Back in the 1980s, Vietnamese Pot-Bellied Pigs were a popular fad pet. These stout little oinkers are still out there, though they’re not quite as popular as they once were. Potbellied pigs are cute (at least to some people… to each their own!), supposedly quite smart, and can even be house trained/litter trained. As with any new pet though, it’s very important to do your research before going hog-wild and getting yourself a pot-bellied pig. Talk to your veterinarian about what your pig will need in terms of medical care – vaccines, deworming, spay/neuter, hoof trimming, tusk trimming… Because they are uncommon pets, some veterinarians may not be comfortable treating a pig. Make sure you ask ahead of time so you know to which veterinarian(s) in your area you can (and will!) take your pig.
We recently received a question about vaccination of pot-bellied pigs. Just like dogs, in some areas pigs need to be licensed by the city, and certain vaccines are required in order to obtain a license. In this particular case, pigs are required to be vaccinated against rabies, swine erysipelas and leptospirosis. Regular visitors to this site are no doubt familiar with the issues around rabies and why it’s important to vaccinate for this deadly disease. (More information about rabies is available on the Worms & Germs Resources page and in our archives.) Swine erysipelas is a systemic bacterial infection caused by Erysipelothrix rhusiopathia, which can rarely cause a skin infection known as erysipeloid in humans. This is not to be confused with human erysipelas, which is a skin infection caused by various species of Streptococcus (particularly Streptococcus pyogenes).
But the question was about leptospirosis vaccination in pot-bellied pigs. Pigs are susceptible to infection by Leptospira interrogans, just like dogs and people, and if infected a pet pig would be equally capable of shedding the bacterium in its urine and potentially transmitting the disease. The issues around requiring vaccination of pigs for leptospirosis are very similar to those around making leptospirosis a "core" vaccine in dogs. More information about this is available in the Worms & Germs post entitled "Should all dogs in Ontario be vaccinated for leptospirosis?" A pet pig would likely be exposed to the same serovars of Leptospira as a dog kept in the same area, typically by coming in contact with urine from infected wild animals such as raccoons and skunks when they go outside. However, the risk of exposure for a pig that rarely or never leaves the house would be extremely low compared to a pig that has outdoor access. Another important consideration is whether or not the pig vaccine is against the same serovars that a pet pig, instead of a commercial pig, might encounter. This will also vary depending on in what area the pig lives. The Leptospira servoars pomona and bratislava are actually host-adapted to pigs.
It is also important to vaccinate an animal with vaccines that are labeled for use in its own species. Vaccinating a pig with a vaccine meant for dogs could have unpredictable results – it may increase the risk of an adverse reaction, or it may not adequately stimulate an immune response, thereby leaving the pig essentially unvaccinated. Your veterinarian can discuss the pros and cons of vaccination in your pet with the available vaccine products.
More information about leptospirosis is also available on the Worms & Germs Resources page.