When thinking of house pets, pigs may not immediately come to mind. Most often we associate pigs with kid’s movies, farms, mud, and…bacon. However a few species of domesticated pig have grown in popularity considerably since the 1980’s, when people began to keep for a new kind of house pet. A pet that would be intelligent, affectionate, easy to train, and above all, clean. The new trend would turn heads…Potbelly Pigs! A few weeks ago I saw one of these little critters first hand, on the end of a harness, proudly strutting down the dog toy aisle with his short tail a-waggin’, and I had to stop and gawk. I will admit pigs have always intimidated me because of their large size and loud vocalizations, but after getting to know a few pigs first hand and doing a little reading, I must admit the thought of having one is pretty appealing. Let me share with you a little about the care of the most popular type of pig, the Pot-belly.
The pot-bellied pig is a breed originating from Vietnam, developed as companion animals to keep in gardens. They can be all black, black and white, silver, or almost all white. They have straight tails (not curly!), short, erect ears, and stiff, bristly hair when mature. While they are smaller than the standard domesticated farm pig, they are dense and heavy, weighing between 80-200 lbs at maturity. Larger individuals are often victims of obesity due to misunderstanding of dietary needs by their owners. A bowed back and large belly is normal for the breed, but a pot-belly stomach that is so large it drags on the ground (though it will often be close as the pigs are only 12-20 inches high) or a pet with excessive fat rolls, is showing signs of obesity.
The pot-bellied pig has a vast appetite and will eat almost anything offered, but a healthy diet should consist of pre-measured servings of formulated high fiber feed specifically designed for pot-bellies. Do not give your pot-belly feeds designed for farm pigs as these are higher in calories. Pot-bellies should be also be offered fresh veggies for up to 25% of their diet and be allowed to “root” or dig through a clean, pesticide-free outside area, which is a natural behavior for them.
These pigs are quite intelligent, and they will need enrichment activities to keep them from becoming destructive or bored, just like high-energy dog breeds. They need mental and physical stimulation to keep from getting lazy, overweight, or aggressive, and its importat for you to interact with your pig every day! They love to perform tricks for treats, are easily litter trained, and love plenty of free time exploring a fenced in yard or pig pen, and regular walks with their owners. A pot-belly should not be left alone with nothing to do all day or chances are destruction will result. Enrichment toys like treat-stuffed Kong toys are useful tools. Especially if you plan on keeping your pig inside the house, be sure to secure or hide things that may be harmful to your pet such as chemical, cords and other items. Just because they are in a cabinet doesn’t mean that your pig can’t get to them! Area rugs on slippery floors are also appreciated since hooves don’t give these guys much traction.
Pot-bellies respond well to training and positive reinforcement, but do not understand or appreciate punishment. You may need to be extra patient with this pet. A well treated pig is a gentle, quiet, friendly pet that will greatly enjoy the company of its humans. Pigs should be neutered or spayed upon hitting sexual maturity to avoid aggression and dominance issues.
Before purchasing or adopting a pot-bellied pig, please consider carefully the needs of these pets and your situation. Adorable piglets will inevitibly grow and mature, and like children and puppies, raising a pig right will have it’s challenges. Make sure the area where you live allows them and that there is a vet able to treat your pet nearby. The breeder or rescue you obtain your pig or piglet from should have a good reputation and be willing remain in contact with you in case you have any issues or questions. Do your research, and you could end up with a wonderfully unique companion for 15-30 years.