Teacup Pigs

Thu, 08/02/2018 - 21:34
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Pig who outgrew his teacup pig status

Teacup pigs for sale? Buyer beware: Baby piglets may not be “true” mini pigs, and pigs that stay small are more myth than reality.

These days, there are many ways to describe the same cute little critter. Mini pigs, miniature pigs, micro mini pigs, dwarf pigs and pygmy pigs are but a few. More commonly known as teacup pigs, they have become one of America’s most popular pets within the last decade.

Type “baby teacup pigs,” “mini teacup pigs” or “mini pig pet” into YouTube, and you’ll see videos of small pet pigs doing all sorts of adorable things. Mini pet pigs have been caught on camera play wrestling with dogs, swimming in bathtubs and kiddie pools, getting belly rubs, being bottle-fed and snuggling with kittens. One baby teacup pig even braved a flight of stairs to land in his breakfast bowl of oatmeal. It’s easy to see why tiny pigs have become popular pets, but what most people don’t know is that teacup pigs are a myth. Those miniscule pigs grow up and get much, much bigger than people bargain for.

Do teacup pigs really exist?

Most people know about toy or “teacup” dog breeds, such as the teacup Yorkie, teacup poodle or teacup Chihuahua. The term “teacup,” when used with dogs, is a way for breeders to claim their puppies will be even smaller than the breed’s smallest normal size. When breeders use the term, it’s a red flag that they’ve placed an emphasis on size, rather than health. In fact, “teacup” is not recognized by any breed standard, other than backyard breeders’ attempts to create smaller and smaller pets. Unfortunately, it leads to unhealthy, under-sized dogs (“runts,” if you will) being bred together, which increases and perpetuates health problems in their offspring. But what about teacup breeds of pigs, often called toy pigs, miniature teacup pigs, mini teacup pigs, micro mini piglets or nano pigs?

Even for pigs advertised as tiny, the average adult size is 100 pounds like the grey pigs shown here, and they can often reach up to 200 pounds

All of these so-called pet pig breeds are one and the same species. They are potbellied pigs (also called potbelly pigs). Originally bred in Vietnam, the potbellied pig is a domestic pig that is indeed miniature when compared to the average farm pig. While adult farm pigs can weigh in at around 1,000 pounds, most potbellied pigs end up somewhere between 100 and 200 pounds. So, while calling them micro mini teacup pigs is a stretch, it’s not incorrect to call Vietnamese potbellied pigs mini pigs within that context.

But even for pigs advertised as tiny, the average adult size is 100 pounds, and they can often reach up to 200 pounds.

Learn more about potbellied pigs

The cost of owning a teacup pig

Breeders say that baby teacup pigs (and adult teacup pigs) are real and claim that they’ve successfully bred teacup piglets who — with a properly restricted diet — will only grow into very small pigs, even mini micro pigs. The cost of owning a teacup pig, however, is nothing to sneeze at. Those who are looking to add a pig to their family will have a hard time finding cheap teacup pigs to purchase.

The teacup pig price range can be anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars. But many people are willing to pay these high prices when assured that they are getting a “genuine” teacup piglet. Far too often, however, they are getting much more than they’ve bargained for, because the teacup pig pet they’ve paid for is not the pet they ultimately get.

How breeders perpetuate the myth of teacup pigs

Jen Reid, manager of Marshall’s Piggy Paradise at Best Friends, explains that whether or not a pig is miniature really depends on your frame of reference. Yes, smaller potbellied pigs do exist. But “smaller” is still about 90 pounds, and the vast majority of so-called teacup pigs actually grow to between 100 and 200 pounds. If someone has been promised a micro teacup pig, and that pig grows to 100-plus pounds as an adult miniature pig, suddenly that pig is not going to seem so cute anymore. He or she is certainly not going to look like the sweet little micro mini piglets advertised on breeders’ websites, or the baby micro pigs who star in all those YouTube videos. And trying to keep pigs tiny can have some pretty negative effects on their health and well-being.

Breeders may send pigs to their new homes with inappropriate feeding instructions that stunt pigs’ growth, leading to fragile bones that break easily, as well as many other health problems. These unfortunate pets are essentially starved at key points in the body’s growth cycle, at the hands of their unsuspecting new families.

Some breeders claim that a nano pig or micro pig adult will only grow to 10-12 pounds. That's about the size of a miniature dachshund. But for anyone wondering “Where can I get a teacup pig?” these extremely tiny pet pigs simply don’t exist. The mini pig pets people see online and on TV are really just potbelly piglets who may be as young as a few days old, or who are underfed so that their growth is stunted, or who are sold under false pretenses.

