In recent years, the popularity of pigs as pets has skyrocketed, with many pig-lovers purchasing what they believe to be ‘mini’ or ‘micro’ pigs to live in their homes as companion animals.
The craze of keeping pet pigs has also 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).
However, it may shock you to learn that around 90% of all the enquiries we receive from people surrendering an animal are in relation to pigs. While the intelligent, curious and affectionate nature of pigs means they can be entertaining and rewarding company, not to mention very cute, there are a number of very important factors that should be considered before bringing one into your home or garden.
Pigs are smart enough to be trained like dogs, and can be house trained, walked on a lead and even taught basic tricks. 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 well-being of pigs are compromised when owners are not well informed.
There are some breeds of pig, such as Vietnamese Potbellied and Royal Dandy, which are smaller than average domestic pigs, however even these pigs can grow to be large, depending on their parentage. Even if you do find a ‘small’ breed of pig, they will still require a large amount of space in which to roam and practise their natural behaviours.
The most common ‘type’ of pigs kept as pets are those which have been sold as ‘micro pigs’, ‘teacup pigs’ or ‘miniature pigs’ – which are wrongly assumed to stay small throughout their life.
The reality is that these so-called breeds do not exist, and the idea of a pig which stays small forever is actually a myth created by unscrupulous breeders to make a quick profit. Commonly, these ‘micro pigs’ are actually one of the breeds mentioned above, which may be small when they are young, but can still grow to rival other larger breeds!
Some breeders will even show photos of tiny piglets and advertise them as fully grown. First-time owners are then shocked when the “adult” pig they have been sold continues to grow and grow.
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 their 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.
So-called ‘micro pigs’ are often marketed as growing no bigger than a medium-sized dog. However, even the smallest breeds usually grow to weigh between 50 and 70kg, or more if they are overfed, as pigs gain weight very easily.
Many inexperienced owners purchase what they believe is a ‘micro pig’ only to find themselves with a 300 kg pet pig within a year or so – a situation which very few of us could make work.
The RSPCA specifies that a minimum area of 36 square metres (6 x 6 metres) per pig is required, but ideally a larger space. As well as this, pigs need access to a separate hard-standing area with a warm, dry shelter filled with straw bedding. As pigs spend much of the day rooting, a back garden will quickly become very muddy, especially with our wet climate.
To give you an idea of how much space our rescued pigs have, here is a photo of one of our pig enclosures below.
A group of four pigs share this space, which includes a cosy bed in the barn, a hard-standing area, a large grassy paddock and an expansive section of woodland, complete with shrubs, log piles, and mud wallows for our pigs to enjoy.
Click image to enlarge.
While it may seem large, this is actually the perfect environment for a pig, as it means each individual can spend time on their own or as part of the group, while allowing them to carry out all of the behaviours which come naturally to them.
If you factor in food, specialist vet care and medication, bedding, housing and suitable enrichment, not to mention your time and dedication, then owning a pig as a pet adds up extremely quickly.
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 acquire a walking license to exercise their animal, and inform authorities should they move the pig away from their home.
Pigs are extremely intelligent animals, and if their mental and physical needs are not met (in the form of adequate space, enrichment, and the correct diet), they will quickly become bored, depressed and even aggressive.
If kept in a pair or group, pigs are easily controlled by their hormones, therefore it is essential that pigs are spayed or neutered to prevent them from becoming aggressive in their quest for dominance.
Pigs in general tend to live for 10 years or more, and with proper care can even reach the grand age of 20, which is why it’s important to note that keeping a pig as a pet is a huge commitment.
Sadly, ‘micro pigs’ or pigs which have been irresponsibly bred often only live for around 5 years due to the fact that they are prone to numerous health problems.
Pigs are foragers, meaning they like to spend a large portion of their day turning over ground to seek out roots, bulbs, insects and even small rodents for their next meal. To keep them healthy and stimulated, pigs need an outdoor area where they can root for their food as they would naturally as well as specialist pig feed to support a varied and nutritious diet.
Due to legal constraints, pet pigs must be fed a specialised feed rather than household 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, and specialist feed can be expensive to buy.
Pigs are susceptible to a variety of health issues, from simple infections to more serious diseases like cancer. Many pigs will also come with pre-existing health conditions such as respiratory issues due to the way in which they have been bred. If you are planning on keeping a pig as a pet, you will need to find a specialist vet and have the right facilities to transport the pig to the practice if needed.
Many people acquire pet pigs, believing that a sanctuary or rescue will be able to take them in if they change their minds in the future. Over the last few years, animal sanctuaries and rescue centres have come under extreme pressure due to the rise in animals being given up by their owners, and many places are at capacity for animals.
In some cases, it can be difficult to settle an ex-pig into a sanctuary or rescue environment. Pigs kept as pets within the home may miss out on important interactions and natural behaviours, making it hard for them to socialise with other pigs in the future. As well as this, ex-pets can succumb to illness when they finally are integrated with other animals, as their immune system has not built up any natural protection.
CAN YOU AFFORD TO GIVE THE PIG THE LIFE THEY DESERVE?
WHO WOULD LOOK AFTER THE PIG IF YOU WERE NO LONGER ABLE TO?
Some pigs are rescued from terrible cases of cruelty and are lucky enough to find themselves kept as pets by people who can truly cater to their needs. However, if you are simply looking to own a pig because it seems a fun idea, we would advise that you reconsider.
If you do have the right environment in which to keep a pig, please do not purchase one from a breeder. There are plenty of rescued pigs looking for homes.
Want to help pigs in need but don’t have the time or money needed to keep one as a pet? Why not adopt one of the rescued pigs at our sanctuary instead! Your donation will go towards the care of our animals, and, to say thank you, we’ll send you a fabulous adoption pack filled with goodies!
How about enjoying some quality piggy time at our beautiful farm animal sanctuary? We care for a variety of pigs, some of which have come from the farming industry, while others are ex-pets. Book a Sanctuary Tour or a ‘Pig’nic Experience via the link below.