ONCE POPULAR AS PETS, POTBELLIED PIGS ARE NOW A NATIONAL PROBLEM

By: Jeff Grabmeier

Published on October 17, 1997

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In the last decade, Vietnamese potbellied pigs have reached the height of their popularity as exotic household pets in the United States.

But a new study suggests the novelty has worn off, and some owners are trying to get rid of the pets because they are too big, too aggressive or illegal in their communities. And stray pigs have become a surprising problem in some areas.

A survey of 802 humane organizations in seven states found that they received 4,380 requests to accept potbellied pigs during a recent 18-month period. They accepted 72 percent of these pigs.

However, not all unwanted pigs are going to humane societies. The study also found that 485 slaughter houses received 4,047 requests to slaughter potbellied pigs during the same period.

“I don’t think there’s any question that there is a problem with unwanted potbellied pigs in the United States,” said Linda Lord, co-author of the study and a doctoral student in veterinary preventive medicine at Ohio State University.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people who get potbellied pigs as pets aren’t prepared for how big they can get or don’t know how to deal with them.”

Lord conducted the study with Thomas Wittum, an assistant professor of veterinary preventive medicine at Ohio State. Their results were published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The researchers surveyed humane organizations in California, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Slaughter plants were surveyed in California, Florida, Ohio and Texas.

There are no accurate statistics about how many potbellied pigs are kept as pets in the United States, Lord said. Estimates have ranged from 250,000 to 1 million. As a result, there is no way to tell what percentage of these pets are being given up by their owners. However, the results indicate that the pigs are becoming a problem for humane organizations.

“A lot of humane societies don’t know what to do with these pigs because they’re set up to serve mainly cats and dogs,” Wittum said. As a result, only about 60 percent of humane organizations surveyed said they were willing to accept potbellied pigs.

Of those organizations that accepted potbellied pigs, 71 percent said they had received at least one request to take a pig during the study period.

In addition, about 53 percent of the slaughter houses surveyed said they had received requests to slaughter potbellied pigs. “I was surprised by how many slaughter houses had dealt with potbellied pigs,” Lord said. “In some cases, the owners took the meat from their pigs home, which certainly goes against our traditional thinking about what we do with our pets.”

Another surprise was that 20 percent of the humane organizations wrote on their surveys that they had received requests to take stray pigs. “We didn’t even ask about strays on the survey, because we didn’t think it would be a problem,” she said. “I think even more humane societies would have reported strays if we had specifically asked about them.”

The most common reason owners gave to humane societies for relinquishing their pigs was the pigs’ larger than expected size.

“A lot of people were told that their potbellied pigs would stay small, about 50 or 60 pounds,” Lord said. “But it’s not uncommon for pigs to get to be 150 pounds or more.”

Lord has two potbellied pigs as pets, one of which she bought through a breeder and one which she adopted through a local humane society. “I was told by the breeder that the pig would grow to about 50 pounds. He’s about 200 pounds now,” she said.

Many people also said they gave up their pets because of zoning restrictions in their communities. Many cities ban potbellied pigs, Lord said, because they are classified as livestock and not pets.

The third most common reason for giving up pigs was because of aggression. Potbellied pigs are herd animals and establish hierarchies. They may try to find where they fit in the dominance hierarchy of a household by showing aggressive behaviors like charging or snapping towards humans. The animals are less likely to act aggressively toward humans if they are kept with other pigs, Lord said.

As a result of this study and her personal experience as a potbellied pig owner, Lord said she wouldn’t recommend the animal as a pet for most people.

“They just aren’t suitable for the average family,” Lord said. “However, I think potbellied pigs are great pets for people who understand them, and who can provide the proper environment. They do best as outdoor pets and when there are more than one pig.”

# Contact: Linda Lord, (614) 292-1206; Lord.19@osu.edu Thomas Wittum, (614) 292-1206; Wittum.1@osu.edu

Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu


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