Potbellied pigs aren’t difﬁcult to care for or look after, but they do need regular grooming, occasional ear and eye cleaning, dental care, tusk and hoof care, and socialization and enrichment.
Grooming can be the best way to get to know your pigs and maintain a positive relationship with them. They have bristles instead of fur, but pigs still require regular brushing to remove loose hair; exfoliate dry, flaky skin; and improve circulation. Potbellied pigs are native to humid, tropical climates, so it’s common to see dry, itchy skin. Pigs 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.
Ear and eye cleaning
Potbellied pigs often require ear and eye cleaning, and these vulnerable areas must be kept clean 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 out. 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 and polish. A healthy, balanced diet with little or no processed human food can keep your pigs’ teeth healthy.
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, although active pigs do not need hoof trims as regularly as more sedentary pigs. Talk to your veterinarian (who should be someone experienced with caring for pigs) 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. The downside to sedating a pig for hoof and tusk trimming is that it can be expensive.
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.
You should 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 a pig’s toes, and if he lets you touch them, do so briefly and then retreat.
- Repeat a few times and then see if you can hold his toes.
- Repeat a few times and then see if you can examine or manipulate his toes.
All the while, be aware of your pig’s body language. If he seems uncomfortable at any point, back up to the previous step.
You can use the principles of relationship-based training with your pigs to create lifelong trust and confidence. Using relationship-based training principles and clicker training, you can teach your pigs to go into a crate, meet new people politely, and enter and exit a vehicle.
As part of their daily care, pigs need both physical and mental stimulation. Treat balls (aka food puzzles) intended for dogs can be used for pigs. They provide mental stimulation because the pet has to ﬁgure out how to get the treats out of the ball. Instead of kibble, use potbellied pig pellets, unsalted almonds or small pieces of dehydrated veggies.
Another way to provide enrichment is to toss pellets, bits of dehydrated fruit or veggies (with no added sugar), and unsalted almonds around the pig’s enclosure several times a day. Try doing this after the pig ﬁnishes breakfast and dinner, as well as once in the middle of the day, as a lunchtime snack. The activity of looking for the treats provides the pig with both physical and mental exercise. And it helps to satisfy pigs’ innate desire to root around.