Frequently Asked Questions about living with a mini-pig in Chicago

I have asked myself and questioned my motives to bring a mini-pig into our household. We are a family of five with busy schedules and full-time working parents. When after-school activities, playdates, extended work hours, and household maintenance has squeezed the last second out of the day, adding a new baby (pet) may seem mad.

Relatives and friends also question our sanity as to why we would choose such an exotic animal as a pet. After answering the same standard questions countless times, I’ve decided to put together this article to answer each one with enough clarity as to why we would take on this unique challenge.

Without further ado, please meet Hamilton, our new addition to our family.

Why a pig?

Throughout my lifetime, our family had all manner of pets: dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils, Guinea Pigs, rabbits, birds, fish, and even a ferret — some of them living harmoniously together across years of my childhood. After losing our cat, Rocky, to cancer, we held off acquiring another pet for almost four years. The kids were pleading for another pet. I started to research into a new pet six months before we added Hamilton to our family. Dogs, cats, goats, ferrets, and other furry animals were open for discussion. Then one day, a curious Google search for the top smartest mammals came up, and pigs made it as the 4th smartest mammal, right after apes. They are more intelligent than dogs and cats. Additional research on pigs and the different smaller breeds convinced me that a pig would bring a unique challenge to the family. I convinced the kids and wife with Youtube videos, photos, testimonials, and stories.

Where did you get it?

We acquired Hamilton from a breeder in Arkansas while returning from a road trip to the Crater of Diamonds State Park. We were not lucky enough to find a diamond but had a great time searching.

How much did it cost?

After extensive research over the internet and corresponding through email with several breeders, one from Arkansas had the best price. Conveniently, her farm was located within our return route from our road trip. The final cost of Hamilton was $350, with an initial deposit of $75. Other breeders were charging upwards of $3000, which included transportation (flight or ground transportation) for the safe delivery of the animal. Since we picked it up, we saved on transit charges.

What was included in the cost?

Hamilton was neutered and had his first set of 3 shots. It included a harness and leash.

What type of shots does it need?

There are specific shots required for pigs that protect them from parasites, viruses, and tetanus. Ivermectin (every 3 to 6 months) will protect him from parasitic worms. The Erysipelas shot will defend him from 3 different strains of the virus.

Can you catch diseases from it?

There is always a possibility of catching some kind of transmissible virus from an animal, including a pig, but is very rare. For instance, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 infection is suspected to be transmitted from an animal to humans. Pigs can catch colds from humans, and possibly other viruses. The H1NI flu originated from exposure to swine. Currently, Hamilton is virus-free. We suggest all visitors that want to pet him to wash their hands before and after petting him.

Can it get rabies?

Pigs are very resilient to rabies. There is not rabies shot explicitly made for pigs, but a shot made for dogs can be used. When they are four months of age, a rabies shot can be administered if desired. There is no guarantee that it is sufficient enough to protect them from rabies.

Why did you choose a male instead of a female?

The decision to get a male was centered on how pigs urinated. A male’s urination port is at his mid-belly, and urine would form a concentrated flow downwards into a neat spot. Female pigs urinate for their hindquarters, which can spray urine behind them. Since we will be raising Hamilton indoors with a litter box, it seemed to be the better choice for cleanliness.

What type of pig is it?

The breeder claims it’s a pure-bred Juliana mini-pig (or painted pig), but the coloration and pattern of his hair look like a cross between a Juliana and a Chipmunk pig. Juliana pigs are spotted while Chipmunk pigs have stripes. As he grows, his size and weight should indicate the origins of his breed.

How big will it grow?

Juliana mini-pigs will grow up to 65 lbs and stand about 14 inches high. He’s built like a bulldog with all his weight around his belly and jowls. Hamilton is gaining about 1.5 to 2 lbs a week. When we brought him home, he weighed 9 lbs. Currently, as of the publish date of this article, he weighs 28.6 lbs.

Is it dirty?

Pigs are one of the cleanest animals. They gained a bad reputation due to the way slaughter pigs are portrayed. Not being dirty does not equate to not being messy. Hamiton does make a mess when he plays with paper, and he tracks his litter around the house. He also tears up his bed and roots it, which pulls out the fibers. Anything that is plushy or stuffed with foam will be flattened if he can tear a hole in it.

