By Aly Semigran
If you’ve always been a lover of these amazing creatures, or you simply want a hypoallergenic pet that is as smart as it is clean, it’s essential to understand that being a responsible pet parent to a potbellied pig requires patience, care and understanding.
Whether you’re getting your first potbellied pig or gearing up to more into your family, here’s what you’ll need to know.
Physical Characteristics of Potbellied Pigs
There’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” pig. According to Susan Armstrong-Madgison, owner and president of the Pig Placement Network and Rushland, Pennsylvania’s Ross Mill Farm, pigs are “genetically diverse.” Thus, there is very little consistency when it comes to their body size.
Dr. Daniel Gray of the Gentle Vet Animal Hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin, adds that, like cats and dogs, a potbellied pig’s physical characteristics change with, “‘creative breeding’ that is constantly occurring.”
However, Gray says that potbellied pigs typically range anywhere from 90 to 150 pounds and stand between 16 and 30 inches tall.
Dan Illescas, who runs the Central Texas Pig Rescue, adds that a pig typically hits its full size around three to five years of age, so don’t expect the young pig you get to stay the same size.
All About Rooting
Rooting is the act of a potbellied pig digging and searching with its snout. Rooting is not only an important and innate part of a potbellied pig’s behavior, it’s also incredibly beneficial for its overall health and well-being.
“Pigs use their snouts for fun, to excavate items to play with, but also to dig holes to lie in,” Illescas says. “Most people know that pigs don’t sweat, but most don’t know that pigs have a very complicated process of regulating their temperature. By rooting, pigs can cool down on a warm day. As an added benefit, dirt and mud offer effective protection from the harsh rays of the sun.”
What Do Potbellied Pigs Eat?
A pet pig diet is one of the most misunderstood parts of pig parenting, Illescas says, and it’s the most important aspect of owning a pig (or any pet) to understand.
“Pigs grow so quickly that poor nutrition can cause lasting, or even fatal problems,” he says. “Many piglets are improperly weaned and then sent to new homes with strict (and harmful) feeding instructions, that many pig parents faithfully follow, unwittingly causing their pigs to suffer as a result.”
So how can a pet pig parent avoid these issues? By keeping their pet on a pelleted, balanced diet that is formulated especially for potbellied pigs as instructed by their accredited breeder or adoption facility, and of course, their veterinarian. According to Illescas they should be fed this nutritionally complete diet twice a day, with a regimented schedule.
Additionally, you want to avoid high-sugar or high-processed foods for treats, says Gray, adding that low-sugar, high-fiber fruits and veggies make the best treats for pet pigs.
Pig parents also have to find a balance between what they feed their pet and how much they eat while grazing outside. Madison says that if a pig eats grass in your backyard, depending on its intake, you should lessen the required amount of food for that day based on how much it ingested.
When it comes to keeping your pig hydrated, Gray says that water consumption varies with the amount of exercise your pig has and how much water is in their food (lots of veggie treats often means less water intake).
“The main thing to watch for is not the amount but the availability,” he says. “Pigs like to root so will often splash their water out of their bowl and not have any to drink later. This needs to be monitored closely.”
At Home with a Potbellied Pig
While a potbellied-pig is a major responsibility, the rewards can be incredibly worthwhile when you consider how these animals behave in the home.
Nancy Shepherd, author of Potbellied Pig Parenting, points out that pigs are not only very affectionate animals but, perhaps most notably, they are very intelligent.
“They learn quickly, they do not forget, and they are able to deduce,” Shepherd says. “If they learn a behavior, they don’t unlearn that behavior.”
That’s exactly why, Shepherd says, you have to make sure you don’t spoil your pet pig or let them become the head of the household. Pigs remember both positive and negative reinforcement and know how to get the desired results (for instance, sometimes pigs will nudge at their owner when they want something).
She adds that, pigs are not terribly destructive pets overall, however, as they do sometimes root indoors, you can make them their own rooting box to avoid a distressed flooring or couch cushions.
The term used for the area of the animal’s face that has the nose and jaws
The term for a disease of the skin caused by certain mites
The act of feeding animals with a range or pasture
A medical condition in which the joints become inflamed and causes a great deal of pain.
The hard outside of the feet of certain animals, like horses, cattle, goats, and pigs