20. Premature balding and man flu – 16 August 2012

Snout and Crackling are hirsute creatures.  Their fur is long and lustrous and it gleams in the sunlight.  Judith Whiteley, the breeder who sold me Snout and Crackling remarked that they looked very well brushed, when she saw a photo of them.  I don’t manage to groom them every day but their fur is brushed a lot more than my elder daughter’s hair.

So I was anxious the other day, when I stroked Snout and as my hand drew along his spine, all his fur came with it.   I stared at my hand in disbelief and then stroked Snout’s flank.  And the same thing happened.  Large clumps of fur floated off him and drifted onto the ground.  Now, of course, most animals molt come the hot weather.  I have lived with a molting dog for fourteen years, who does not shed fur cyclically but rather constantly.  There are white furs at the bottom of my underwear drawer, white furs on the hemline of my best evening dress, white furs deep in the pockets of my bike jacket.  Friends, who met Woozle on one occasion a decade ago, find white furs lingering on the dashboard of their car or at the bottom of a shopping bag.  It gets everywhere.

However, Snout and Crackling’s fur has hitherto stayed firmly attached to their bodies.  And then suddenly in the space of a few hours, my ginger pig was developing great patches of baldness before my eyes.  He was starting to look like a monk with a tonsure.  And it’s not a good look for a handsome pig.  I grabbed the phone and dialed the vet.  He couldn’t be molting, I told the vet I spoke to at Westpoint, there was enough fur coming off him to stuff a cushion.  The poor vet I spoke to had clearly been “on call” all night, was sleep-deprived and was now dealing with a woman on the verge of hysteria about her balding pig.  She was fantastically polite and recommended that one of the Westpoint team come to visit Snout the following morning.

I was up at dawn and while the pigs ate their breakfast, I pored over Snouty, examining his hair.  Perhaps I had been a bit hasty in my belief that he was going bald?  But no!  Enough hair was coming off him to stuff two cushions now, not just one.  I nearly hugged the tall, handsome Peter, as he arrived on my front door step and having offered him a cursory glass of water, rushed him through the house to the pigs.  Poor man, he barely had time to put on a pair of rubber gloves before Snout was being thrust in front of him and I was yanking at what little fur was left on my pig.  Peter and Snout met when Snouty was at the Royal Veterinary College and seemed mutually pleased to see one another once more.  After a careful inspection, Peter said that there was really nothing to be worried about:  Snout might be changing hormonally and it could be that he was going to be bald from now on.  I was aghast.  I mean, Snout is young; he couldn’t be going bald.  But some men do become prematurely bald, said Peter, stroking his smooth scalp as it shone in the morning sun.

So, I now have an erstwhile hairy ginger pig who has very short bristles all over him.  What is more, the bottom half of Snout’s fur is turning white.  He looks as though he has lowered himself into a pool of cream:  his trotters and belly are white and then the tidemark stops and he becomes ginger.  Snout and Crackling’s father, Shaun is white, so maybe he’s becoming like his dad?  Their mother, Mandy, is black.  I wonder if at some point Crackle is going to follow suit and become black?  Anyway, I thanked Peter profusely for coming to allay my fears and went to work.

Forty-eight hours later and I was on the phone to Westpoint once more.  I had gone into the garden early in the morning with the pigs’ breakfast and Crackling had been slow to come out of the ark.   This constituted an emergency.  Crackling is the greediest pig ever.  He moves at the speed of light as soon as he hears the key turn in the back door and is always propping up the fence with his front trotters, snout lifted in the air, shouting for food.  He did eat that morning but there was a distinct lack of vigour.  And as I watched him, his stomach went into spasm and he lay down and breathed heavily.  Fearful that he had developed the same problem as Snout in February, I prayed for him to pee.   This he did, without effort and deposited a large amount of dung onto the ground for good measure.  I took his temperature.  The thermometer told me that he was dead.  I took his temperature again.  It was low.  I rang Peter.

When Peter arrived, Crackling was clearly unhappy.  His nose had gone very pale and he was distressed.  Had he eaten anything different, Peter asked?  No, I said, although I had given him a peach stone, which he had cracked with gusto.  This was a bad idea, as perhaps it had hurt his stomach.  Or perhaps, Crackling had a small bleed internally?  The thought of this horrified me but I took a deep breath and asked sensible questions in a level voice.  An internal bleed means the animal is put down, no quarter given.  However it was agreed that we would give Crackle a painkiller and some antibiotics and that if he had not improved within twenty-four hours, I would take him to the Royal Veterinary College.

I took the rest of the day off work and remained with my pigs.  That evening, having put the baby to bed, I stayed up all night, checking on Crackling every two hours.  He was still breathing in a staggered fashion but was happy to be stroked.  Come the morning, he came out of his ark to eat, albeit slowly.  Text messages flew backwards and forwards between Peter and me.  I spoke to Ami as well and she agreed that she would speak to the RVC and arrange for Crackling to be admitted.  I had to go into work and so left Crackling’s welfare in Snowy’s capable hands.  As soon as I arrived at work, Snowy rang me to say that he felt there was a slight improvement.  I was skeptical and thought that my kind husband was just trying to buoy me up.  But no:  he emailed me through a quick video clip, which showed Crackling crunching on an apple and moving around in a much more lively fashion.

From that point on, Crackling made a speedy recovery and I was glad to be able to ring Ami and tell her that he did not need to be admitted to the RVC after all.  He was perky when I returned home and the following morning, all memory of his lying on the ground, waving his trotters in a feeble way, was banished.  Crackling was back on form:  up on his hind legs and shouting for food.

We still don’t know what got him.  Perhaps he did eat something that didn’t agree with him?  Perhaps it was a case of man flu?

This morning when I went out to see both pigs, I noticed Crackling’s fur was coming off him in droves.  Perhaps he too, is experiencing premature baldness?  No matter, he is still a most handsome pig.

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