Patience, Understanding Required to Live with Pet Pigs
Jun 30, 2019 10:40AM
By Vanessa Orr
Remington, Homer and Penelope, photos courtesy of Makayla Thompson
Makayla Thompson has been obsessed with pigs since she was little. Though her parents would never allow her to have one, as soon as she was old enough, she moved out and adopted her first pig from a breeder.
“And that’s when I realized that pigs could have issues,” she said.
Now the proud parent of three pigs—Remington, Homer and Penelope—she understands that while pigs can be wonderful pets for some, it takes a certain kind of person, and a lot of patience, to provide the perfect pig home.
“They are a different kind of animal—it’s not like having a dog or cat,” she explained. “They are like large, strong toddlers with mood swings. And they can be kind of cranky.
“They are also really smart and super easy to teach once you’ve established who’s boss,” she added. “And some of them, like Penelope, really love to snuggle.”
They Don’t Stay that Small
Part of the problem with adopting pigs is that most people don’t know what they’re getting into, according to Blue Martin, founder of local rescue group Pigsburgh Squealers. “Breeders are the biggest issue—many of them will say anything to sell animals,” she explained. “They tell people that a piglet will only grow so big, pointing to its parents for size; the problem is, pigs can breed when they’re very young, so that mother pig may only be half the size she’ll reach in three to five more years. The parents are still babies themselves.”
American mini-pigs, which Martin says are usually a mix of Potbelly, Juliana, and farm pig stock, can range between 75 and 200 pounds, though 100 to 150 pounds is common. “They are incredibly dense animals,” said Martin. “They are much heavier than they look.”
“There is no such thing as micro, micro-mini, or teacup pigs,” added Thompson. “And they do not stay at 30 pounds, regardless of what a breeder says. A mini-pig is any full-grown pig under 300 pounds, which is miniature compared to an 800-pound farm pig.”
The fact that the animals can get so big is one of the main reasons that people return them. Martin, who adopted her first pig from a breeder when she couldn’t find a rescue, started Pigsburgh Squealers to help those animals abandoned by overwhelmed or uncaring owners.
“People see cute little piglets on videos and want one; they don’t realize how big they’ll become or how different they are from having dogs,” she said. “I get a lot of calls from shelters who have had pigs dumped on them or calls for emergency care for pigs that have just been thrown over the fence at a farm.”
Pigsburgh Squealers is in the process of renovating a 25-acre farm in Tarentum where they will be providing care and finding new homes for abandoned pigs. “The first pig I saved was on craigslist; it looked like it was dying, and someone was offering it for free. I got her home, got her spayed, and found her a new home three years ago,” said Martin. “Now she is loved to death.”
Creating a Pig-friendly Home
Surprisingly, pigs don’t need a lot of indoor space, though they absolutely need outdoor time.
“The first thing you have to do is pig-proof the house; it’s kind of like having an angry toddler, so you can’t have books on bottom shelves,” said Martin, adding that her pigs love the Yellow Pages. “You need to have a dedicated outdoor space, because pigs still need to be pigs.”
When Thompson was looking for a house, she told her realtor that it needed an extra room on the first floor just for her pigs. At night, the pigs sleep there, enclosed by custom door gates, and during the day, if it’s nice, they spend their time enjoying a 2,500 sq. ft. fenced-in yard.
“Pigs are really strong, so we had to reinforce the bottom two feet of the chain-link fence with steel,” said Thompson.
It’s also important to check local zoning laws; in many areas, pigs are still considered livestock and not pets. “The city of Pittsburgh is okay,” said Martin. “Verona and Hampton are strong nos.”
The animals can be trained to use a litter box in the house, but just like puppies, will have accidents when they are younger. And their temperament is often more cat-like, taking time to adjust to people and situations.
“Unlike dogs, pigs don’t immediately love you; they are sort of like cats in that way,” said Martin. “They are incredibly intelligent, but for themselves. But if you stick with it, every bit of love you give you get back. I know a lot of dog people who are now pig people.”
To date, the rescue has helped approximately three dozen pigs find permanent loving homes.
Most important, pigs need to be spayed or neutered at a very young age. “Intact pigs make really bad pets,” said Martin, adding that this can make them aggressive. “When we get a rescue pig in and it’s not fixed, we make an appointment that very same day.”
Pigs tend to be fairly healthy animals, and upkeep isn’t that high. Pigs do require occasional veterinary care, but there is no standard shot regime. “Foodwise, together the three pigs go through about a 50-pound bag of food each month which costs $18," said Thompson. "They also eat bananas, apples, carrots, celery and cucumbers on a daily basis, though they won’t touch oranges.”
Since about one-third of Pigsburgh Squealers’ prospective adopters are first-timers, Martin believes that it’s imperative that people do their research before taking on the responsibility of pig ownership. “We have had a lot of pigs returned, despite all of our advice,” she said. “People are unwilling to put in the time and patience it takes; it can take a pig months to adjust to a new home, because they are very emotional animals.”
“You definitely need to talk to someone who has a pig before you get into it,” said Thompson. “I wish I’d had more information before I got my first. I read a lot about it, but I was still not prepared at all. It takes a special kind of person to have pet pigs.”
Find out more about Pigsburgh Squealers at https://www.pigsburghsquealers.com.