Goodbye Harley: A warning about subtle symptoms

Posted in Medical, Memorials at 5:42 am by Jenn

We lost a foster pig yesterday, and I’m typing this up mainly so that other people might see if they see the signs that we did. We didn’t connect the dots in time, but someone else might, now, and be able to save their pig.

Harley came into our rescue about 2 months ago. He was huge. Over 3 lbs huge. His owner was a pretty good owner, and kept him in a C&C cage, did a good quality diet with lots of veggies, and was heartbroken to have to give him up. He came with a plethora of stuff, including a bottle of Selsun Blue shampoo.

She explained to us that he had a reoccurring spot on his back, and that once she washed it with the Selsun Blue, that it went away. Given the description, we figured he had some sort of active fungal infection, and didn’t think twice about it.

Sure enough, he had the spot when we picked him up. We dosed him with Revolution and started treating the area with a fungal cream, but it didn’t seem to have any ongoing infection or fungus. The skin was perfect, but bald. He’d just sat there and chewed himself bald. (You can see the bald spot in his earliest pictures.)

When it went away briefly, and then subsequently came back, we went to the vet’s to try more stuff. He gave us an oral antifungal and used scotch tape to look at the skin cells under the microscope (he hates doing skin scrapes on pigs and does that instead). He told us that the skin seemed healthy, but sent off for ringworm testing, and it came back negative.

We both, at that point, wrote the spot off as a neurosis reaction to being alone most of the time.  Susan has had animals start chewing their backs when they had bladder stones, but before they came painful enough to wail while they peed, and she’d caught several that way by doing x-rays. Since he was having no other symptoms, and his weight remained stable, that didn’t seem likely. After all, there are a number of animals that self mutilate from boredom, right? We went ahead and neutered him since we had a lot of available ladies, and sat back to wait.

The neuter was unremarkable and he healed with no problem.

This week (4 weeks after the neuter), while preparing for his pending adoption, I did his weekly weighing and noticed that he’d dropped 4 oz. I was concerned, but not too concerned. He was a huge pig. I felt like having pigs around him (he was sharing a grid wall with my herd) was probably making him more active, but I still gave him a once over looking for anything out of the ordinary, and I found a lump above his penis.

I swore, and figured he had an abscess (even though it didn’t feel like one) and took him in yesterday to have it drained. I got a call at work from our vet who had him open on the table. The lump was just the bottom end of an enormous (presumed) abdominal tumor, bigger than a golf ball, that was extremely invasive, and had even wrapped partially around his penis. He hadn’t cut it yet, because he wanted to talk to me beforehand.

I told them to try and remove it if at all possible (and to check and make sure it wasn’t some bizarre abscess) but that if he felt he couldn’t, not to wake him up.

I got a call about an hour and a half later. The tumor (it was definitely a tumor) was too big. It had multiple blood supplies going to it, and he couldn’t get it disentangled from his penis. He said that even on the highest gas he was using, Harley was still flinching to him trying to remove it while sedated. After trying as gently and persistently as possible, Harley started to visibly struggle with the anesthesia, and we made the decision to let him go.

He was kind enough to snap some photos with his phone during the surgery as well, and I’m linking to them (as they’re pretty graphic) just to give an idea of how huge this thing was:

Surgery 1
Surgery 2

(For orientation purposes, the penis is on the left in both pictures)

Initially, we thought that somehow the neuter had triggered the growth somehow, but when we started going back over his symptoms, I think he probably had at least the beginnings of the tumor when we got him.

Now we believe the following behaviors to have been subtle symptoms associated with the tumor:

  • the bald spot. It was directly over his spine, and lined up perfectly with the tumor. We guess that he was having pain issues with it, and would chew there trying to get at it (much like neuter pigs will sometimes chew their legs). Once he got to the skin, it probably hurt more to chew than the tumor did (or perhaps the tumor pain came and went). If picked up and turned upside down, he would also sometimes chew his front paw, but so many pigs hate it that I didn’t pay attention to it until afterward.
  • distinct dislike of being touched on the rump. Harley actually liked being petted, and would run up to the front of the cage with no fear to have his head scratched, but if I tried to pet his back or sides, he would try to bite. Again, enough pigs did this that I didn’t think it hugely out of the ordinary.

Since he’d been chewing at the site for several months (according to his mama), we believe him now to have developed the tumor sometime in 2008.

So if you have a pig with a bald spot like this, who is otherwise healthy, and mites, fungal, etc, have all been ruled out, it may be worth pursuing an x-ray, if only for peace of mind. I wish now that we had caught Harley’s problem earlier, so that we could have given him pain medication at least, and made his life a little easier. But he was such a happy go lucky pig. Always had his head in the hayrack, eating like a horse, and otherwise healthy.

Goodbye Harley, you were a good pig.

1 Comment

  1. Celia said,

    June 10, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Anytime we loose a little friend it is sad.

    Harley’s personality was friendly and outgoing, unafraid and affectionate- exactly how we hope our pigs will be but seldom are. How could such a perfect little being have such a horrible tumor? More proof that life is not fair.

    Harley was in the best possible place with one of the very best caregivers he could have had. Few pigs are so fortunate. It seems like this adorable little friend came with a lesson. Hopefully, some other little being- perhaps one much more needy- will benefit from what we have learned.

    Rest peacefully sweet Harley; Bless you, little guy, your job is done.