Micropigs were popular pets back in 2010, when Paris Hilton and stars of The Only Way is Essex bought them. Now they’re facing a resurgence, with popstar Ariana Grande and YouTube stars Logan Paul and Robert reportedly owning micropigs. But what are they? Does a pig make a good pet?
What is a Micropig?
The first and most important thing to say about the micropig is that it really is a pig. Yep – the kind that is made into bacon and sausages, likes to roll in the mud, and is descended from the wild boar. And like most animals, pigs come in a range of sizes. The smallest pig breed is the Kune Kune (pictured), which usually grows to between 24 and 30 inches at the shoulder. Micropigs are not a recognised breed.
So what is a micropig? Well, micropig breeders claim that their pigs never get larger than a Labrador. They’re also sold as ‘teacup pigs’ or ‘minipigs’. Unfortunately, it’s a little too-good-to-be-true: there are numerous reports of micropigs growing too big for their homes, and it is common for them to be surrendered to rescue when they pass 80kg in weight. It’s not clear whether this is a genetic throwback or unscrupulous breeders selling a normal pig for extortionate amounts of money. What is clear is that a lot of people pay £700 or more for a pig that turns out to be a lot bigger, a lot messier, and a lot more work than they originally signed up for.
Laws Around Keeping Pigs
The first law that any would-be micropig breeder needs to be aware of is that you cannot buy a pig without having a County Parish Holding number, or CPH. This legal requirement helps the government keep tabs on where pigs are kept in case of disease outbreak – like the terrible Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001. You’ll also need to tell the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) that you’re keeping pigs. If you want to walk your pig, you’ll have to apply for a license to do so, which may not be granted if they feel it poses a health risk. This license has to be renewed annually.
The second law that’s worth understanding is the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This states that the owner is responsible for ensuring that their animal has its five basic needs met – summarised in the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s Five Freedoms. These are:
- Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
- Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
- Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
- Freedom to express normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind if required
- Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering
For micropigs, it can be very difficult to meet freedom number four. Normal pig behaviour means rooting up plants and bathing in mud – not things that most owners are keen to allow. Pigs are also highly social animals, and should be kept in pairs to properly meet their behavioural needs. Which means that if you want a micropig, you really ought to have two.
The third law that is applicable is that you cannot feed your pig any catering waste. In practice, this means not feeding anything that has been inside a commercial or residential kitchen. So, no carrot peelings, cold hot chocolate, or leftover roast potatoes. You can feed your pigs carrots, but they need to go straight from the shop to your pig – not into the fridge, or chopped up on your worksurfaces. This might seem a little extreme, but the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001 is thought to be linked to the illegal feeding of leftover waste to pigs. It caused the death of over 10 million cows and sheep in the UK and cost millions of pounds to stop. African Swine Fever has also been spread this way in Europe.
Looking after a Micropig
Caring for a micropig is fairly simple. They need access to water at all times (they’re very prone to getting ill if their water source dries up) and a good, pig-specific diet. They can eat a surprising amount, and they’re very greedy – there’s a reason it’s called ‘eating like a pig’. This means it can be easy to let them get overweight, but as with all species it’s a bad idea to let this happen.
They’ll also need a large garden to enjoy – a single pig will turn a lawn to mud in days if it’s not large enough- and the company of other pigs to play with and sleep with. To avoid breeding, the pigs should be of the same gender or neutered. They need a lot of social interaction and play, or they’ll get destructive.
All pigs have the same health issues, regardless of size, so it’s worth reading up about pig diseases. The main ones we worry about are the viral diseases – these can spread quickly causing widespread fatalities – so new pig owners should be aware of the signs of illness in their pigs. Pigs kept indoors are also prone to some diseases that their outdoor cousins are not – foot problems related to unnatural flooring, obesity, and blockages from eating things that are not food.
You should also consider how you will access veterinary care for your pig. Pet pigs fall awkwardly into the space between companion animal and farm animal – and that means there aren’t many vets that will be comfortable seeing them. Your usual vet is honed in on cats and dogs, and may even know the odd thing about rabbits – but they probably aren’t as confident treating pigs. They may not even have the right drugs on the shelf.
Pig vets, on the other hand, tend to talk in units of hundreds of pigs. They’ll visit farms with thousands of breeding sows and make sweeping recommendations to preserve the health of the many, not the few – so they may not feel the pig is their responsibility either. And they’re few and far between. So, before you get a pig, you should call around your local vets and find out who has the expertise (and drugs!) to help if you should need it.
Should I get a micropig?
Pigs are fun, and they can make good companions. But I wouldn’t recommend a pig for anybody with anything less than a smallholding. Just because it’s advertised as a micropig doesn’t mean it will stay that way. If you do fancy keeping some pigs, consider a recognised breed – they’re much cheaper, and you’re much likely to get what you want!