Are Potbelly Pigs Good Pets?

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Potbelly pigs can make wonderful pets -- as long as you've thoroughly researched everything you need to know about their care and maintenance, are walking into the situation with eyes wide open, and either live on a farm or a non-urban tract of land of substantial size. For everyone else considering adopting one of these "miniature" animals that can grow up to weigh 150 pounds or more, two words apply: buyer beware.

Origins

For centuries, these pigs have been livestock in China and Vietnam. They take up less room than our huge Western farm hogs, eat less, and thrive in hot, humid climates. When slaughtered, the comparatively smaller amount of meat on the carcass can be quickly eaten or sold before it spoils from lack of refrigeration. In 1985, Keith Connell, the director of a zoo in Bowmanville, Ontario, imported some of these pigs from Sweden to present to zoos but discovered considerable interest from the general public. In the early 1990s, Connell imported yet another bloodline of larger pigs with short, thick legs from Austria and Germany, calling them North American Potbellies. All potbelly pigs in North America today are descended from Connell's early porcine immigrants.

Characteristics and Habits

Like puppies, potbelly piglets are so irresistibly cute that many people let their hearts hijack their heads. However, according to Pigs Animal Sanctuary in West Virginia, potbellies require much more maintenance than a dog or cat. They're very smart animals, which makes them receptive to training, but when they get bored, the natural instincts of their species kick in to help them pass the time. Pigs root. Indoors, a bored pig might tear up your carpets, your linoleum and your house plants. He might discover that your drywall is ever so yummy. If you prize a lovely lawn and garden, abandon the idea of getting a pig. You should also be aware of the stages of a pig's development. If your animal hasn't been spayed or neutered when you bring it home, a female will come into heat between 12 and 16 weeks of age and after that, every 21 days. An intact male will become sexually active at six to eight weeks of age and until he's sterilized, he just plain stinks.

Reasons for Abandonment

For people considering becoming potbelly pig parents, the Internet must be a very puzzling place. Breeders and sellers with websites don't deny that there are problems -- although most vehemently deny that problems would ever affect their pigs. While people hoping to make a profit from potbellies sing their praises as pets, sanctuaries and rescue groups throughout North America are unanimous in raising alarms about the number of people who have abandoned these animals because they simply couldn't cope. According to Rescue and Sanctuary for Threatened Animals in Alberta, Canada, the three most common reasons that potbelly pig owners abandon their pets are: I didn't realize it would grow that big; I didn't realize it would be so destructive; and I didn't know how much work it would be.

The Skinny on Potbellied Pigs

In nature, pigs live in herds and, at the age of about 18 months, they start jockeying with other herd members for the best position in the pecking order they can get. When a pig lives in a human household, he regards the resident people as members of his herd and will compete with them for "top pig" position. If he sees a child as his rival, he might do the same thing he'd do if his rival were another pig: bite and head-butt. [Ref. 1] No rabies vaccine has been approved for these pigs so even if you make your pet a comfy outdoor pig house, if he's out all night, he could still be vulnerable to airborne nocturnal rabies carriers such as bats. About three times a year, pigs need their hooves trimmed. If you have a DIY aptitude and a sufficiently docile pig, you can learn how to do this yourself but if not, you'll require the services of a professional farrier, which do not come cheap. Finally, you'll need, within driving distance, a vet with knowledge of, and experience with, potbellied pigs.

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