Because pigs can breed when they are as young as three months old, the parents of baby piglets may be piglets themselves. Therefore, pig parent sizes are not an accurate measure of how large their offspring will be in adulthood. Potbellied pigs can keep growing until they are five years old, which can be problematic for people who simply want tiny pigs for pets — especially those who take their pig home to live in a small house or an apartment.

Read more about the myth of teacup pigs

Pigs as pets

Breeding and keeping pigs as pets has really only become a phenomenon over the past four decades or so. The practice of keeping pigs as house pets is an even greater novelty. Once you look past the cute factor of a so-called mini piglet and the novelty of owning a mini pig, there are many factors to consider. Jen says, “Pigs can be awesome pets if you are expecting a pig and you are set up for a pig.”

Pigs are, as breeders claim, very clean and intelligent animals. They can form close bonds with people and be very affectionate and playful. They can even be clicker trained to learn basic training cues and tricks. People are often pleasantly surprised by just how smart they are and how unique each pig’s personality is.

However, in spite of what breeders may say, living with even a small pet pig is not the same as having a dog or a cat. While some pigs can be integrated successfully into a household, it won’t work for every person — nor will it work for every pig. Sadly, when that little baby mini pig starts to grow to adulthood, fails to meet unrealistic expectations of being the perfect pygmy pig pet and/or develops health problems, he or she may end up homeless.

Mini pig information

Fortunately, a little bit of research and mini pig information can help prevent abandonment. One of the first things people need to consider before bringing home a pig is whether or not the zoning laws in their area will allow it. Pigs are often surrendered to shelters or turned loose when well-meaning people find out that pigs are not legal where they live, because they are considered farm animals rather than pets.

Even if having a pig is legal where you live, having enough room to house him or her is crucial because most of the time, a pig sold as a baby teacup pig will keep growing far beyond breeders’ predictions. Things can quickly become cramped when your piggy roommate exceeds 100 or even 200 pounds. Despite the hype, pigs are not ideal apartment pets, especially when they don’t have regular access to an outdoor area.

Things can quickly become cramped when your piggy roommate exceeds 100 pounds, like this handsome pig, or even 200 pounds

Miniature pig care in the home, inside and out

Providing a safe, secure and pig-proof outdoor area is not only key to keeping pigs happy, but also to keeping the inside of the house (and any fancy landscaping) from being destroyed. In the wild, Jen explains, pigs are “opportunistic scavengers” who spend the vast majority of their days rooting around in the ground searching for food. It’s a natural, instinctual behavior that doesn’t go away when pigs are kept indoors. If pigs can’t root around in the ground, they’ll turn to the next best thing, which may be the new carpet or that expensive couch.

A bored, frustrated pig can do a lot of damage quickly. Lack of mental stimulation for a pig can also lead to aggressive behavior toward humans, such as charging or biting. It’s especially important to note that pigs are social creatures. In the wild, they live in communities called sounders. Single pigs don’t tend to do as well and develop more behavioral problems than those who live with other pigs. “People are often surprised that a lot of aggression issues go away if they add another pig,” says Jen.

Another crucial part of pig care is proper feeding. Breeders often prescribe a very restrictive diet for piglets, claiming that it will ensure that adult teacup pigs don’t exceed their size and weight expectations. But these diets, designed to keep pigs as tiny as possible (and sometimes consisting of only a single food, such as oatmeal), often amount to starvation.

Along with poor breeding practices (such as in-breeding to produce smaller and smaller pigs), malnutrition due to underfeeding can lead to a host of lifelong health problems for a miniature pig pet. Currently there are several adoptable pigs living at the Sanctuary who were once purchased from breeders as teacup pigs. They lost their homes when they didn’t turn out to be quite what their people were expecting, or they developed serious health problems.

‘Teacup pigs’ at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

The Sanctuary is a home between homes for dozens of pigs, many of whom were originally sold as teacup pigs. While their families may have been excited to buy them, they quickly learned about the realities of living with pigs, especially those marketed as “teacup” or “mini.” Rosie was purchased as a baby pink teacup pig by a well-meaning couple who paid several thousand dollars for their new family member. Although they doted on her and followed the breeder's feeding instructions faithfully, Rosie became malnourished. As a result, her brittle bones were extremely prone to fractures.

Rosie, pictured here, was purchased as a baby pink teacup pig by a well-meaning couple who paid several thousand dollars for her

She became so fragile that she once bumped her leg while walking out of a dog door and suffered a hairline fracture. With proper diet and care, Rosie has grown stronger over the past few years. But at four years old, she is deaf and has osteoporosis, which can lead to more health issues down the road. At 140 pounds, Rosie also outweighs her breeder’s size prediction by about 100 pounds.

