By Aly Semigran
If you’ve always been a lover of these amazing creatures, or you simply want a hypoallergenic pet that is as smart as it is clean, it’s essential to understand that being a responsible pet parent to a potbellied pig requires patience, care and understanding.
Whether you’re getting your first potbellied pig or gearing up to more into your family, here’s what you’ll need to know.
Physical Characteristics of Potbellied Pigs
There’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” pig. According to Susan Armstrong-Madgison, owner and president of the Pig Placement Network and Rushland, Pennsylvania’s Ross Mill Farm, pigs are “genetically diverse.” Thus, there is very little consistency when it comes to their body size.
Dr. Daniel Gray of the Gentle Vet Animal Hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin, adds that, like cats and dogs, a potbellied pig’s physical characteristics change with, “‘creative breeding’ that is constantly occurring.”
However, Gray says that potbellied pigs typically range anywhere from 90 to 150 pounds and stand between 16 and 30 inches tall.
Dan Illescas, who runs the Central Texas Pig Rescue, adds that a pig typically hits its full size around three to five years of age, so don’t expect the young pig you get to stay the same size.
All About Rooting
Rooting is the act of a potbellied pig digging and searching with its snout. Rooting is not only an important and innate part of a potbellied pig’s behavior, it’s also incredibly beneficial for its overall health and well-being.
“Pigs use their snouts for fun, to excavate items to play with, but also to dig holes to lie in,” Illescas says. “Most people know that pigs don’t sweat, but most don’t know that pigs have a very complicated process of regulating their temperature. By rooting, pigs can cool down on a warm day. As an added benefit, dirt and mud offer effective protection from the harsh rays of the sun.”
What Do Potbellied Pigs Eat?
A pet pig diet is one of the most misunderstood parts of pig parenting, Illescas says, and it’s the most important aspect of owning a pig (or any pet) to understand.
“Pigs grow so quickly that poor nutrition can cause lasting, or even fatal problems,” he says. “Many piglets are improperly weaned and then sent to new homes with strict (and harmful) feeding instructions, that many pig parents faithfully follow, unwittingly causing their pigs to suffer as a result.”
So how can a pet pig parent avoid these issues? By keeping their pet on a pelleted, balanced diet that is formulated especially for potbellied pigs as instructed by their accredited breeder or adoption facility, and of course, their veterinarian. According to Illescas they should be fed this nutritionally complete diet twice a day, with a regimented schedule.
Additionally, you want to avoid high-sugar or high-processed foods for treats, says Gray, adding that low-sugar, high-fiber fruits and veggies make the best treats for pet pigs.
Pig parents also have to find a balance between what they feed their pet and how much they eat while grazing outside. Madison says that if a pig eats grass in your backyard, depending on its intake, you should lessen the required amount of food for that day based on how much it ingested.
When it comes to keeping your pig hydrated, Gray says that water consumption varies with the amount of exercise your pig has and how much water is in their food (lots of veggie treats often means less water intake).
“The main thing to watch for is not the amount but the availability,” he says. “Pigs like to root so will often splash their water out of their bowl and not have any to drink later. This needs to be monitored closely.”
At Home with a Potbellied Pig
While a potbellied-pig is a major responsibility, the rewards can be incredibly worthwhile when you consider how these animals behave in the home.
Nancy Shepherd, author of Potbellied Pig Parenting, points out that pigs are not only very affectionate animals but, perhaps most notably, they are very intelligent.
“They learn quickly, they do not forget, and they are able to deduce,” Shepherd says. “If they learn a behavior, they don’t unlearn that behavior.”
That’s exactly why, Shepherd says, you have to make sure you don’t spoil your pet pig or let them become the head of the household. Pigs remember both positive and negative reinforcement and know how to get the desired results (for instance, sometimes pigs will nudge at their owner when they want something).
She adds that, pigs are not terribly destructive pets overall, however, as they do sometimes root indoors, you can make them their own rooting box to avoid a distressed flooring or couch cushions.
Grooming Requirements and Hoof Care
Armstrong-Madgison says that since potbellied-pigs don’t smell (despite their stereotypes), you don’t need to bathe them as much as you would, say, a dog.
