In recent years, the popularity of pigs as pets has skyrocketed, and many pig lovers have purchased ‘mini’ or ‘micro’ pigs to live in their homes as companion animals. The intelligent and affectionate nature of pigs means they can be entertaining and rewarding company, not to mention very cute. The craze of keeping pet pigs has been influenced in part by celebrity culture, with Paris Hilton, Victoria Beckham and Ariana Grande all posing with their porcine pets. (Ariana’s pet pig is even the star of one of her music videos).
Pigs are smart enough to be trained like dogs, and can be house trained, walked on a lead and even taught basic tricks. The trend of keeping pigs as pets, however, has led to an influx of pet pigs to rescues, as their well-meaning owners struggle to meet the animal’s complex needs.
Pigs are smart enough to be trained like dogs
There is no doubt that rescuing a pig can be very rewarding, and pigs can make good pets for a small number of people with the space and resources they require. However it is important that those thinking about buying a pet pig weigh up the pros and cons honestly and sensibly, as the health and wellbeing of pigs is compromised when owners are not well-informed.
Here at Goodheart we have firsthand experience of just how many pigs end up at rescues when owners get out of their depth. Our ‘pet’ pigs are the lucky ones, but unfortunately many pigs bought as pets end up being sold for slaughter as rescue places are so very limited and owners don’t always know all of their options.
Although there is no such breed as a ‘miniature pig’, some breeds are considerably smaller than the average domestic pig, making them popular as pets. The pigs sold as ‘micro’ pigs are in fact usually a variety of potbellied pig; Vietnamese Potbellieds and Royal Dandies are the most popular, although many different breeds are sold as ‘teacup’ or ‘miniature’ when bred small enough.
So-called ‘micro pigs’ are often marketed as growing no bigger than a medium-sized dog, which in terms of height and length may be true for some. However, even the smallest breeds usually grow to weigh around 50-70kg, or more if overfed as pigs gain weight very easily. Some unscrupulous breeders sell standard-sized pigs as ‘micro pigs’ when they are very young, and in these cases owners can find themselves with a 300kg pet pig within a year or so – a situation which very few of us could make work.
Pigs in general tend to live for 10 years or more, and with proper care can even reach the grand age of 20. Sadly, ‘micro pigs’ often only live for around 5 years due to the fact that they are prone to health problems from being bred to be small, and often do not get proper nutrition.
Like all pigs, pet pigs are seemingly always looking for food. Pigs are foragers, meaning they spend a large portion of their day turning over ground to seek out roots, bulbs, insects, small rodents and even reptiles for their next meal. To keep them healthy and stimulated, pigs need a varied and nutritious diet and an outdoor area where they can root for their food as they would naturally.
Food can cause friction between pet pigs and their human housemates, as their drive to forage can lead them to overturn bins and other containers, and they are intelligent enough to open fridges, cupboards and pantries in order to reach the food inside. If pigs are not being fed sufficiently or they simply like food that bit too much, they can demonstrate dangerous behaviour towards anyone who tries to go near their food. This type of aggression also means pigs may harm people, especially children, who are holding food, in the hopes of getting the food from them.
Due to legal constraints, pet pigs must be fed a specialised feed rather than scraps. In fact, the feeding of scraps to pigs is illegal in the UK, as it can heighten the risk of dangerous diseases being spread. Sourcing enough nutritious and appropriate food is an important consideration for potential owners, as specialist feed can be expensive to buy.
Pigs have very specific needs which are difficult to meet, meaning that keeping them as pets can be a real challenge. Although some people are well-equipped to own a pig, it is important that potential owners are properly informed about the challenges they may face when buying and keeping a pig.
In the very first instance, there is a significant time and financial commitment when choosing a pig as a pet. Pet pigs are usually expensive to buy, and the cost of feeding them, maintaining their outdoor space and any vets bills can soon add up. When we take into account any damage an under-stimulated or mischievous pig may cause (think building a nest from the spoils of your recent shopping spree), the financial cost can become unmanageable.
Before your new pet comes home, it is also important to completely pig-proof the house, similar to the way one might for a toddler-if that toddler weighed 50kg and could pull doors off cabinets.
Pigs’ intelligence makes them a joy to be around, but can also mean they are very demanding and headstrong. They will become bored if not stimulated, and this can lead to destruction of the home or even aggression. Pigs are easily controlled by their hormones, therefore it is essential that pigs are spayed or neutered to prevent them becoming aggressive in their quest for dominance.
To keep a pig as a pet, owners must follow the same regulations as a pig farmer, and there are strict laws concerning the diet, identification and movement of pigs. Owners must therefore acquire a walking license to exercise their animal, and inform authorities should they move the pig away from their home.
Although there are no doubt many honest breeders of pigs, the industry is known to have a host of issues which can mislead buyers and compromise the wellbeing of pigs.
The most common problem buyers are faced with is that their pig was sold to them under false pretences. It may be that they were misled about the age or breed of their pig, which leads to the animal growing much larger than they were originally led to believe. This issue is complicated further when we consider that although pigs grow until they are around 5 years old, they are able to breed from around 6 weeks old. This means that viewing a pig’s parents does not always provide a reliable indication of their final size, as the parents may be piglets themselves!
In an attempt to keep pigs small, some breeders and owners even underfeed their animals, which is of course a welfare concern and causes chronic hunger for the pig. This not only stunts their growth, but can lead to health problems later on in life and ultimately shortens lifespan drastically. In some cases pigs are inbred, again in an attempt to keep the offspring small and to maintain desirable characteristics. As we have seen with some dogs – think Pugs, Shizhus – this can lead to a variety of health issues including breathing problems and leg deformations, reducing lifespan and quality of life.
Here at Goodheart we understand the appeal of spending time with pigs, and the desire to keep them as pets. However, we would advise that unless owners have a smalholding or similar, and have all of the information and resources they need, they should reconsider their plan to buy a pet pig. We would also advocate for suitable owners to rescue their new pets rather than buying them, as this saves a pig from slaughter and is incredibly rewarding.