Pigs as pets: think carefully before you adopt

Pigs as pets may seem like the best idea in the world when you’re confronted with a tiny pink bundle of snout and hooves just a few days old. But pigs are not the easiest animals to handle, says our veterinarian Dr Adri Rossouw, so consider very carefully the implications of pig ownership before adopting one.

Dr Adri’s daughter Mila with Peppa

Recently, our EberVet Pet Clinic in Strand and Country Animal Clinic in Somerset West stepped in to rescue a tiny pink piglet found on the side of the road near Gordon’s Bay garbage dump. The little girl had a few cuts and scrapes but was otherwise in good health and terribly cute to look at. Dr Adri took over her care for a week until she was adopted by Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary where she will live out her days free-ranging with other rescued pigs.

Given how cute she was to look at and bottle feed, she got lots of attention on social media but because of her experience growing up on a farm and raising several pig orphans, Dr Adri cautioned against the idea of little Peppa (as she was christened) being adopted by a suburban family.  Pigs are complex animals and they’re best left on a farm.

The first obstacle to any suburban family wanting to adopt a pig is that it is illegal to raise any farm animal on a suburban property. Municipal bylaws demand a special permit for which you would have to apply and these are strictly regulated.

Your local Council may require detailed plans and specifications relating to the pig’s home and these come with a long list of ‘must haves’, including where on the property the pig may sleep – and that’s not on your bed!

Pigs as pets: know what you’re taking on

As with all pets, pigs are sentient beings with needs that go beyond hunger; they need veterinary care, plenty of attention, exercise, space in which to run and protection. Pets are for life, not just for Christmas, and the life span of the average domestic pig is 6 to 10 years so bear that in mind when considering adopting.

Sexual maturity

Pigs can become aggressive when they reach sexual maturity.
Boars also develop a strong scent (almost like male goats) when they are sexually mature, so definitely need to be castrated. Male piglets get castrated from as early as 2 weeks on a farm but pet piglets will usually be castrated when they reach sexual maturity at around 5-6 months of age.
Female pigs are much more difficult to sterilise as it is a much bigger and riskier procedure. Thus it is not routinely done. The cost of castration will depend on the age and size of the pig but it will be at the very least more than R500.

The pig’s diet

Pigs are omnivores and need a wide variety of food. It is thus best to buy a good quality commercial diet. You can add fresh fruit and vegetables.

Medical care

Pigs do not require vaccinations in South Africa.
Young farm piglets routinely receive an iron injection between the ages of 1 -7 days to prevent anaemia.
A pig should see your vet at least once a year for a checkup. That being said, pigs are NOT ‘vet friendly’ animals! They are difficult to handle as they do not like to be held, and all injections need to be given intravenously or intramascularly as they do not have a subcutaneous space like dogs and cats (their skin is like ours).
Pigs suffer from a variety of diseases such as verminosis (worm infestation), mange, various respiratory and gastro-intestinal viruses as well as swine influenza and brucellosis!

Why they’re best left on the farm

• They don’t like to cuddle

Even though pigs, especially little ones, can be extremely cute and YouTube is flooded with adorable pigs doing adorable things, they do not make good house pets.
In spite of their cute looks, they do not like to be cuddled or held and will scream blue murder when you do try to. There is an Africaans saying: “Skree soos ‘n maer vark” (screams like a skinny pig) and this is a very accurate description.

• They destroy gardens

They love digging and tunnelling – it’s part of their DNA – and will destroy a suburban garden over and over again.

• They smell

There is a reason a pigsty is a smelly place that attracts a lot of flies. Pig stool has a very strong, unpleasant smell. Even though pigs can be litter-trained, you will still have to deal with the wastage on a daily basis.

• Pigs get big

There is no such thing as a teacup-sized potbelly pig in South Africa. Even the miniature pigs get big, sometimes massive. Peppa might be a tiny piglet now but she is a Large White breed and will weigh between 260 – 300kg as and adult.

Yes, pigs will as a rule get along well with other, well socialised domestic pets but they are at their happiest when they can roll and play in the mud with other pigs on a farm. They do not make good suburban pets.

Article by Dr Adri Rossouw of Country Animal Clinic