The Big C

Based on our recent appeals, you might think that all our residents have cancer. In November, we asked for your help with treating many of our newly rescued pigs’ skin cancer. We recently told you the stories of Jamie, our sweet young pig with bone cancer, and Ryder, the goat with lymphoma.



Cancer is, unfortunately, something we deal with pretty regularly at the sanctuary. There are a few reasons for this. For one, the animals we rescue have been manipulated through the (many, many) generations to function as food – more of a commodity than a companion. So most farmed animals are not bred to live long lives.

Pigs raised to be food, for example, live only six months and breeding females survive a short 3-5 years (check out our lifespans infographic) before they are slaughtered. That's a fraction of their natural lifespan. So the genetics that support longevity beyond that or healthy body systems aren’t really a top priority for Big Pork. Instead, selective breeding focuses on putting weight on quickly, producing huge litters, and creating uniformity and conformity that makes it easy to process large numbers on an assembly line.

As a result of all this genetic manipulation, we see a large amount of cancer.


Case in Point: Skin cancer is prevalent in "commercial" pigs at sanctuaries. Their pink skin lacks protective melanin pigments and makes them vulnerable to the sun. But today they are housed indoors for short periods, and therefore, the light skin is of no consequence. This contrasts with the darker pigmentation of their wild cousins. As a result, we commonly see skin cancer in our farm pigs, whereas our feral pigs with darker pigments rarely develop skin cancer.


But despite generations of breeding working against them, with attention to their diet, shelter, and care, we have farmed pigs that have lived to be as old as 17 years (!) – 20-30x longer than most of their cousins.

We do all we can to help prevent the development of cancer in the pigs – like providing them with large mud holes, tons of shade, and sunscreen as needed. Our goal as a sanctuary is always to provide the animals in our care with a safe happy and healthy life. We constantly monitor their skin and overall health and tend to catch issues early enough to help provide them with much longer lives than they would have if left untreated.

BONUS UPDATE: All the pigs from our Giving Tuesday Skin Cancer Fund have now had surgery to remove their tumors – and they are all doing well (like Philip, Ellie Mae (center☝) and Andrew (right ☝)! Only Ellie Mae (left ☝) still needs a second surgery. This pretty lady had tens of lesions covering the sides of her body, and Dr. Rogers removed those from only one side, so she could rest on her other while recovering. She’ll be getting that second surgery soon.