Potbellied pigs as pets can make wonderful companions, but they aren’t right for everyone. Some people adopt a pet pig without fully educating themselves about the care requirements for these intelligent animals. And consequently, potbellied pigs are surrendered to shelters and sanctuaries — not only for being “teacup” or “mini” pigs who grew too large, but also for medical, circumstantial, and behavioral issues.
If you’re thinking about a pet potbellied pig, here are some general guidelines to know.
Is a pet potbellied pig right for me?
If you have never spent time with these engaging animals, it’s a good idea to volunteer at a place that rescues potbellied pigs so that you can learn more about them. You’ll learn about potbellied pig behavior, proper diet, enrichment, and other facets of piggy life.
Pigs have a long lifespan; there have been reports of pigs living past 20 years old. So when considering this commitment, first ask yourself what expectations you have when it comes to a pet pig.
- Are you looking for an easy pet?
- Do you mind a mild odor and shedding (pigs shed their bristles)?
- Are you prepared for the cost of owning an animal who requires special care?
- Do you live in an area zoned for pigs?
- Are you alright with having your yard dug up?
These are all important questions to which you should have realistic answers. Pigs are very smart and require constant companionship. They live for food and will spend an amazing amount of time searching for anything edible. And sometimes, while looking for food and out of boredom, pigs can damage property.
Moreover, some residential zones do not allow potbellied pigs as pets. Other places allow them but impose restrictions, such as housing requirements or weight limits. If your home is part of a homeowner association (HOA), you’ll need to check the HOA rules and regulations to see whether pigs are permitted. If you love pigs and your area isn’t zoned for piggy pets, you can always volunteer at a pig sanctuary and/or sponsor a pig.
Should I adopt or buy a pig?
Much like puppies and kittens, piglets are heartbreakingly adorable. But once a piglet grows into a full-size potbellied pig, which can take up to three years, their cuteness might wear off — especially if the pig has taken up naughty habits. Even so, there are sanctuaries that have piglets available for adoption. Here at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary’s Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, we often have a mix of age groups.
When adopting a more mature pig versus buying a piglet from a breeder, you are going to get a clear picture of what you are bringing home. The pig will have already been spayed or neutered and assessed for behavior issues. And you will be saving a life rather than contributing to the problem of homeless pet pigs.
For every pig who leaves Best Friends, we have a list of pigs anxiously waiting to come here. And sanctuaries across the country are packed with pet pigs as well.
What kind of housing do pigs need?
Most potbellied pigs are happiest living outdoors with other pigs and with plenty of activity in their environment. Here is a basic list of things your pig will need for safety and comfort:
- A spacious yard to root, run around, and play in — with plenty of shade at all times of day
- Constant access to fresh drinking water, along with a pool and wallow
- A comfortable shelter within the yard
- Secure fencing around the yard
Your pig's housing will depend on where you live and your climate. Here at Best Friends, we experience a wide range of temperatures throughout the year (from below zero to triple digits), and the high-desert climate is quite dry. So we provide an array of housing options for our pigs.
In the winter months, our pigs have a choice of large heated communal housing or small non-heated houses. Nearly all of our pigs opt to share houses to keep warmer; very few prefer to sleep alone.
We also use high-quality timothy hay to bed them down; they can burrow into the hay as well as eat it. It is not uncommon to open a house and find the pigs buried deep in the hay to keep warm. For this reason, we do not use straw because it can break down and cause eye irritation and infections. We use timothy hay because most other types of hay are too rich for pigs. Alfalfa hay must certainly be avoided, as it almost guarantees crystal formation in male pigs’ urine if they eat it.
In the summer months, we have air-conditioned communal housing and small houses spread throughout the enclosure. A lot of our pigs like to go “camping” and utilize the natural caves we have in the back of their area or the small, individual “pigloos” (plastic doghouses) we have scattered about their runs.
Sometimes a pig might get into an argument with a buddy and want to sleep separately for the night, so having a variety of options for housing helps. Also, keep in mind that dogs are predators and pigs are prey animals, so you’ll need to keep your pigs secure from dogs when you are not present. Even family dogs who are familiar with a pet pig have been known to turn on the pig.
What do pigs eat?
Here at Best Friends, we feed our pigs a healthy vegetarian diet twice daily. Every meal, our pigs receive fresh heads of romaine lettuce, fresh or frozen vegetables, and Mazuri Mini Pig pellets. We limit the amount of fruit they get because the sugar content is so high. When buying frozen vegetables, pay special attention to the sodium content; too much salt is extremely dangerous to a pig’s health.
Our pigs also have 24-hour access to unlimited amounts of timothy hay, as that is what they are bedded down with. In the spring and summer, they love to go out wandering (supervised, of course) and graze on and root for fresh, tender grasses and weeds. These are very beneficial as they provide natural probiotics and much-needed mental and physical exercise for these highly intelligent beings.
We limit the number of treats we give our pigs. But when we are training or socializing, we may use dehydrated sweet potatoes, banana chips, or almond slivers to help entice them. For shelf life, we dehydrate a large array of fruits and vegetables so that we can add them occasionally for some variety to the pigs' meals.
Steer clear of dog and cat food, along with farm hog food; these items are not good for our potbellied friends. Dog and cat food are obviously formulated for those species only, and farm hog food is designed to help a pig rapidly gain lots of weight. Potbellied pigs are naturally “easy keepers,” meaning their bodies are efficient at utilizing calories, so they don’t need a lot. Finding a veterinarian who has pig experience is a must, they can direct you appropriately to make sure your pig eats a proper diet.
