Sometimes something is just too cute to believe. Usually, that is simply a metaphor. However, in the case of tiny pigs, it is true.
What breeders advertise as “teacup” pigs, are usually piglets that are often underfed to stunt growth. Breeder clients are frequently given feeding instructions that result in a malnourished pig. Their skeletal structure is kept small by malnutrition, but their internal organs will continue to grow.
“They can’t function properly because they don’t have the skeletal structure to support that size,” said Kim-Han of the Vegas Pig Pets rescue. “You start getting bone deformities because they weren’t being fed properly.”
Teacup pigs, according to Kim-Han, are a trend that comes and goes. It peaked in 2009 when Paris Hilton was photographed with her new pet pig, Princess Pigelette, by paparazzi.
“I went online and found these tiny teacup pigs that stay under 12 pounds when they’re fully grown,” said Hilton to Hello magazine. “They’re incredibly smart, lovable, really clean and litter trained.”
“Teacup” pigs are generally of the potbelly pig breed. They were originally bred in Vietnam and came to the U.S. throughout the 1980s.
When opposed to the typical farm pig, the potbellied pig is a miniature domestic pig. Most potbellied pigs weigh between 100 and 200 pounds, while adult farm pigs can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. However, even for pigs marketed as miniature, the average adult weight is 100 pounds, and they can easily exceed 200 pounds.
Oftentimes, breeders will lie to clients about how big the pig they are buying will get.
“Whatever small number the breeder thinks the person buying the pig wants to hear, is what the breeder will say,” said Dan Illescas, the founder of Central Texas Pig Rescue.
Here’s the thing: they’re all full-sized farm animals. The idea of a manageably-sized pig goes back a few decades, writes Jake Swearingen for Modern Farmer, but it is and always was a marketing scam.
“So-called teacups are actually potbellied pigs who are either underfed to stunt their growth or who are sold under false pretenses,” a pig rescue expert said.
The myth of the “teacup” pig has been perpetuated by breeder marketing and the strong wish for it to be true. Many fall in love with the idea of owning an adorable pig that can fit in their pocket, however, they are often fooled.
Many people easily fall for the idea that there is such thing as a “teacup” pig, Illescas said, “because people want desperately to believe in that. Because it is cute and cute sells.”
Pigs are not meant to live in apartments and houses. It is natural for them to have constant access to the outside.
“When a pig is forced to do something that is unnatural to them, it causes them anxiety,” Illescas said.
When an owner’s “teacup” pig grows to be too large and not as cute, they are often given away. About 95-97% of all pet pigs get rehomed within the first year of their life.
When their owners were no longer able to care for them, these animals often met a tragic end or were sent to already overburdened sanctuaries, according to Kat Eschner at Smithsonian Magazine.
If you want a pet pig and can properly care for it, there is no shame in getting one (from a rescue, of course). It is just important not to be fooled by blatant and harmful marketing tricks.