Rabies in Potbellied Pigs
by Dr Arlen M. Wilbers, DVM
Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including pigs. Once symptoms appear, rabies is nearly always fatal in animals and people. In the USA, animals that most often transmit rabies are foxes, skunks, bats, and raccoons. Rabies is transmitted through saliva – primarily via bite wounds. However it can also be spread by infected saliva entering an open cut or wound, or contacting a mucus membrane such as those in the mouth, nasal cavity, or eyes. When the virus enters the animal’s body, it spreads through the nerves to reach the brain.
Rabies appears in pigs and other animals in two basic forms: dumb rabies and furious rabies. With dumb rabies, animals may appear depressed or try to hide. Wild animals may lose their fear of humans and appear unusually friendly. Dumb rabies may also cause paralysis, often of the face, neck, or hind legs. With furious rabies, animals may become very excited and aggressive. Periods of excitement often alternate with periods of depression. The animal may attack objects or other animals and may even bite or chew at their own limbs.
Rabies cases involving pigs are extremely rare in the USA. The largest rabies exposure risk for pet pigs is outdoor housing or unsupervised exercise time where contact with infected wildlife is possible. Pigs housed indoors are extremely unlikely to be exposed to the rabies virus if any other feline and canine household pets have been properly vaccinated.
Although there is no approved rabies vaccine for pigs in the USA, experimentally they have responded well to rabies vaccination by producing significant antibody titers. Pigs are not required by law to vaccinated for rabies. However, your veterinarian can administer the vaccine (electively as an off-label usage) yearly, for at-risk pigs. In my practice I have used the large animal Immrab vaccine on dozens of pet pigs with no significant adverse reactions.
Pigs which are in petting zoos, therapy pigs, pigs that have a lot of public contact, or are at risk due to their potential contact with wildlife populations are candidates for receiving the rabies vaccine. Consult with your local veterinarian to determine the potential risk of a rabies exposure for your pet pig.