Shepherd attributes the stereotype of pigs being smelly to them being left in poorly-managed conditions. A pig likes to go to the bathroom in the same spot everyday, but if that is not cleaned up and there’s nowhere else for them to go, that’s what can cause a smell.
Since pigs have hair instead of fur, shedding is not as big of a deal as it is with some other types of pets. Shepherd says, “they shed once a year, it happens within a week’s time, usually in the spring, and starts at about two years old.” You should also brush your pig to avoid flaky skin. Fleas also tend to leave pigs alone.
Grooming a pig’s hooves, however, require a bit more work. Illescas says, “Pigs will need regular hoof care and older pigs that develop tusks (usually three years or older) will need the sharp points trimmed.”
Hoof care can be done by a pig parent, and is recommended by Illescas because of the bonding experience and the increased awareness of the pig’s well being. It is best done when the pig is relaxed and getting belly rubs. “A few maintenance snips here and there throughout the year is better than a single traumatic trip to the vet,” he says. But, if you simply aren’t able to trim your pig’s hooves yourself, you’ll need to call in the professionals. Hooves that are left too long can do real damage to a pig’s feet.
The Health of a Potbellied Pig
Potbellied pigs have an average life expectancy of around 15 years, and are generally very healthy animals. They do face some health issues, however, especially if they aren’t fed a proper diet or spayed or neutered. Gray says that some of the most common health problems in potbellied pigs include mange, obesity and arthritis.
In order to prevent your pig from facing these and other issues, get them vaccinated appropriately and keep them on their proper diet and at a proper weight, as well as find a veterinarian who is trained in treating potbellied pigs.
“There are special skills, medication dosing and equipment needed to handle these pigs safely,” Gray says. “Every species of pet has different symptoms for different diseases, and if a vet is not versed in potbellied pigs, then missing or delaying diagnosis is a real risk.”
One of the most important things a pet parent can do is ensure their potbellied pig is spayed or neutered. Not only does this avoid unwanted pregnancies, but it also ensures the health of the female pigs in particular.
“Female pigs who aren’t spayed she will cycle every 21 days,” Shepherd says. “They are more likely to have uterine issues, like endometriosis, in adulthood, as well as tumors.”
Potbellied Pig Behavioral Traits
If you’re getting a potbellied pig, or already have one, you will likely add a second one to the mix in time as pigs are highly social creatures.
“Pigs are pack animals by nature and do best with a friend. Most people who keep their first pig for a year find themselves getting a second pig for this reason, but most people have to learn it the hard way,” Illescas says. He recommends adopting a bonded pair of pet pigs to start, as introducing pigs to new friends can be a lengthy and complicated process and it can take months to fully integrate two formerly-unknown pigs.
While a pig and a dog can be a sometimes tricky pairing, he says, “Pigs and cats do very well together. Cats really seem to like to cuddle with pigs and the pigs love a good massage, which many cats seem very willing to provide.”
However, when a pig isn’t in a good mood, they’ll let you know. Their intelligence also makes them highly manipulative, which can set off the balance of an otherwise harmonious household. As mentioned, Shepherd says that pet parents have to set the standard for the household and make sure their pig knows that they are in charge.
If pigs are weaned too early from their mother, they can engage in charging or butting behavior, like they did when they were nursing from their mother. Shepherd says if a pig does do that, put a barrier like a pillow between you and the pet.
Buying a Potbellied Pig
If you feel you are ready to take care of a potbellied pig and want to bring one home, it’s of the utmost importance that you go to a reputable breeder or rescue organization.
In addition to doing your research, Shepherd says that a good breeder or rescue will not adopt out a pig that is under six weeks of age, as they should be nursing for at least that long. “Pigs need to be with their mother for that amount of time.”
As is the case with any adoption, you’ll want to make sure paperwork is in order, including contracts between you and the breeder or rescue, as well as documents from the breeder or rescue about the pig’s feeding needs, their veterinary health and vaccination status, and housing requirements.
Shepherd adds that adopting a pet pig must be taken seriously, and that potential owners should do their research and visit reputable breeders or rescues to get a better sense of the environment and where the pig is coming from.
“You pay for what you get. If you get a pig from [a non-reputable source] your chances of having a socialized, veterinary-treated, home-ready pig are very slim,” she says.