A potbellied pig named Itty Bitty is looking forward to a new beginning after veterinarians at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital performed a life-saving procedure to remove a 23-pound basketball-sized tumor from her abdomen.

“Most of the time, in cases like this, the animal will die on the surgery table just from losing too much blood,” said Dr. Amanda Kappes, an agricultural animal intern at WSU. “There were times we thought we were going to lose her, but she pulled through.”

Just a day before the surgery, Itty Bitty’s owner turned the pig over to Crystal Curtis, a volunteer with the Animal Angels Refuge in Ellensburg, Washington. It was clear the potbellied pig was suffering. Her eyes drooped. Her ears were limp. She was skin and bones, other than her abnormally large stomach that was hanging to the ground.

“She didn’t even look like a pig to me when I first saw here,” the rescue’s owner, Katrina Willard said. “She looked so sick. I didn’t think she’d make it through the night.”

Knowing time was something Itty Bitty didn’t have, Willard transported the pig to WSU hoping the agricultural animal veterinary team would be able to save the animal.

An ultrasound and X-rays ordered by Drs. Kappes and agricultural animal veterinarian Jennifer Sexton showed a large mass in Itty Bitty’s abdomen, but an exploratory surgery was scheduled to get a better look.

“We really had no idea what we were going to find once we opened her up,” fourth-year veterinary student Shelby Abeyta said.

What they found was a massive growth with extensive blood vessels on her uterus. Knowing removing the tumor would be risky and could result in the loss of a dangerous amount of blood, Kappes left the operating room to call Willard and explain that most animals in Itty Bitty’s condition don’t survive the surgery.

Potbellied pig has basketball-sized tumor removed
Fourth-year veterinary student Shelby Abeyta spends some time with Itty Bitty following her surgery.

“She literally walked away from the surgery to call me,” Willard said. “I thought Itty Bitty was going to die, but this was our only option if we wanted to save her. I sat in my rocking chair and sobbed.”

The next call Willard received came with better news – Itty Bitty had survived. With the 23-pound tumor gone, she now weighed only 46 pounds.

The mass was sent to the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab at WSU for testing, where it was confirmed as a leiomyosarcoma, a type of cancer that grows in the smooth muscles. Even though the mass was cancerous, the long-term outlook for Itty Bitty is positive.

“Usually with cancer, the prognosis in our animals is pretty poor. But with the cancer she had, it is 98% curative just by removing it,” Kappes said.

Willard created a Facebook fundraiser to help cover the costs of Itty Bitty’s care, and she has been overwhelmed by the response.

“People from everywhere are donating,” she said. “I just can’t thank them enough – I could not have afforded this because I have lots of animals I am caring for. We pay for all the animals out of our own pockets. Everybody pulled together.”

Four days after the surgery, Willard picked up Itty Bitty from WSU and brought her to her new home at the Animal Angels Refuge, where she joined a handful of dogs, pigs, and more than two dozen horses.

“I am already attached to her,” she said. “I can’t wait to see her get better and get fat.”