What to Feed a Potbellied Pig

Potbellied pigs (aka pot belly pigs) are omnivores, so their natural diet in the wild would include roots, veggies, nuts, seeds, berries, worms, insects, raw eggs and other little critters. Of course, you can’t imitate this diet for your pigs, but you can feed them a variety of healthy foods. It’s a good idea to feed pigs larger meals twice a day (breakfast and dinner) and healthy snacks throughout the day.

A note about teacup pigs

Sadly, pigs bought from breeders of so-called “teacup” or “micro” pigs may have been fed an insufficient diet, in order to keep them small. This lack of adequate nutrition can cause health issues, including arthritis, which makes keeping your pigs at a healthy weight even more essential. Talk to your veterinarian (choose one who’s experienced with potbellied pigs) about what’s best to feed your pigs so you can be sure they are as healthy as possible. For more information about teacup pigs, click here.

Overfeeding a companion pig

One of the most common mistakes people make with their companion pigs is actually giving them too much food. Pigs are “wired” to eat, and some folks try to please their pigs by feeding them or out of guilt if they don’t have time to spend with them. Obese pigs can develop many health issues from being overweight, so please be careful not to over-feed your pigs, even though it is tempting to do so.

Pig diet: Recommended foods for pet pigs

At Best Friends, we think potbellied pigs do best on a vegetarian diet consisting mostly of vegetables. Meals generally consist of a head of cut-up romaine lettuce along with a cup of veggies, plus pellets made specifically for miniature or potbellied pigs. We use Mazuri brand mini-pig pellets at Best Friends. A good amount of pig pellets is 3/4 to one cup twice a day, depending on how many snacks your pigs get and the weight and age of the pigs.

As treats, our potbellied pigs get dried fruit and unsalted nuts, but we dole out these foods sparingly, as fruit is high in sugar and nuts are high in fat. We bed our pigs with timothy hay, which can also be a nice snack. We use grass hay only, because legume or alfalfa hay has calories and nutrients that potbellied pigs don’t need.

When feeding your pigs, vary the veggies so the pigs don’t get bored with their meals and also get a variety of nutrients. Safe veggies include broccoli, cauliflower, lima beans, green beans, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, edamame, peppers and zucchini. Don’t feed your pig too much broccoli or cauliflower, however, since they can cause bloating and gas. Two or three times a week, you might want to include eggs in the pigs’ food.

In the winter, if you really want to pamper your pig, warm the veggies (you can even allow the lettuce to warm up a bit) so the pig isn’t eating cold food in cold weather. In the summer, if you live in a very hot climate, feed the pig cold lettuce and cold or slightly frozen veggies.

Be careful about salt content in foods you feed your pigs, since a diet high in salt can cause bladder stones and other urinary problems. Frozen and canned vegetables are convenient, but they often have added salt, so check the ingredients’ list on the packaging.

As mentioned above, fruit can be offered as treats on occasion or included in meals, but only once in a while because of the high sugar content. Unsalted almonds make a wonderful snack. Try mixing almonds and pellets and tossing them around the pig enclosure after meals. This extends mealtime and helps satisfy pigs’ innate desire to root. Of course, they also get physical and mental stimulation while searching for the almonds and pellets.

Giving supplements to pigs

Supplements can be used to encourage a strong immune system and help a pig overcome a particular illness or disease. Consult with your veterinarian to find out what supplements he or she recommends. To allow the pig’s body to adjust, start with small amounts of a supplement. Administer the supplement in small doses for two weeks and watch the pig closely for changes of any kind.

What a domestic pig should not eat

Potbellied pigs are not being fattened up for slaughter, so they can’t be fed anything and everything, as farm hogs typically are. Certain foods and plants are toxic to pigs, including chocolate, alcohol, avocados, ivy and a large variety of other plants. The website for the Southern California Association of Miniature Potbellied Pigs (SCAMPP) has information on plants that are toxic to potbellied pigs.

You’ll also want to avoid feeding your pigs:

  • Hog or swine feed: If you buy your pellets at a feed store, make sure you get pellets made especially for potbellied pigs, not farm hogs, since hog feed is formulated to encourage maximum growth in a minimal amount of time.
  • Dog and cat foods: Foods made for dogs and cats are too high in protein for potbellied pigs.
  • Processed human food: Foods such as cereal and crackers can cause dental issues and often contain high amounts of salt and sugar.
  • Citrus: Limit citrus fruits because too much Vitamin C can cause bladder stones, especially in male potbellied pigs.

Consequences of obesity in pigs

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not “natural” for pigs to be fat. If they were living in the wild, potbellied pigs would be continuously foraging, roaming and rooting in order to get something to eat. All that exercise would prevent them from becoming obese and, besides, they would only be eating healthy foods.

Obesity can cause discomfort, lack of energy, digestive problems and leg complications in pigs. A potbellied pig’s legs were not designed to carry excess weight, so an obese potbellied pig can suffer damage to the tendons, ligaments and joints of the legs. Fractures to the bones can even occur. Such damage can cause permanent residual problems, such as arthritis, even after the extra weight has been shed.

A pig who becomes obese can also suffer from “mechanical blindness,” which is caused by fat surrounding the eye area and obscuring the pig’s vision. There are degrees of mechanical blindness, depending on how obese the pig is. Vision is not a pig’s strongest sense, so even a small reduction in vision is a big issue for the pig. Once the pig has lost weight, excess skin may remain around the eye area and continue to hinder vision to a certain extent.

How to help a pig lose weight

As with humans, pigs vary in size, so there’s no correct weight for all pigs. A potbellied pig who is at a healthy weight has a bit of a swayback and a bit of a belly, and the torso curves inward just before the hindquarters. Talk to your veterinarian if you have concerns about your pig’s weight.

The first step in helping an obese pig return to a normal weight is to make vegetable salads for each meal. Romaine is a good lettuce to use because it has more nutrients than iceberg lettuce.

Of course, pigs who have been fed “junk food” probably won’t gobble down salads right away. To entice a pig to eat all her veggies, try mincing the lettuce as small as possible and coating the salad with canned pumpkin, applesauce, a small amount of unsalted peanut butter or a bit of yogurt. Don’t use an excessive amount of these foods, however — just enough to make the salad more palatable. After a week or so, reduce the amount of coating; after two weeks, try eliminating the coating and see if the pig will still eat the salad.

Be patient with your pig as she adjusts to this healthy diet, and keep in mind that it’s extremely important for the pig to lose weight gradually. The reason: The pig can become quite ill if her body does not ingest enough nutrients. To compensate, the pig will begin processing her excess fat in large amounts, causing a condition called hepatic lipidosis that can be devastating and even deadly for pigs. Provide a balanced, low-fat diet, along with appropriate exercise, so the pig can lose weight the healthy way.