Thank you for your interest in adding a companion pig or two to your family. Here you will find information on owning and caring for potbellied pigs. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us for more information.
Is a potbellied pig right for you?
First, ask yourself what expectations you have when it comes to giving a pig a forever home.
- Are you looking for an easy pet?
- One with little odor?
- Are you prepared for the cost of owning an animal that requires special care?
- Do you live in an area zoned for pigs?
- Are you alright with having your yard dug up?
These are all very important questions that you should make sure to have realistic answers for. Pigs are highly intelligent beings who require constant companionship. They live for food, and will spend an amazing amount of time searching for anything edible. Sometimes, while looking for food and out of boredom, pigs can cause an amazing amount of damage to property. Pigs also have a very long life expectancy. There have been reports of pigs living past 20 years old, so we want you to be sure you are ready for that type of commitment.
Potbellied pigs' diet
Here at Best Friends, we feed our pigs a very 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 since the sugar content is so high. When buying frozen vegetables, please 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 (see Housing). In the spring and summer, our pigs 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 also provide 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 their meals. (Past-their-prime bananas can often be found for a great price at your local grocer.)
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 gain lots of weight very rapidly. Potbellied pigs are naturally “easy-keepers,” meaning that their bodies are very efficient at utilizing calories, so they don’t need a lot. There is a lot of misleading information out there, and you need to make sure your pig is on a healthy diet. Finding a veterinarian who has pig experience is a must, and he/she can help direct you appropriately to make sure your pig eats a proper diet for a long, happy and healthy life.
Rupert enjoys the fresh crunch of some tasty romaine lettuce.
Health care for potbellied pigs
To keep your pig healthy, we recommend at least a yearly checkup with your veterinarian. If you have a male, he will need regular tusk trims, for his own safety and the safety of you and others in the household. All pigs need their hooves trimmed, but an active pig will typically self-trim and need human intervention less often. Yearly dental checks are as important for pigs as they are for dogs, cats, horses, or humans.
We highly recommend spaying or neutering your pet pig, and 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 very high risk of developing ovarian and uterine cancers unless they are spayed.
Male pigs can develop crystals in their urine, which can lead to an emergency surgery. It is very important to make sure your pigs, especially the males, are drinking enough water and urinate easily. You can add a small amount of juice to their water to entice them to drink if you find they are having very dark-colored urine, or worse, are straining to urinate.
We also recommend running a fecal check every six months on your companion pigs to make sure they haven’t picked up any parasites.
Housing for pigs
The deciding factor on 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. 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 since it can break down and cause eye irritation and infections. We use timothy hay since most other types of hay are much too rich for the pigs. Alfalfa hay must certainly be avoided as you will almost guarantee crystal formation in your 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 may get into an argument with a buddy and want to sleep separately for the night, so having a variety of options for housing helps.
Exercise, enrichment and training
At Piggy Paradise, we take this subject very seriously. In nature, pigs will root for at least 40 percent of their day; this activates their minds and bodies. In captivity we often meet pigs with serious weight issues. There are several different 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. You can hide their meals or just scatter it throughout your yard. We hang small troughs along the fencing here, and put a little food in each one. The pigs run all over because they are convinced the next trough has something better.
- Just like with dogs, food puzzles are another great activity. Your pig will love trying to figure out how to move the pieces and get the food out.
Make sure to get your pig on the move every day. The more exercise your pig gets, the less likely you will have to deal with weight issues or destruction of your house and yard.
We like to train our pigs at Piggy Paradise. We use a combination of positive reinforcement training techniques to help our pigs. Most of the pigs here will sit for treats or medication. One of our pigs will sit and even shake his hoof for a tiny morsel of a treat such as our dehydrated fruits or vegetables. But remember fruits have a lot of sugar so use them sparingly.
Tobias is an exemplary student and knows the cues for sit, shake and place (putting his feet on a specified surface).
We often receive emails and phone calls regarding pigs showing aggressive behavior. Our first question is always this: “Do you have more than one pig?” Pigs establish a pecking order quickly. If they do not have another pig to communicate with, they turn to their human companions and treat them as part of their sounder. (A sounder is what a group of pigs is called.) If a pig lives alone, he or she will likely challenge you, your spouse, your pets or your children for dominance in the household. While some sources on the Internet advise people to respond aggressively to this challenge, we've seen it backfire, resulting in pigs who are aggressive in turn.
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 and emotional stimulation. Often people complain that they get bitten while feeding their pigs. As stated earlier, pigs live for food. Letting a pig have his space while eating and dropping treats on the ground are the safest options. Hand-feeding is an easy way to get bitten.
Adopting vs. buying potbellied pigs
There are sanctuaries across the United States packed with pet pigs. Often people do not understand the commitment they are getting ready to make when bringing their new porcine pet home. Some points to remember:
- Pigs DO have a mild odor
- Pigs DO shed (their bristles)
- Pigs DO need a lot of attention (They are extremely intelligent and will find ways to entertain themselves if you do not!)
We get a lot of people looking for piglets, and, much like puppies and kittens, piglets are heartbreakingly adorable. Once a piglet grows up into a full-sized potbellied pig, though, which can take up to three years, their cuteness may wear off, especially if the pig has taken up naughty habits. Even so, there are sanctuaries that do have piglets available for adoption. Here at Piggy Paradise, we often have a mix of age groups, anything from 6 months to 18 years old. 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 by staff for behavior issues, and you will be saving a life rather than contributing to the problem of homeless pet pigs. For every pig that leaves the Sanctuary for his or her forever home, we have a list of pigs anxiously waiting to come here.
Finally, there is a lot of hype surrounding so-called "teacup pigs." If you would like more information about this, please read Teacup Pigs.