optimal weight should maximize health, longevity and activity and allow you to enjoy your pet to the fullest.
This information was found at the Virginia Alliance for Potbellied Pigs website.