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Highly intelligent and social animals, pigs make great companions -- for those willing to put the time and effort into raising these lovable but unconventional pets. They love to snuggle, respond well to training and are cleaner than their reputation would lead many to believe. However a pig does not behave in the more familiar methods of dogs and cats, and requires specialized and focused care for her entire life, which can last 10 to 15 years.
A Little Litter
Sows spend around 115 days -- or nearly four months -- in gestation, and give birth to litters of around 10 piglets. When it is nearly time for a sow to deliver, she'll form a "milk line" along her teats, and begin to exhibit nesting behavior. Don't crowd her too much during this time, but do keep a close eye on her, and be prepared when she begins to give birth.
Newborn piglets have trouble maintaining their body temperature, and will need warm blankets and possibly a heating lamp, depending on where you live and the time of year. A veterinarian should be on hand during the birth, as a mother sow could become overheated, or piglets could be crushed or injured if the mother accidentally rolls over them. A new mother sow is also often very protective of her piglets, and even the friendliest pig mother may bite if she is anxious for her young.
From three to four weeks of age the piglets remain under the care of their mother. Also called "suckling pigs," they will consume only milk from the sow. For this they will need constant and easy access to the mother, who will usually lay on her side to feed her offspring. It's common for a mother sow to grunt as she's feeding; while nursing piglets aren't the most gentle of young, they aren't hurting her, despite the noise.
The first meal of their lives is one of the most important for newborn piglets. A mother sow's milk includes "colostrum," a particularly fatty milk filled with antibodies and plenty of nutrition to get the suckling piglets off to a healthy start. Keep the nesting box warm and clean to prevent any potential disease from contaminating the babies.
Bedding for your sow and newborn piglets can include straw, hay, shredded paper or blankets. Both mom and piglets will try to burrow and snuggle under their bedding, and some substrates such as sawdust don't allow for this natural behavior. At this early age, vaccinations are recommended for baby piglets.
Pet pigs are not unlike toddlers; they can be stubborn, demanding and easily bored. They respond best to rewards and incentives when being trained, and do require plenty of attention and exercise. Pigs love to snuggle, and eagerly will accept tummy rubs and scratches. If introduced and socialized carefully, they will get along with other pigs as well as dogs, cats and other companion animals.
During and just after weaning is a great time to introduce your pet pig to concepts such as bathroom breaks and litter boxes, crate training and playing with toys. Stimulate her love of learning and food by providing treat toys -- similar to those you would give a dog -- for her to practice rooting and problem solving with.
It is at this time that you'll move her to her main source of food: commercially available pig food -- usually in the form of pellets -- fresh veggies and timothy hay. Pigs also will root around in soil for tender, new grass and roots. Never feed a pig dog food, as the amount of protein and fat is bad for their health and weight.
A fully grown pig is not a one-size-fits-all sort of pet. They can range in size from 50 pounds to 200 when they are fully mature; between 4 to 20 years. Of course, just because they don't reach their full size maturity until four years, that doesn't keep them from experiencing puberty, just like humans.
Domestic pig boars are sexually mature by 8 weeks of age, and the sows reach maturity just after being weaned, or around four months. Intact males will hump -- like a male dog -- anything they can mount, and also will mark their territory with unpleasant-smelling fluids. Intact females go into heat every 21 days, and tend to be a lot less vigilant with potty training. For their health and your sanity, it's best to spay or neuter your pet pig; especially if they are fully indoor pets.
Although reports of pet pig life spans vary, it is generally accepted that 10 to 15 years is geriatric. As pigs age, their eyesight begins to fail. Sometimes this can begin without owners noticing, as their sense of smell remains very acute. Older pigs may experience issues with incontinence, losing teeth and arthritis.
Just like other companion animals, there may come a time when your pig's quality of life is no longer enjoyable. It is a difficult decision, but one that every pet owner must consider at one time or another. With a knowledgeable veterinarian, the passing of your pig can be far less stressful than it may seem, to both you and your four-legged friend. Consider your options, and be sure to bring her in for frequent checkups as she reaches old-lady status. Despite her age, she'll still love her toys, her scratches and your companionship.