California Potbellied Pig Association, Inc

The History of Potbellied Pigs

Potbellied Pigs, a History

compiled and edited by Chris Christensen

Although the keeping of animals as pets in a domestic environment has been going on for a few thousand years, it has really exploded during the last two hundred.  Over this period the social conditions in Western countries have improved at a tremendous rate.  This has given the working masses more time and money to devote to leisure activities.  Among these, the keeping of pets has become preeminent.  From dogs to cats, small rodents to rabbits, to birds and fish as pets, animal lovers have continually sought more exotic creatures to care for.  

Various animal species have been the source of fads or crazes.  Among these have been monkeys, apes, wild cats, foxes, spiders, stick insects, and recently reptiles, especially the numerous snakes of the world.  There has also been a steady growth in the number of people desiring to keep miniature animals.  In the late 1980s there arrived a very common animal wrapped up in an exotic package.  This was the miniature Vietnamese potbellied pig.  Within just a few years this unlikely candidate for sharing your home with had rocketed to pet stardom and was for a time, the most "in" pet you could buy.  

When Keith Connell, a Canadian zoo director, imported sixteen unrelated potbellies {predominantly black in color with some white markings. . .editor} into Canada during 1985 (two of the original eighteen not surviving the journey or the quarantine period) little could he have realized just what an impact these were destined to have on the pet market.  Intended as breeding stock to supply zoological gardens, they were to prove to be the foundation stock for the new pet on the block in the USA.  In 1989, a second line of potbellies arrived in Texas {predominantly white in color. . .editor}.  These were imported by Keith Leavitt from Europe.  The vast majority of all registered pot-bellied pigs in the USA can be traced back to these two lines, known as the Connell and Lea lines.  In more recent years there have been further importations from European stocks.  

Unlike other exotic pets that have come and gone, either as a result of legislation being enacted that banned their being kept, or because they were too difficult to keep in a home, the potbelly has all the attributes that should ensure it remains popular.  Its small size, when compared to the average farmyard pig, is clearly the basis of its appeal.  Miniature pigs (there are a number of other breeds that were established ahead of the pot-belly, but which have never gained popular pet status) stand at a maximum of 21 inches at the shoulder. They can be as small as 12 inches, with 14-18 inches being the typical size of a nice pig. {Weight ranges from as low of 60 lbs to into the 300 lb. range for unusually large overfed animals.  A farmyard pig can weigh over 1,000 lbs.  Pigs reach full growth in 3 to 5 years.  Most potbelly pigs seem to be in the 100 to 150 lb range with some large not overfed pigs hitting as high as 200 lbs.  Like people they come in all sizes. . . editor}  

Potbellies have so much more going for them than just their small size.  All pigs are highly intelligent creatures and they can be trained to the same degree as a dog.  Naturally, their physical stature is such that they cannot do the same things as a canine, so all training must take this into account.  They are extremely devoted companions that display the same virtues as any other intelligent animal.   Contrary to popular belief, pigs are not dirty animals.  This image is strictly man made as a result of the unsuitable accommodations they are often forced to live in on backyard farms.  On the other hand, one cannot in truth say that they are delicate and tidy when it comes to their feeding habits!  They enjoy eating, which is reflected in the gusto with which they will attack their food dish.  

{In the short space of a few years, potbelly pig ownership expanded at quite a remarkable rate.  There were many official associations that controlled the registration of these pets, clubs for pet owners and there was a highly organized show system.  There are not as many organizations or shows as there once were.  Rescue groups and sanctuaries have taken over…editor}

Other virtues of these pint sized porcines is that they do not shed hair all over the place (the little they have they like to keep!) {If you have a potbelly pig you know this is not true. They do shed, sometimes depending on the weather, several times a year.  The bristles are quite different from other animal shedding and depending on your type of floor coverings, allergies, and areas where the pig is allowed to roam, harder or easier to deal with. . . editor} and they will not attract fleas.  Their thick skin makes for a tough place for unwanted critters to hide and feed on.  {They are however prone to getting mange mites, but the mites are fairly easy to control with readily available oral and injectable treatments…editor}  Pet pigs must be neutered or spayed: the result of this is that they are virtually odor free-as is their fecal matter.  The benefits of potbellies can really add up.  

This is not to say they are suited to every household, because like any pet you could name there are some drawbacks, few though these may be.  Already you can read of potbellies being abandoned in parks.  The fact that there are now a number of established pig sanctuaries is testimony to the fact that a number of owners have experienced problems with them.  However, in just about every one of these instances it was the owner, and not the pig, that was at fault.  They say ignorance is bliss, but this is hardly so where these pets are concerned-but it is a reality that through ignorance many people end up with a pet totally unsuited to them.  

Having acquired your potbelly, you should be able to look forward to as much as 15-20 years of devoted companionship from it.  The actual longevity of these pets has yet to be firmly established, as on average-no one has owned them that long as a pet!  The age given is therefore an estimate based on both normal porcine age in other breeds, and from information, limited though it is, from zoological garden specimens.

Information obtained from "Pot-Bellied Pigs, a quarterly" by Dennis Kelsey-Wood.

{Other than the statement about shedding, this is one of the better explanations in print on our little hoofed friends arrival on our shores.  Some books also state that the historical record on these pigs goes back to 6,000 BC in China where an emperor kept them as pets for his children.  Others will state that pigs were kept as domestic companions long before man kept dogs.  (This could be true as pigs being prey animals were probably easier to socialize than predator dogs that may eat you in the night.)

It does seem that the early origins of the potbelly pig do go back to China.  It is said that eventually famines in China reduced them to a food item, and they are for the most part extinct there now.  They had a similar fate in Viet Nam where they were treasured pets who ate the table scraps and provided the manure for the fields.  Many Viet Nam War vets have shared stories with me about seeing these pigs in the villages.  Again after the war and the relocation of people, I have been told they are at or near extinction there also.  The story is that Keith Connell imported his pigs from Europe, where they were part of an exotic zoo or research facility. I've heard both stories, but the exotic zoo is the most commonly stated one.  

Hope this helps. The hardest part about assembling this was to find the book or article that seemed to have the most right information.  There is so much misinformation out there.  Most of it is because these pigs are so new to our lives.  We know so little.  The statement about shedding is a perfect example.  Any of the 600 members of our club who have indoor/outdoor pigs more than 1 or 2 years old would die laughing at that statement.  The number of burnt out vacuum cleaners, the stories of having to remove your shoes in public to remove pig bristles from your socks so you could walk, stories of pig hairs in underclothing (not so easy to remove in public).  Pigs don't shed. . . Mr. Kelsey-Wood has never owned a pig.}  

Chris Christensen: editor, webmaster, CFO, member board of directors CPPA

"Heaven help us now if hogs had kept all five fingers." 

L. Watson