Teacup pigs: they’re a normal pig but smaller, cuter, and perfect for the suburban Perth house, right?
An agriculture advisor and an animal rights advocate both warn that despite efforts by unscrupulous marketers to kick the teacup pig craze off in Australia there are no true teacup pigs available here.
Perth pig people are finding this out the hard way when their little bundles of joy quickly develop into hogs that weigh upward of 100 kilograms.
The true teacup pig – the Vietnamese potbellied pig – is a prohibited import into Australia.
Dalkeith resident Billy Cooper did not know this when he bought what he thought was a teacup pig from a seller in eastern Australia.
“I wanted one ever since I saw one on TV so I found a lady selling them over east and bought him,” Mr Cooper says.
He named his little mate ‘Boris Spider Pig’.
“… I never knew he would grow [to be] five foot four [inches tall, when standing, Animal Farm style] and weigh over 100 kilos,” Mr Cooper says.
Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food spokesman Bruce Mullan says people are often not aware what they’re getting themselves in for when buying a pet pig.
“Pigs are pretty adventurous, smart, intelligent and they do like to dig holes and they do get bigger than what a lot of people think they will,” Dr Mullan says.
“I can see this being a huge problem.”
He says it is up to the buyer to do their research, as there are no laws against owning a pet pig or selling a pig as a ‘teacup’ one.
Dr Mullan advises Perth suburbanites to opt for a smaller pet, like a guinea pig or a rabbit.
“Those animals have a shorter lifespan and don’t have much space and they’re easier to give to someone else, whereas a pig is difficult especially if they get big,” he says.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Australia campaign coordinator Claire Fryer says people may see a pet pig as a cute adjunct to their lives, but when the novelty wears off and the pigs grow up, they are often discarded at shelters.
“There are no true miniature pigs in Australia,” Ms Fryer says.
“Pigs sold as miniature pigs may have been underfed to try and stunt their growth, but people buying these animals from breeders can end up with a pig who weighs 90 kilos or greater.
“Most people simply do not have the facilities to care for a pet pig.
“For those people who do have appropriate space and can offer a rescue pig a home, they can contact their local farm rescue group or animal shelter.”
One success story of a house-broken pet pig is Macca of the Unicare Early Childhood Centre beside the University of Western Australia in Nedlands.
With 1807 ‘likes’ on his Facebook page, Macca is a minor social media celebrity.
Environmental educator Christine Koba says the so-called miniature pig was bought so city kids could be exposed to caring for a farm animal.
But Macca grew bigger than expected.
“The seller told us to feed Macca small meals such as a small bowl of oats, and that would be sufficient,” Ms Koba says.
“In reality she was just advising us to underfeed him, a form of malnourishment, to keep him small.”
Ms Koba says Macca is part of the Unicare community and loved by many people, even coming home with fellow educator Andy Streit during holidays.
“He has room to dig and run around there,” Mr Streit says.
“He’s just like a dog – a great pet if you have the room and time for them.”
Though Macca has a co-operative temperament, Mr Streit says he can be hard to budge if he’s found something to eat on his daily walks.
Once, in 2012, Macca broke free on his walk and was seen running across campus.
“But we just love him,” Ms Koba says.
“And he just loves people.
“The kids can pat him, the parents have no problem with their children being around him him and when hes’s out on his walks the students love him too and use him in various campaigns around the campus.
“The only exception is [going to] the vet because [Macca] knows what’s coming.
“He’s got a vet appointment coming up and it’s hard for Andy and I [to see him dreading the visit] because we’ve known Macca since he was so small.