We are not all chemists, so understanding elements and nutrition is not a given! A lot of us in the swine community and more so in the pet pig community are however, all to familiar with the medical ailment “Salt Poisoning.” Although, this term is a bit misleading. It is quite difficult to give a pig salt poisoning if adequate water is offered freely. A more accurate term would be “water deprivation or water poisoning,” Lets further exams this condition, what happens in the body and how to prevent it.
Any animal can suffer from salt poisoning, especially companion animals and birds that may not have unlimited access to clean water or they tend to constantly tip over their water and it is not actively replenished. Although it has been more prevalent in swine, as the species is overall more sensitive. Regardless, all animals have a high tolerance to salt if they have unlimited access to fresh water. Salt poisoning is directly related to inadequate water intake. Without consistent water to dilute the sodium (NaCl) it heightens the sodium concentration and decreases the osmotic gradient to the brain, it dehydrates the brain; this can and will also result in neurological degeneration, edema of the brain and inflammation of the meninges. What also happens and WHY this term is so misleading, is that a pig immediately given water to counteract the salt toxicity essentially “floods the brain and nervous system” and causes edema. This is why it is SO important to only offer a dehydrated pig water in small amounts, but frequently over a 24 hour period. Do not immediately give it free access or you will flood the gradient and the brain will swell which is fatal. IV fluids by your vet are also a good way to establish electrolyte balances more effectively and also safely, so as not to end up with cerebral edema (brain swelling/flooding).
for reasons listed above, this is why when we encounter the symptoms most commonly associated with this condition we see blindness, deaf, oblivious to their surroundings, they will refuse to eat or drink and they stop responding to external stimulus. They may also start circling, bumping in to objects, hit or miss seizures, sitting on the haunches, head jerking and falling on its side and eventually opisthotonos (spasms of muscles causing a backwards arch of the head, neck and spine). At the end of life they may fall down on their side and start paddling while in a coma; they will pass within 48 hours or sooner once these symptoms become present. Increased/excessive thirst, constipation and incessant itching of the skin are the first warning signs but are often missed because pigs tend to drink a lot normally when eating a meal or in hot climates. They also tend to scratch their skin because pigs naturally have dry epidermis.
It should be quite easy to avoid salt poisoning in pet pigs. These days we have access to well balanced pellet feeds from manufactures that have already done the work to properly balance all of our pigs nutritional needs and requirements. Feeding appropriate rations and even more, offering the pig the ability to forage for its meals, will make sure that your companion is being properly maintained. Never offer a salt or mineral block freely to pigs, especially pasture pigs that may spend time outside with other livestock species where mineral blocks are provided. It would be ideal to remove them from the pigs access. Do not over treat your pig with food items that are high in sodium, offer them sparingly. Have free choice, clean water provided to your pet at all times. Pigs are notorious for spilling or knocking over their water dishes/tubs so that they can play in them, this is especially true of outdoor pigs. It is imperative to refill and offer continuously clean water to your pigs, even if they are outside. A a rule of thumb is to check on an outdoor pet pig’s water dishes/pans and refill or clean 3 times a day. In the summer offering them a clean children’s swimming pool is also recommended. In conclusion, know the signs, know the warnings, don’t overfeed treats high in sodium, and MOST importantly… offer your pet pig free choice and clean water!
*Although a human video, it gives a very accurate depiction of what we are talking about when it comes to water intoxication. It shows what happens in the body and why the body can no longer regulate itself.
Written by Jodi 2016
Department of Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine, The University of Georgia Athens- http://vet.uga.edu/ivcvm/courses
Merck Vet Manual, Salt Toxicity. Larry J. Thompson, DVM, PhD, DABVT 2014
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