The Wokingham Paper

Pet pig leads the way for new sanctuary in Spencers Wood

Hippo (left) and Tulip (right) were adopted by Susan Player over a year ago. Following Hippo’s rare diagnosis, the pair will be the first members of her new sanctuary for disabled pigs Pictures: Susan Player

A RARE genetic diagnosis has pushed a Wokingham woman to make plans for an animal charity in Spencers Wood.

Susan Player, who adopted pet pigs Hippo and Tulip last year, was spurred on after one of her hogs was diagnosed with myotonia congenita — also known as fainting goat syndrome.

Although common in some animals, Hippo is the only pig in Europe to be diagnosed with the condition.

“He falls over stiff like a stuffed animal,” explained Mrs Player. “He can lie down but just can’t stand up again. We’ve got him in a harness to lift him back up.”

Hippo was diagnosed last month after a visit to Langford Vets, part of Bristol Veterinary School, at the University of Bristol.

“They were fascinated with him there,” she added. “It’s so unusual in pigs, they couldn’t find papers on it, aside from one pig in Brazil.”

A spokesperson from Langford Vets, said: “We met Hippo the Pig when he was referred to Langford Vets.

“We ran a number of tests and he was examined by our colleagues from the Small Animal Hospital Neurology Team who assisted us in confirming the diagnosis of myotonia congenita, which is otherwise known as Fainting Goat Syndrome.

“This condition is incredibly rare in pigs with only one other known population of pigs affected, in Brazil, the disease has been reported in other animals, including dogs and cats, though remains rare.”

Mrs Player addded: “They said on a farm pigs may just be put down if they had these symptoms, rather than bothering to research it.”

This, she said, was the motivation to start a sanctuary for disabled pigs that would otherwise be euthanised.

“Hippo is a really happy boy, he’s loving life,” added Mrs Player. “There’s no cure for myotonia congenita but it can be managed.

“At the moment he’s on a muscle relaxant drug, which is helping slightly. The university had no idea what to give him, it was a first for them — so it’s trial and error.

“They called all the students in, as they were fascinated by him. They were so grateful for us to take him to them, as people don’t usually check their pigs like this.”

The Langford Vets spokseperson added: “Myotonia congenita in humans is a non-painful condition and given the high level of nursing care that Hippo’s owners are able to provide, we are working alongside them to monitor his welfare and support his needs.

“In conditions as rare as this, where there is limited research in the species, there are many factors that affect the longer-term management of the condition, which are assessed on a case by case basis.”

Following Hippo’s diagnosis, Mrs Player began researching the process to launch a charity and start a hog sanctuary.

“We’re moving to Spencers Wood, and we’re looking for land to buy, hopefully nearby,” she explained. “Although pigs don’t need as much space as cows, we would like space for some agility work and equipment to help them.

“At the moment I’m in the research stages and I’m doing some courses to learn more.”

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