Note that when pigs are young, they can scream loudly for their food. This behavior doesn’t mean the pigs are being “bad” — rather just who they are by nature. But keep this in mind if noise might cause issues for you or your neighbors. Also, some people complain that they get bitten while feeding their pigs. Because pigs live for food, you should let them have their space when eating; hand-feeding is an easy way to get bitten.
Finally, always provide fresh water for your pet pigs. It is important to make sure pigs, especially the males, are drinking enough and can urinate easily. Male pigs can develop blockages from crystals in their urine, which might lead to an emergency surgery. Adding a small amount of juice to their water can entice them to drink if you find they have very dark-colored urine or are straining to urinate.
How do you keep a pig healthy?
Potbellied pigs require annual veterinary checkups and regular grooming, and they can be susceptible to colds and other illnesses that require vet care. Your vet might also recommend regular fecal checks to make sure your pet pigs haven’t picked up any parasites.
Not every veterinarian works with potbellied pigs or has pig experience, so before you adopt a pig do some research and select an appropriate veterinarian. You’ll also need to ask whether the vet is mobile; if they’re not, you’ll need to have a way to transport your pig to the vet’s office.
We highly recommend spaying or neutering your pet pig; no pig leaves our sanctuary intact. Behavior issues for intact pigs are comparable to unaltered dogs (e.g., mounting, increased aggression, and territorialism). Female pigs are at a high risk of developing ovarian and uterine cancers unless they are spayed.
Although they have bristles instead of fur, pigs still require regular brushing to remove loose hair, exfoliate skin, and improve circulation. Potbellied pigs are native to humid, tropical climates, so it’s common to see dry, itchy skin. They can shed bristles in the summer and grow them back in the winter. To ensure that your pigs have the best possible coat, brush them regularly and feed a healthy, balanced diet.
Tusk and hoof care
All pigs can grow tusks, but only male pigs require regular trimming of their tusks. All pigs require hoof trimming from time to time, though active pigs who naturally wear down their hooves do not need trims as regularly as more sedentary pigs. Talk to your veterinarian about how to get your pig’s tusks and hooves trimmed.
At Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, our pigs get a regular “spa day.” After sedating the pigs, we trim their tusks and hooves and do a dental checkup. While tusk and hoof trimming can be done when pigs are awake, the procedures take patience, practice, and more time than when a pig is sedated.
It is a good idea to periodically examine your pig’s feet while you’re grooming or giving a belly rub. In some pigs, the pads of the feet can separate from the hoof wall or become infected. It’s important to catch these problems early to prevent them from getting worse.
Ear and eye cleaning
Potbellied pigs often require ear and eye cleaning to prevent infection and make the pig more comfortable. Teary eyes and waxy ears can be common for potbellied pigs, and having a positive relationship with your pigs will allow you to clean their ears and eyes without stressing them. Use soft towels or pieces of gauze to clean these areas because fingers or cotton swabs can cause injuries or discomfort.
Pigs can get cavities and tartar, and they can even break teeth. Your veterinarian should be comfortable sedating your pigs and giving them a regular dental cleaning. A healthy, balanced diet with little or no processed human food can help keep your pigs’ teeth healthy.
How much exercise do pigs need?
In nature, pigs will root for at least 40% of their day; this activates their mind and body. In captivity, we often meet pigs with serious weight issues. There are several ways to combat this:
- Train your pig to walk on leash and go for walks. Pigs love all the fascinating new smells.
- Hide their food to encourage rooting, or just scatter the food throughout your yard. We hang small troughs along fencing and put a little food in each one. The pigs run all over because they are convinced the next trough has something better.
- Use food puzzles (some of the ones intended for dogs can be used for pigs) to provide mental stimulation as your pet has to figure out how to get their food out.
- Practice training cues with your pig, such as teaching them to sit, to provide mental stimulation and strengthen your bond.
Make sure to get your pig on the move every day. The more physical exercise and mental stimulation your pig gets, the less likely you will have to deal with weight issues or destruction of your house and yard.
Do pigs need socialization?
Pigs are social herd animals and will try to dominate the herd, which means a pig can become aggressive toward you or your family, especially if they're your only pig. Also, because potbellied pigs are prey animals, it requires time and patience to gain their trust and socialize them to humans.
Potbellied pigs are much happier pets if they have a pig companion for socialization. In fact, many aggression issues are resolved simply by having two or more pigs living together and ensuring that they have access to the outdoors and plenty of mental stimulation and exercise.
How do you train a pig?
Handle your pigs regularly, so they are accustomed to being touched and so you know what’s normal for your pigs and what’s not. When you’re brushing or relaxing with them, rub their bellies and touch their toes, ears, tails, eyes, and snouts to get them familiar with handling.
If they feel safe with you, they should let you do these activities with no issue. If they show signs of not feeling safe, take your time and use the “approach and retreat” method, so your pigs become more comfortable with you handling them. Here’s what to do:
- Move your hand toward the pig’s toes; if they let you touch their toes, do so briefly and then retreat.
- Repeat a few times and then see whether you can hold the pig’s toes.
- Repeat a few times and then see whether you can examine or manipulate the pig’s toes.
- All the while, be aware of your pig’s body language. If they seem uncomfortable at any point, back up to the previous step.
Using relationship-based training principles and clicker training, you can teach your pigs to go into a crate, meet new people politely, enter and exit a vehicle, and more.
If you're ready to look for a new porcine friend, check out the pigs for adoption at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. We are also happy to refer you to a reputable sanctuary located near you.