Read more about Rosie

Cutie, who’s now seven years old, came to the Sanctuary when her people got a divorce. Though still fairly young, she suffers from serious arthritis and a tender shoulder that was broken in the past. Oliver, on the other hand, has had the good fortune of staying fairly healthy and may be the strongest, most robust “teacup pig” at the Sanctuary. But at approximately 180 pounds, he grew much larger than his original family expected. He was purchased because of false advertising that set his people up to expect him to stay tiny; when he didn’t, he ended up in need of rescue.

In the recent past, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise has been home to other pigs sold as teacup piglets who have struggled with health issues as they matured. Poor Boris, who was only a year old when he came to the Sanctuary, has degenerative joint disease and major body conformation issues. Luckily, in spite of these issues, Boris managed to find a family who loved him and wanted to take him home.

Adopt a potbellied pig

Diet and nutrition for potbellied pigs

For people who already have potbellied pigs, as well as for people who are looking to adopt them, Jen says, “We do lots and lots of education about good diet and how to maintain a good weight and body condition.” A well-rounded diet is just as important for pigs as it is for people, though feeding pigs most human foods is strongly discouraged.

That’s because a high percentage of people food is not only processed, but also high in fat and sodium. Pigs are very sensitive to these things. However, they do quite well on a vegetarian diet. At the Sanctuary, pigs enjoy a vegetarian diet full of fruits, veggies and greens. They also eat pellets made for pigs and formulated for lifetime nutrition.

While even the healthiest and most balanced diet can’t erase the damage caused by in-breeding or early malnutrition, it can put a small pig pet like Rosie on the road to better health and wellness. But as long as there is a demand for teacup pigs as pets, breeders will keep trying to breed and raise smaller and smaller pigs in spite of the harmful health effects. Meanwhile, rescue organizations, shelters and sanctuaries strain their resources to meet the needs of pigs who have become ill or were abandoned, or who simply need to find new homes.

Celebrities with mini pigs as pets

In recent years, celebrities have boosted the visibility (and myth) of owning a mini pig by buying, toting around and posing with their miniature pig pets. Though George Clooney had a pet pig for 18 years, the nano pig trend seems to have taken off in 2009, when Paris Hilton got a so-called teacup potbelly pig she named Princess Pigelette. The public sees these pets when they are tiny piglets and not full-grown, and that perpetuates the idea that pigs can stay small, even though it isn’t the case.

Also in 2009, model, fashion designer and singer Victoria Beckham (of Spice Girls fame) bought her soccer-star husband, David Beckham, not one teacup piggy but two teacup piggies as a Christmas gift. In 2012, child reality TV star Alana Thompson (better known as Honey Boo Boo) briefly had a baby mini pig named Glitzy that she intended to take with her to beauty pageants as a good-luck charm. And singer Miley Cyrus posed with her pet teacup pig for the cover of a magazine in 2015.

While some celebrities have kept their baby mini pigs even after they grew into adult mini pigs, the pocket pig craze has had some serious ripple effects. More and more tiny pigs are losing their homes and are being abandoned, surrendered to shelters or winding up at rescue groups and sanctuaries across the country as people buy them and then quickly realize that the pigs get much bigger than anticipated, and have many needs they didn’t expect. If owning a mini pig is all it’s cracked up to be on the internet and on TV, then why aren’t people keeping their miniature pet pigs?

The best defense against poor pig health and homelessness

An educated public is the best defense against poor pig health and homelessness resulting from the teacup pig craze. “Don't believe everything you see on the internet,” Jen cautions. “The YouTube videos are cute, as is the dream of a tiny pig riding a skateboard, but in my experience they are the exception to the rule.”

None of this means that people can’t enjoy having potbellied pigs for pets. It’s a matter of learning about pigs, knowing what to expect when bringing them home, and having the proper setup to keep a pig happy. Spending time with full-grown pigs before taking that step can give people a big leg up on successfully keeping a pet pig. Since there are lots of pigs in rescue groups, shelters and sanctuaries, finding opportunities to spend time with them is easy. And it doesn’t matter if those pigs were called mini pigs, miniature pigs, micro mini pigs, dwarf pigs or pygmy pigs in their past lives. After all, a potbellied pig is a potbellied pig.

Finally, if you are looking for a porcine friend, please make adoption your only option. There are many reputable sanctuaries across the nation and we are happy to refer you to one located near you.

An educated public is the best defense against poor pig health and homelessness resulting from the teacup pig craze. This pig is out on a walk with her caregiver.