Whether you have a pot-bellied pet pig or run a small-scale pig farm, there are best practices to help protect your pigs from disease.
Pigs are vulnerable to certain diseases, one of which is African swine fever (ASF). Although no cases to date have been reported in Canada, it has been found in Africa, Asia and parts of Europe, and more recently, it has spread to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. ASF is being monitored closely because if it arrives in Canada, it will have devastating consequences for pig owners of every scale.
ASF is a viral disease of pigs that causes significant death rates upon infection. The disease only affects pigs and is not a threat to food safety or human health. No treatment or vaccine is currently available for the disease.
ASF can spread between pigs through contact with other infected pigs or pork products, as well as contaminated farm equipment, feed and clothing. “Early detection of infected animals and containment of the disease outbreak is critical,” says Dr. Paisley Canning, a veterinarian at Upper Thames Mobile Veterinary Services who specializes in small-scale farming, homesteading and hobby farms. “Pig owners need to be able to recognize symptoms of the disease, as well as implement biosecurity measures to help prevent the virus from infecting their pigs.”
Along with registered veterinary technician Grace McDonnell, Dr. Canning serves clients in southwestern Ontario ranging from pot-bellied pet pig owners to small scale producers and operators. She suggests the following to increase the protection of your pigs:
- Use fencing to contain your pigs to a specific area of your property. This keeps your pigs safe from wild boars, coyotes, wild dogs and other wildlife that pose a threat to your pigs.
- If you are feeding your pigs fruits and vegetables, ensure they have not been in contact with meat or products of animal origin. Avoid feeding kitchen scraps, as they can be contaminated with meat products. Never feed garbage to your pigs.
- If sourcing complete feed from a feed mill or farm store, ensure that the feed ingredients are from a trusted supplier with biosecurity controls.
- Stay vigilant when people visit or work on your property. Have them wear gloves, coveralls and clean boots/shoes when visiting your pigs to prevent disease transmission.
- Don’t let visitors who have travelled to ASF-infected areas have contact with your pigs for at least 14 days after they have returned to Canada.
- Establish a relationship with a veterinarian, so you can contact them with questions or concerns and have regular health checkups for your pigs.
It’s important to understand normal and abnormal signs of pig health to maintain the best welfare for your pigs. This will also allow you to know when you need to call your veterinarian. Signs of ASF can include high fever, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, red or blue blotches on the skin, coughing or laboured breathing.
To spread awareness on preventive measures, the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, with funding from both the federal and provincial governments under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, has developed resources to help small-scale pig owners be better prepared against the threat of ASF. For more information, visit ovma.org/pet-owner-resources/african-swine-fever.