Pig with mechanical blindness

Potbellied pig with mechanical blindness starts healthy diet. She'll regain her vision, but she has to lose weight slowly to avoid liver damage.
By David Dickson

Hazel the pig finally understands the mentality behind her favorite bedtime story characters’ pursuit of construction excellence. Straw, sticks, or bricks, she had never really experienced what it was like to sleep in a house all her own before. Now that she’s tried it, she’s never going back!

New potbellied pig at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Hazel the pig who has mechanical blindness with a caregiverMeet the new kid on the block. Hazel, the newest pig at the Sanctuary, came to Best Friends when her family could no longer keep up with her needs. She’s quite the glamour-girl, certain to catch many an eye from the other pigs. For starters, Hazel has mostly white hair, a much rarer coloring among the standard black potbellied pigs. Yet even though she is sure to draw attention from the other pigs, it will be some time before she notices any of them in turn. Hazel suffers from mechanical blindness.

Mechanical blindness in pigs

Mechanical blindness occurs when a pig gains so much weight that rolls of fat close in over the eye sockets and block out her vision. Hazel is basically wearing a blindfold created by her own body. This condition is more common among pigs than one might think.

Many people who keep pigs as pets don’t understand what pigs need to eat in order to stay healthy. In the past, pigs have come to the Sanctuary having lived on diets of everything from pizza to mac ‘n cheese. Hazel is not the first pig to arrive with mechanical blindness. Lucky for her, everything is about to change for the better.

She’ll get her vision back.

Nutritious diet for a pig

Hazel the pig being offered a healthy treat

First and foremost, Hazel is now eating the same high-quality, nutritious food as all the other pigs at the Sanctuary. Her healthy eating plan includes lots of lettuce, other veggies, fruits and so forth (no pig pellets!). The food plan the pigs follow at Best Friends is meant to replicate what they’d eat in the wild.

As it happens, most new arrival pigs don’t know what to think of their food at first. Sure enough, Hazel acts suspicious around the greens. "Um, nice dinner decorations here, folks, but where’s the food?"

The caregivers have had to get sneaky with those veggies. They’ve been coating her lettuce and other vegetables with a thin smear of canned pumpkin and plain yogurt. That has helped Hazel during the transition. Before long, she’ll realize — as have all the other pigs before her — this is the only way to go. It doesn’t usually take long for the pigs to begin craving their healthier, more natural diets. With proper eating, the weight should start to come off. As well, Hazel will soon be heading out for regular walks with caregivers and volunteers. She’s only three years old so the extra activity should be quite the adventure for her.

Slow and steady weight loss to prevent liver damage

To prevent liver damage, Hazel's weight loss has to be kept slow and steady. It’s a real balancing act, but one the pig caregivers have down pat. In time, Hazel will be able to bat eyelashes back at the handsome pigs who are already gawking from a distance!

The food at Best Friends is only one part of her new life, however. While the culinary experience hasn’t thrilled her thus far, the housing situation seems to more than make up for it. "She loves having a house," explains pig manager Yvonne McIntosh. Hazel slept under the stars at her previous home. She now finds the concept of a cozy structure to sleep inside, complete with all the warm straw and blankets she can root around in, to be better than she’s ever imagined.

Given her new-found affinity for housing, pity the "Big Bad Wolf" who tries to come between Hazel and her new digs.

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Proper pig care resources

Check out What to Feed a Potbellied Pig and find out about maintaining a proper diet, enrichment tips and more to help keep your companion pig safe and healthy.

Photos by Gary Kalpakoff