Potbellied Pigs Join the Ranks of Popular Pets
Seven-year-old Megan suffers from Cerebral Palsy. Although her physical therapist wants her to practice opening and closing the clenched fingers of her right and left hands, he can’t motivate the little girl to do it. All that changed when another “therapist”—a Potbellied Pig named Pumpkin–joined the staff. Each time a Cheerio® is placed inside one of Megan’s clenched fists, Pumpkin gently roots away at the child’s hand with her nose until the child’s fingers relax and open. Megan squeals with delight when Pumpkin gently gobbles up a treat. Even the physical therapist smiles.
Like dogs and cats, Potbellied Pigs often are used as therapy animals in nursing home, rehabilitation center and even hospital settings. These porcines have come along way, indeed, from their natural habitat in Southeast Asia. In fact, they descend from six different breeds of wild pig indigenous to the region. Potbellied Pigs were imported to zoos in this country in the 1980s. Because they’re highly prolific, the zoos soon had too many. Surplus pigs were sold at wild animal auctions to private individuals seeking exotic pets. It wasn’t long before porcine personality, tidy nature and intelligence won them a place in the homes of average pet owners as well. Famous fanciers include E.R.’s George Clooney, who has one, and Noah Wiley, who has seven.
Adult pigs weigh about 120 pounds. Females are called gilts, after they give birth they are called sows. Castrated males are called barrows. And intact males are called boars. Boars don’t make good pets because their behavior is driven by reproduction instincts. The cost of castrating a male is about $100 to $300. The cost of spaying is about $200 to $400.
Life with a pet pig is similar to life with a mature dog according to Susan Magidson, who operates Ross Mill Farm & Piggy Camp. “Potbellied Pigs are content to doze at their owner’s feet much of the time. When relegated to life alone outdoors after they’ve outgrown the cute little piglet stage, they don’t do well because they’re social creatures. Although they can live outside in a barn, they should be kept in pairs. Because indoor pigs need the companionship of their owners and suffer from separation anxiety in their absence, ideally, owners should be retirees or people who work at home. Separation Anxiety could motivate pet pigs to be destructive. For example, they can root around with their nose until the carpeting or wallboards come loose!”
Potbellied Pigs also need an owner who doesn’t travel much. Kenneling with dogs at a vet clinic is stressful for them. That’s because pigs are a prey animal and dogs are a predator. That means they’re natural enemies.
Indoor pet pigs need a place in the home–a dog crate or the corner of a large closet—where they can “hideout” and feel safe, again, because they’re a prey animal. Several blankets should be provided for them to root around in and make a nest.
Potbellied Pigs are easily housetrained. Piglets quickly learn to use a litter pan filled with shredded newspaper. As they mature, they graduate to pottying outdoors like a dog. They also can be walked on leash attached to a harness.
“Although they can be kept in multiple pet homes where dogs are present, they should be supervised whenever they’re with them,” Magidson says. “The need for supervision is also true of pet pigs and youngsters. Because food is such a strong motivator to pigs, they can take it from a child’s hand—and sometimes not very graciously either. Those with dominant personalities sometimes threaten youngsters by swinging their heads and even biting. That’s the best reason for adopting a pig from a rescue organization. Magidson’s rescue group screen pigs for temperament issues to ensure that they’re placed in proper homes.”
Potbellied Pigs should be fed a grain-based ration specifically formulated for them. They shouldn’t be fed a grain concentrate designed for hogs sent to slaughter. While the former is formulated to keep weight down and support longevity, the latter is formulated to add pounds in a short period of time.
Pet pigs tend to be hardy and usually don’t require much veterinary care. They should be wormed in the fall and spring of each year. And they should be inoculated annually for Erysipelas or as recommended by their vet. Obesity and obesity-related disorders are their most common health problems. (What are these related health problems? Arthritis, blindness, deafness, heart failure, urinary/kidney complications are often seen in obese pigs, especially so with pigs that live predominately in the house. )
In terms of their grooming, hooves and tusks need trimming twice a year for most pigs. Most owners have a large animal vet do it. Trimming is a noisy affair. While an otherwise quiet pet, Potbellied Pigs scream whenever they feel threatened. In order to trim their hooves and tusks, they must be confined. Confinement frightens them because they can’t escape.
Because Potbellied Pigs can live as long as 20 years, Magidson won’t place them with people who aren’t “settled” in their home and relationships. Short of buying a home in a municipality that allows them, it’s difficult to find new housing in the event of a divorce for example. Ownership also is problematic in apartments and condominiums because pet pigs can’t negotiate stairs due to their anatomy. For more information about Potbellied Pigs and their adoption, visit www.pigplacementnetwork.org or call (215) 322-4512.