By Dr. Becker
In May 2017, the city council in Benecia, California voted to allow a new type of pet in the city: potbellied, also known as “mini,” pigs. While originally slated to contain a weight restriction of 100 pounds, this rule was ultimately eliminated after experts chimed in that it’s virtually impossible to know how big a pig will be when it’s fully grown.1
This is also a fact that anyone considering a potbellied pig for a pet should be well aware — and in complete acceptance — of before bringing such a unique pet home. According to the California Potbellied Pig Association (CCPA):2
“In truth, any potbellied pig can reach a weight of 200 pounds and not be overweight. Some potbellies top out at under 100 pounds, but most will be 100 to 150 pounds. If your pig is not at least five years old, it may not be full grown.”
Baby potbellied pigs are adorable, no doubt. However, many end up at rescues after their owners realize they’re not going to stay little. A full-grown potbellied pig is a lot to handle, so take into consideration whether your home and heart is ready for this challenge. If it is, these animals can make extremely rewarding pets, though there are some factors to consider beyond those you might think about when adopting a dog or cat.
Whether a Potbellied Pig Pet Is Legal Depends on Where You Live
Whether or not it’s “legal” to own a potbellied pig as a pet depends on where you live. In 2015, for instance, Kansas City, Missouri voted to allow Vietnamese potbellied pigs as pets, provided they’re kept on a leash or in a fenced area.3
In Las Vegas, Nevada, lawmakers loosened restrictions on potbellied pigs as pets in 2016, changing legislation to eliminate size restrictions and allow more than one on a property.4 Residents may have up to six pigs, depending on the size of the lot, which is a good thing for the animals.
“The truth is that pigs are herd animals and do much better as pets with at least one partner,” CCPA states.5 In New York City, meanwhile, the animals are illegal, despite a devoted following and veterinarians’ claims that, “They can be found in all five boroughs.”6 In one case reported by The New York Times, a judge dismissed a violation against one potbellied pig owner, who said the pet was an emotional support animal for her and her ailing father.
The health department got the dismissal overturned, however, forcing the woman to give up her beloved pet to a sanctuary in North Carolina.7 So before adding a potbellied pig to your family, check out your local (city and county) ordinances to avoid potential heartbreak. Also be aware of the fine print and be prepared to know the law should you be accused of harboring an illegal pet.
“We have seen situations where police, animal control officers, zoning officials, etc. have come to homes demanding the removal of pet potbellied pigs only to find out that they had no legal standing in doing so. A check of the ordinances found that having a potbellied pig was not illegal in those particular areas,” CPPA stated, continuing:
“If ordinances exist that expressly prohibit the keeping of potbellied pigs or even swine, you should probably not get a potbellied pig. Sometimes the swine laws are very old and obviously apply to livestock, but legally potbellied pigs are swine. You could also try to change the law before getting a potbellied pig. You can do this through your local city/county offices and council meetings.
This could be very involved but well worth the effort if you want to share your life with a pet potbellied pig. If the ordinance only forbids livestock, an argument can be made that potbellied pigs are not livestock as per the USDA. They consider potbellied pigs to be pets, not livestock.”
Why Do Potbellied Pigs Make Good Pets?
Potbellied pigs are intelligent, social and affectionate animals that can make wonderful family pets, provided they’re well cared for and raised in a healthy environment. Pigs are relatively easy to train and can be taught to use a litterbox, walk on a harness and even do tricks. However, as natural foragers they need space outdoors to forage for food and root.
They need access to water in the warmer months, if they aren’t strictly house pigs and don’t have air conditioning, as a way to cool off (pigs don’t sweat, so this is essential for their temperature regulation). Their diet must be carefully controlled, lest they become overweight, and supplemented with lots of fresh vegetables. Regular social interaction and mental stimulation is also a must for these highly intelligent creatures.
For instance, pigs can prioritize important memories, such as where to find food, anticipate positive and negative situations and display spatial learning skills, such as learning how to navigate a maze. Pigs are also playful animals and display many similar play behaviors as dogs. Among them, pigs may carry or shake objects such as a ball or stick, toss straw into the air, run playfully, hop around, jump, paw and scamper.
They may also engage in play fighting, pushing and running after each other. Play is extremely important for pigs' emotional and cognitive development.8 Pigs’ playfulness and curiosity is why many people love them, but it’s also a reason many are given up to rescues. Left without the proper outlets for their energy and cognitive abilities, potbellied pigs may become depressed, destructive or even aggressive.
In addition, “Pigs can become spoiled and manipulative, CCPA notes, “[and] require a commitment of time and energy from their owners.” The latter is true of any pet, of course, which is why you may find that owning a potbellied pig is more like owning a dog than different. Do keep in mind that your pig will need regular veterinary care from someone who specializes in this species, and you will need a way to transport him there (pigs do not do well with stairs, so a ramp may be required to get your pig into and out of the car).
Once you’re at the point where you’re wondering where to find your new porcine pet, please consider a rescue organization first, as there are many potbellied pigs in need of loving homes.