By Sandra Krug
While the word pig usually invokes images of life on a farm, potbellied pigs are increasingly popular as domestic pets. These pigs can be great companion animals. But pigs are not the right choice for everyone. Sometimes people adopt a pig without thoroughly researching their behaviors and care requirements. As a consequence, these intelligent animals end up surrendered to sanctuaries across the country.
Most pigs are surrendered for not being a “teacup” pig. They grow too large, have medical, circumstantial or behavioral issues, and sadly lose their homes. People do not understand that “teacup pigs, mini pigs, miniature pigs, micro mini pigs, dwarf pigs, nano pigs, and pygmy pigs” are basically a myth. Those little pigs grow up and get much larger than people bargain for when they purchased the pig. If a buyer was promised a “teacup pig” that grows to 100-plus pounds, the pig does not seem so cute any longer.
The adult potbellied pig will undoubtedly not look like those little piglets advertised on breeders’ websites. All of these so-called teacup breeds are the same species. They are potbellied pigs. These pigs came from Vietnam, China, Asia and are a combination of several breeds. They can breed with farm pigs or wild boars. These pigs are all part of the genus sus scrofa. They are commonly mixed black and white coloring, or all black, all white, or silver coloring. Adult farm pigs can weigh 1,000 pounds. Potbellied pigs are 3 feet long, 2 feet tall, typically weigh around 125-200 lbs., and are fully grown at five years. They have a projected lifespan of 12-18 years.
So, it is not erroneous to call potbellied pigs “small pigs” within that context. But I have seen breeders claim that a “teacup” pig adult will only grow to 10-20 pounds. Potbellied pigs can breed when they are as young as six months old. Parents of baby piglets may well be piglets themselves. Parent pig sizes are an inaccurate gauge of how large their piglets will grow. If you are purchasing a pig as a pet, expect a pig and prepare for a pig!
And trying to keep pigs tiny, breeders sometimes give improper feeding instructions to new owners. This has some pretty harmful effects on their health and well-being. It stunts the pig’s growth, resulting in fragile, easily breakable bones and other health problems. These pigs starve at the hands of their unsuspecting new owners.
On the positive side, pigs are relatively low-maintenance animals, requiring roughly the same daily care as other animals.
- Healthcare: Potbellied pigs are very clean and intelligent animals, but they are considered exotic pets. Few veterinarians will care for them, making it challenging to get these pets the treatments they require. Pigs need their tusks and hooves trimmed a couple of times a year. A veterinarian, or an owner trained by a vet, can complete these responsibilities. Pigs must be spayed or neutered and require regular vaccinations.
- Diet: They will eat large amounts of food, mainly high-carbohydrate unhealthy food, if allowed, so it is vital to restrict your pet’s access to these foods. They are persistent in searching for food and should be far from the kitchen or any food storage. Find special pig feed in a pet store, feed store, or online special-ordered. Pigs are omnivores, equally interested in vegetables and meats. A pig’s diet includes low protein, low fat, and high fiber pellets and 25% of their daily diet should be fresh non-starchy vegetables. You also can offer alfalfa hay or bran for fiber. Many veterinarians recommend providing a multivitamin. Many owners opt to feed two meals per day (morning and evening) in a bowl and sprinkle some of the pig’s daily diet in a selected enrichment area for rooting.
- Temperament: Pigs form close bonds with people and are very affectionate and playful. They can be clicker trained to learn basic training cues. People are surprised by just how smart they are and how unique each pig’s personality is. Pigs are also social herd creatures. Most are happy in pairs or groups, especially outside the house, which keeps them motivated and active.
- Intelligence: The high intelligence of pigs makes them very easy to train, just as simple as dogs. Pigs locate truffles in the forest, use a computer mouse with their snouts, and solve jigsaw puzzles. They can be potty trained, come when called, and even sniff out illegal drugs. Beyond essential intelligence, pigs also have great emotional intelligence. From enthusiastic squealing to deep snorting, owners can quickly tell what a pig needs based on the pig’s modes of communication.
- Space: Because of their intelligence, when pigs get bored, they may become destructive and problematic. Insufficient attention or playtime can compel pigs to do anything from rooting up plants to taking up linoleum floors and eating drywall. Pigs need to be kept in their confined area of the house when alone, preferably an entire room, if not an enclosed outside area. They are clean and basically odor-free, so it is not usually difficult to find a space where they can roam. Some pigs assimilate well into a household; it will not work for every person or every pig. Supply a safe, secure, and pig-proof outside area for pigs. This not only keeps the pigs happy but also keeps the house from getting destroyed. In the wild, pigs are scavengers spending the bulk of their time rooting around in the ground, hunting for food. This is a natural, instinctive behavior that does not go away when pigs are indoors. If pigs cannot root in the ground, they will turn to carpet or furniture.
Having said all that, potbellied pigs are clever and passionate animals who enjoy human friendship. They love belly rubs, getting brushed, going on walks, and snuggling with people. Pigs need well–informed owners about their care and behavior and are committed to giving them loving care and mental stimulation. And, check local ordinances to ﬁnd out if the zoning in the area where you live allows for pigs.
Like any pet, a potbellied pig is a serious commitment and requires specific care that requires time and resources. Sanctuaries are overflowing with abandoned pigs whose owners did not anticipate the kind of attention that their pets required. Nonetheless, the affection, intelligence, and personality of a well-trained, adequately cared-for potbellied pig can be gratifying for the prepared, responsible owner. If you have never spent time with pigs, it is a great idea to volunteer at a sanctuary that rescues potbellied pigs so that you can learn more about them.