Pot-Bellied Pig Sedation

May 8, 2017 / Practitioner Updates

pot-bellied pig

Fast Facts and Drug Protocols


Many pot-bellied pigs present in an obese condition. Aside from systemic health effects, this often complicates drug administration. Consider the following for effective intra-muscular drug administration:

  1. Luer-lock 18-20 gauge 1.5-3.5” needle depending on size
  2. Use a low-flow extension line connected to drug syringe, which allows you to depress plunger from afar if pig is difficult to handle
  3. Administer drugs caudal to the ear or in distal thigh (areas where there is less fat)


Overweight pot-bellied pigs are particularly susceptible to hypoventilation, and subsequent respiratory acidosis and death. Keep sedation time to a minimum and use reversible drugs to allow for a rapid recovery. Consider using capnography or referring the case if you expect the procedure to be extensive.

Nausea & Vomiting

Pot-bellied pigs, like humans, can develop severe post-operative nausea & vomiting (PONV). Treatment considerations:

  • Consider reversing previously administered medications
  • Maropitant 0.5 – 1 mg/kg SQ

IV Access

Intravenous access can be challenging to obtain. A hair tie or rubber band can be placed around the base of the ear to facilitate distention of the aural vein. Smaller pot belly pigs have an accessory cephalic vein that is often identified in a more medial location than is expected.


Pigs should be fasted for 12 hours prior to anesthesia/sedation. Water can be available at all times.

Oxygen Supplementation

It is ideal to provide supplemental oxygen via facemask to pigs while sedated, and especially during recovery.

Reversal Agents (IM)

Atipamezole:  0.2 mg/kg

Flumazenil:  0.05 mg/kg

Naloxone:  0.005-0.04 mg/kg

Continuous Monitoring

  • Respiratory rate
  • Heart rate
  • Temperature
  • Consider pulse oximetry and capnography
  • Blood pressure & EKG for longer procedures


  • Intubation can be very challenging. It is not necessary for brief periods of sedation, but tips are listed here in case of emergency
  • Visualization is often difficult due to a narrow oral cavity, a wide and thick tongue, and a deeply set larynx that tips ventrally
  • Laryngospasm is common. To help prevent this, spray arytenoids with 2% lidocaine prior to intubation
  • Do not try to intubate a swallowing or chewing pig
  • An especially long laryngoscope blade is often needed
  • Once the endotracheal tube is passed through the arytenoids, you may encounter the impassible laryngeal ventricle. If this happens, withdraw the tube slightly, and rotate the tube 180 degrees, and then gently continue passing the tube
  • Secure the endotracheal tube behind the ears or under the jaw, not above the nose, which may cause nasal edema/obstruction
  • Inflate the endotracheal tube cuff to prevent aspiration

Injectable Agents for Intra-Muscular Use (mg/kg)







Dexmedetomidine—10-20 µcg/kg

Telazol (Tiletamine & Zolazepma)—Not recommended; prolonged recovery

(My favorite IM protocol: Midazolam + Ketamine + Dexmedetomidine.)


  • Due to the risk of intra-muscular drugs being unknowingly administered subcutaneously (and often the need for repeated administration until effect), recovery from anesthesia can be prolonged
  • Continue to monitor the pig (as described above) until patient is fully conscious and ventilating appropriately
  • Pigs are obligate nasal breathers and may develop life-threatening respiratory obstructions at recovery
  • Monitor temperature for hypo and hyperthermia
  • Maintain in sternal recumbency to facilitate ventilation
  • Pulse oximetry often helpful for monitoring

Ashley Mitek, DVM (Residency Trained, Anesthesiology & Pain Management), Companion Animal Extension Veterinarian