Low cost spay and neuter programs for dogs and cats have become very popular in recent years due to the increase in abandoned and homeless pets. Spays and neuters help to prevent unwanted litters, reduce the number of euthanized shelter animals, and prevent reproductive cancers. Providing low cost clinics for spays and neuters helps to ensure that finances are not an obstacle to this crucial care. The more dogs and cats that are spayed and neutered, the bigger the positive impact will be on the pet community and the less lives that will be lost.
Mini pigs are very much at risk for these same hardships if they are not spayed and neutered. Unfortunately, pigs are not typically welcome in these low cost spay/neuter clinics. This is largely due to the specific challenges of spaying and neutering pet pigs, such as:
FUNDING: There is a stark lack of funding and grants for mini pig spay and neuter programs. Dog, cat, and rabbit spay/neuter funding is plentiful across the nation. These spay/neuter programs and clinics have saved thousands of lives and prevented countless unwanted litters. Unfortunately, pigs are not well known as pets. The vast majority of the public and businesses are unaware of the impact these beloved pets have on our lives. They don’t know how cherished these pigs are to their families. They are also unaware of the huge number of displaced pet pigs that are neglected, euthanized, or suffering from reproductive cancers.
VETERINARIANS: Another hurdle to low cost spay/neuter clinics for mini pigs is the lack of qualified pig experienced veterinarians. Most veterinarians are very familiar with cat and dog spays and neuters. Far less veterinarians have the experience with mini pigs. There are drastic differences in the surgeries of dogs/cats and pigs. A lack of understanding or inexperience by the veterinarian could mean death for the pig. Therefore, mini pigs should only be spayed and neutered by veterinarians with experience in these surgeries. Finding these veterinarians to staff a low cost spay and neuter clinic is quite a challenge.
COST: The cost of spaying and neutering mini pigs is far greater than in dogs or cats. The cost difference is attributed to the higher cost of isoflourane gas, pre-anesthetic narcotics (midazolam, oxymorphone, or buprenex), monitoring equipment, and the length of the surgery.
EQUIPMENT: Surgery in mini pigs often requires specialty equipment. Isoflourane gas is the safest anesthesia in mini pigs. This gas requires a tank plus an oxygen tank. Most low cost clinics to not have an EKG machine or monitoring for oxygen and CO2 levels during surgery.
ANESTHESIA: Many low cost spay and neuter programs use a ketamine/domitor cocktail for their surgeries. This combination is acceptable for dogs and cats but unsafe in pigs. To accommodate pigs in a low cost spay/neuter clinic would require pig-safe anesthesia options.
LENGTH OF SURGERY: A large part of keeping a spay/neuter surgery low cost is the length of surgery. A longer surgery costs more. Longer time under anesthesia requires more anesthetic. Veterinarians are paid for their time in low cost spay/neuter clinics. The longer a veterinarian is working on an animal, the more of the veterinarian’s time it costs. There are only so many hours in a work day. The more time it takes to perform surgery on one animal, the less animals that can be altered in that day. There are several contributing factors to the length of surgery. Many low cost programs make a very small incision in the skin and body wall. A spay hook is used to find and lift and uterus and ovaries for removal. This small incision requires less time for removing the reproductive organs and less time suturing the incision. In mini pigs, a spay hook cannot be used. This hook is at great risk of tearing the mesenteries, the delicate tissue that connects the bowel. The spay hook creates a danger of perforation, twist or blockage of the bowel. In a mini pig spay, a larger incision is usually required in order for the surgeon’s hand to enter the abdomen.
OTHER: Several other difficulties make the mini pig spay more complicated than the same surgery in a dog or cat. Complications and difficulties increase cost and the risk for life threatening emergencies. One issue is the difficulty to raise a pig vein, which is required if IV fluids are needed because of complications in surgery. On the other hand, raising a vein in a dog or cat is very quick and simple. It is also notoriously difficult to intubate pigs for anesthesia due to their anatomy. They have a very deep set glottis and a diverticulum that can divert the endotracheal tube. In addition, placement of the tube is much different in a pig than a dog or cat. Very little tube extends down into the trachea before the primary bronchial branch is encountered. If the tube is pushed too far then one of the lungs is essentially missed, limiting the amount of anesthesia the pig is receiving. This will result in a pig that does not stay anesthetized. Pigs also have a large fat pad and thick peritoneal lining when compared to the average dog and cat, meaning that the procedure is more painful in the pig (post op) and there is more bleeding.
What can we do to help?
As mini pig owners, rescues, veterinarians, and mini pig advocates, it is up to us to make a change. While surgery in pigs will never be as simple or low cost as the same in dogs or cats, we can educate. Show the veterinary community that pigs are beloved pets. Encourage more veterinarians to develop the skills and experience with mini pig surgeries. Educate on the numbers of displaced pigs, the overburdened sanctuaries, unwanted litters, and euthanized pigs in shelters. Reach out to the funding sources and encourage them to consider mini pigs in their programs. We quite the road ahead of us, with many hurdles. Together we can make a change for pigs across the nation. We are their voice.