If you have a Facebook account, are on Pinterest or love to peruse Instagram there’s a pretty good chance you’re familiar with teacup pigs… gorgeous little squee-inducing bundles of pink downy skin and wrinkled noses. I have to admit I’m guilty of sharing them on our own Facebook page… they ARE ridiculously cute… but a bit of digging has thrown up some big red flags.
Sometimes called micro pigs, pocket pigs, miniature pigs or Juliana pigs, the popularity of these adorable creatures has grown over the past twenty years. Reality shows are largely responsible for public enthusiasm… in 2009 Paris Hilton shone the spotlight on her new pet pig, Princess Pigelette, telling Hello magazine, “I went online and found these tiny teacup pigs that stay under 12 pounds when they’re fully grown… they’re incredibly smart, lovable, really clean and litter trained.” Popularity spiked again in 2012, when Honey Boo Boo’s family decided a teacup pig, ‘Glitzy’, was the perfect companion on the pageant circuit.
That’s where the ‘happy’ ends for these tiny sidekicks. To her credit, Paris Hilton didn’t send Princess Pigelette back… the full-grown pig now lives on a family farm. Glitzy’s sojourn was more short-lived… the family sent him back to the breeder after less than a month.
DON’T BE FOOLED BY A CUTE SOUNDING NAME.
The problem is… teacup pigs are not a real thing. There is no breed of pig that keeps these animals ‘pocket sized’… and too often the people who purchase them are terribly ill-informed. In New Zealand, the Kunekune Association are developing a policy for ‘miniature’ kunekune pigs in response to the queries they’ve been getting from people looking for a local version of teapot pigs. Kunekune pigs are considered a small breed compared to other types of pig… but they still grow to around 50cm in height and weight between 60 and 200kg.
Breeders overseas are going to great lengths to achieve litters of small pigs… generally by inbreeding in search of genetic abnormalities. The results are often heartbreaking – animals with a host of health issues such as squished snouts that hamper breathing as the pigs grow and eventually suffer long term consequences of oxygen deprivation.
Other breeders use malnourishment to achieve ‘cuteness’. Some owners of ‘teapot’ pigs have reported being told that the pig will only get big if you feed it too much. Others have been given guinea pig food and instructions to feed their animal quarter of a cup each day. Malnourished pigs suffer a host of problems: weak immune systems, skin and hoof problems, and weak bones from being emaciated from a very young age.
JUST BECAUSE THEY’RE CUTE, DOESN’T MAKE THEM GOOD PETS.
Pigs need other piggy friends and lots of space to roam – otherwise they may become sad or angry. Pigs love to root, dig, roll in mud and splash in water. Their curious nature makes them prone to get into trouble if they’re bored… just like a toddler. Owners who keep their pigs inside report aggressive territorial behaviour too… less than ideal if your new piggy friend is in a home with children. Animal rescue agencies are reporting increasing numbers of abandoned and unwell pigs being discarded by disappointed owners – sometimes pigs being pigs is not what suits their new owners.
Don’t be pignorant. When you see photos or videos tagged ‘teacup’ or ‘micro’ pig, remember that many of these pigs have a hard time finding a forever home after they no longer fit into that teacup. The pig breeding industry is heading down an unethical path in response to uninformed cuteness enthusiasts… and the victims are the wee pigs.