Search for “micro-pig” on YouTube and you will instantly be regaled with adorable videos of tiny piglets climbing stairs, playing with dogs, sleeping on couches and scampering on the beach. “There is no denying how cute they are,” says Meghann Cant, animal welfare educator for the BC SPCA. “But how many will still be cherished pets a year from now?”
Across Europe and North America, so-called “micro-pigs” have experienced a surge in popularity over the past few years. Cant understands the appeal. “Pigs are intelligent, curious and affectionate animals,” she says. However, she warns against mistaking them for easy-to-care-for house pets. “Caring for a pet pig – even a small one – is a huge responsibility. Most people are simply unprepared.”
For one, keeping farm animals within city limits is against the law in many municipalities. Though sold as pets, “micro-pigs” are just that – pigs. “Some people acquire pet pigs without even knowing whether they are allowed to have them where they live,” says Cant. These people are then typically faced with a choice: move house or find a new home for their pig. “Pigs are not easy to place,” she says. “People soon discover that hobby farms and rescue groups have little or no capacity to take on their poor decision.”
Cant also takes issue with the terms used to describe pet pigs. “Words like ‘micro’ and ‘teacup’ are misleading,” she says. Many pigs sold as pets are young and have yet to reach their full size and weight, which can be substantial. “Imagine being told your pet would max out at 50 pounds, but watching them grow beyond 100 or even 200 pounds,” says Cant. “Not many homes can accommodate a pet that size.”
Furthermore, pet pigs have the same welfare considerations as those raised on farms. “Some people expect pet pigs to behave just like dogs,” says Cant. While in some ways pigs are similar to dogs – they can be house-trained, for instance – they have other needs that are difficult to meet in a home setting.
“Pigs need an environment that allows them to root, explore and manipulate objects,” says pig welfare expert and SPCA Certified program supervisor Brandy Street. “Pigs can quickly become bored – and a bored pig can be very destructive.” Without opportunities to perform normal pig activities, like nosing around outside in the dirt, pigs will create their own opportunities in the house, often by rooting through cupboards, tearing apart couches and knocking over tables. Pigs also live at least as long as dogs do, meaning a 15-year-plus commitment.
In the end, like so many fad pets before them, it is the pigs who pay the price for their popularity. Well-intentioned but poorly-informed caregivers become overwhelmed and, as a result, many pet pigs are relinquished to shelters and rescues. “We need to learn from the past,” urges Cant. “Other animals, such as turtles and hedgehogs, have had their 15 minutes of fame in the pet trade too. Many are no longer popular because people have realized they are just not suitable as pets. Sadly, though, the realization often comes only after the animals have suffered.”
The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a not-for-profit organization reliant on public donations. Our mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.