A Pet Pig? You Bet!
Published on February 05, 2014
Gone are the days when the word “pig” would conjure up a vision of a huge sloppy sow on a farm, rolling in mud. Today, pigs are commonly kept as pets in people’s homes, even in urban areas. Pet pigs and farm pigs are the same species, so, theoretically, they can mate. However, their breeds — and therefore their sizes, temperaments and basic needs — can vary greatly.
Pet pigs are generally divided into different types depending on size. The term "mini pig" is a general description that includes many different sizes of pet pigs — but keep in mind, to some people, the term “mini pig” can still mean a pig that is quite large by household pet standards. Depending on whom you ask, there are a variety of names for different sizes of pigs, but in general, mini pigs commonly kept as pets fall into one of the following groups:
Potbellied pigs (also known as Vietnamese potbelly pigs, Chinese potbellied pigs and potbelly pigs) stand 16 to 26 inches tall at the shoulders and weigh between 125 and 200 pounds. While still quite large, these are much smaller than farm pigs, which can weigh 800 pounds or more.
Miniature potbellied pigs stand 15 to 16 inches tall at the shoulders and may weigh up to 100 pounds.
Teacup potbellied pigs are 14.5 inches tall at the shoulders and are really just smaller potbelly pigs, generally weighing 35 to 45 pounds. Be aware that the “teacup” designation refers to how big they are at birth, not at adulthood.
Toy potbellied pigs are 14 inches tall and weigh 35 to 45 pounds.
Micro mini pigs stand 10 to 12.5 inches tall and weigh 18 to 30 pounds.
Mini Julianas (also called miniature painted pigs or spotted Julianas) are 8 to 12.5 inches tall and weigh 15 to 28 pounds. Julianas are a separate breed from potbellies. They are more delicately structured than the potbelly and have a long nose and a spotted coat.
While these pet pigs are commonly distinguished by size, all pigs, including farm pigs, are very small at birth (generally between 2 and 4 pounds). That’s why it’s essential, if you’re getting a pet pig, to find out how big its full-grown parents are (and perhaps even its grandparents), as some pigs grow very slowly, even well into adulthood. Genetics is the only way to determine how big a pig will get, and unfortunately, many pet owners expecting to keep the adorable little piglets they start out with end up with huge hogs that are more than what they bargained for. If you really want to be certain that your mini pig is going to stay “mini,” consider adopting a fully grown adult pig to take the guesswork out of your decision.
Before You Get a Pig
Most people considering a pet pig fall in love with the notion of owning a cuddly little piglet. What they don’t know is that even little piglets have several important requirements and may not be as easy to care for as they imagine.
Legality: Before you even think of getting a pet pig, you should check with your local government to see if pigs are legal in your area. Many cities, counties and municipalities do not allow pigs within their boundaries. Generally, state and federal governments consider potbellied pigs livestock, and even if they are allowed, owners must have health certificates for these animals, signed by accredited veterinarians, stating that they are healthy and properly vaccinated.
Feeding: Pigs should be fed commercially available pelleted diets formulated specifically for mini pigs and should not be offered diets for farm hogs that are too high in fat and protein. Such diets will result in too-rapid growth and obesity. Formulated diets for pet pigs also need to be changed as the animal grows, so that they match the life stage of the pet (juvenile, adult and senior). To lessen chances of obesity, food can be offered in small amounts throughout the day or hidden in a toy that has holes in it that slowly releases the food as the pig plays with it. Pigs can be offered small amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits as treats but should not be fed human snack foods, fatty meat, cat and dog food, corn, seed or other items that can make them fat. Fresh water should be available at all times, and food and water must be offered in containers fastened to the ground so that not-so-delicate pigs don’t tip them over when eating.
Housing: Big or small, pigs require a significant amount of space. The rule of thumb is a minimum of 8 by 15 feet per pig, with more space being better. If housed outdoors, pigs need an insulated space of at least 6 square feet in which to sleep; this area should be fenced with mesh that extends a foot below ground to prevent digging and escape. Pens should have tile or linoleum floors and be easy to clean. Blankets should be provided for warmth and to decrease slipping. Both indoor and outdoor pigs must be provided with a litterbox (either an area outside or a large, shallow, plastic pan indoors). Outdoor pigs must be shaded from sun (their skin burns easily) and must not get overheated (they cannot sweat). They are most comfortable between 60 degrees and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Even pigs housed indoors need to go out to keep their hooves worn down. That means city-dwelling pigs will need to be walked on a leash with a very secure harness!
Enrichment: Regardless of size, all pigs root — or dig — with their noses and will get into everything and anything they can to try to find food. If you don’t want your pig rooting up your floor, walls, landscaping or other inappropriate structures, you’ll need to provide a rooting box to encourage this behavior in a controlled space. A large dog kennel and a child’s wading pool with a cutout for the pig to walk through are both great options. Large stones, paper bags, comforters, beach balls, cardboard boxes and newspapers all may be put into the rooting box with small amounts of dry food and treats for the pig to root for and find. The box must be cleaned when it becomes soiled or wet. Pigs that are not provided with environmental enrichment may become bored, destructive and sometimes aggressive.
Noise: If you’ve never heard a pig scream, the best way to describe it is to compare it to the sound of a shrieking person. Pigs are generally very social and quiet but will scream when they are begging for food, are scared or are being restrained. The sound of a screaming pig can be disturbing if you’re unfamiliar with it, and it typically isn’t something a nearby neighbor appreciates. Excessive noise is one of the main reasons many urban pigs ultimately are given up to shelters.
Medical care: Pet pigs need annual examinations, just like dogs and cats. They should have their stool examined for parasites, and they require annual vaccinations for several viral and bacterial infections, including tetanus. Young pigs, like puppies and kittens, require a vaccination series starting at 6 to 8 weeks of age and need boosters annually. Pigs require regular grooming, including trimming of continuously growing canine teeth (tusks that can get long and sharp, especially in males) and hoof trimming (especially of indoor pigs that don’t wear hooves down as rapidly as those that go outdoors). To reduce the chance of problem behaviors developing at sexual maturity, female pigs should be spayed and males neutered by 3 to 6 months of age. Anesthesia can be complicated in pigs, so only veterinarians familiar with pig anatomy should perform surgery in pigs.
Is a Pig Right for You?
Pigs are very intelligent, social, unique animals and can make great pets under the right circumstances. However, like other exotic pets, mini pigs are not right for everyone. If you’re considering owning a pet pig, remember, they can live up to 15 to 20 years, can grow larger than you might anticipate and require a great deal of care. If you’ve got the time, space, finances and patience to train a cute, muscular eating machine, perhaps a pig is a perfect pick for you.
More on Vetstreet.com:
- Video: Micro Pig Loves a Belly Rub
- 10 Dangerous Human Foods for Pets
- My Mini Pig Has His Own Chateau