Does it smell?

If males are not neutered, they would have a distinctive musty odor. Since Hamilton is neutered, he does not smell. He does have bad breath sometimes after eating and burping. Don’t be on the wrong end when he passes gas.

How do you clean it?

He takes baths/showers in the bathtub. A towel is required as a mat, so his hooves don’t slip. Use regular baby shampoo, so it doesn’t sting his eyes. Their skin becomes dry, so they should be bathed about twice a month. Afterward, some lotion should be applied to keep their skin from drying out. They can also get sunburned, so use some sunscreen if you plan to have him play in the sun for an extended time.

What does it eat?

Hamilton eats a specially formulated food for mini pigs mixed with fresh vegetables and fruits. Pigs are vegetarians, so no meat protein should be fed. He also eats nuts and grains. Low sodium and low sugar diet should be followed.

What shouldn’t you feed it?

Anything you shouldn’t feed to a dog, like chocolate. Do not feed pigs anything difficult to chew or something that can choke. No dairy products.

What type of snacks does it like?

Hamilton loves peanuts, especially the roasted peanuts in the shell (unsalted). He eats the shell and all. He loves plain Cheerios (it’s also an excellent treat to use for training). His all-time favorite snack is peanut butter, but we limit that to maybe once a week.

Does it shed?

No. Pigs do not have fur, but hair. They may have a hair “blowout,” which means they can go bald overnight, and then it regrows. Apply lotion and feed it a balanced diet to keep the hair shiny. Use a dog brush to help with any dander that may build up.

Can you walk it?

Yes. Use a dog harness and leash. A collar should not be used as it would choke him. Hamilton has a very thick neck with jowls that are involved in making all of the weird noises pigs make.

What kind of noises do pigs make?

Pigs squeal, squeak, honk, grunt, huff, bark, oink, whine, cry, and all other sorts of noises that can be surprising. When he’s running and zooming around, he barks like a dog. He squeals when you pick him up because he thinks that he’s either going to get eaten or going to the slaughterhouse (pigs are prey animals, and they seem to have a reflexive squeal when their legs are not touching the ground). His squeal is deafening, can reach up to 115 decibels, which is as loud as a supersonic airliner. I weigh him every week to track his weight gain, and I have to put on earplugs before I pick him up to weigh him. Hamilton makes a breathy huffing sound when he’s happy to see you and a crying and grunt sound when he’s mad. His cry sounds like he’s calling out “mama.”

Can it be housebroken?

Yes. Hamilton uses a litter box when needed indoors. We use compressed pine pellets that turn into sawdust to absorb the urine and mask the ammonia smell. A 40-pound bag of pine pellets are relatively inexpensive, between $6 to $9 per bag, and each bag will last for a month.

What do you use to clean his litter box?

We use a normal cat litter scooper and poop bags. We’ll pick up the poop from the litter box with the bags, then scoop any wet sawdust into it. We use one of those baby diaper trash cans to seal off the ammonia smell. We do not perform a full cleaning since we need to keep his odor in the box to remind him where he should do his business.

How did you train him to use the litter box?

At first, we had puppy pads all around, and once he did his business, we picked it up and put it in the litter box. He understood that was where he should go, and we started to remove the puppy pad. It took less than a week for him to learn.

Does he poop and pee outside?

Yes. When we walk him or let him run in the back yard, he will do his business outside. During a walk, he will poop and pee about 3 to 4 times compared to when he’s indoors, which is less frequent.

How old is it?

As of this writing, Hamilton is five months old, so he’s still a young piglet.

How long does it live?

Pigs can live up to 20 years, with an average life-span of 15 years.

Are pigs legal in Chicago?

Yes, pigs are legal to own as pets in Chicago, regardless of the size and weight. If you plan to slaughter pigs in Chicago, then that’s a different issue, which I will not go into detail.

Does it bite?

Hamilton does have teeth and will bite things, but will not go out of his way to bite you. While feeding him treats and if he’s very excited, you need to be aware of your fingers. If you hold the treat in front of his mouth, instead of trying to place it in his mouth, he will use his lips to grab the treat from you. Or you can set the treats in the palm of your hand and offer it. He will gently eat from your hand.

Does it chew things?

He will chew on things when he’s bored, so there are areas on our baseboards, walls, and doors that have been gnawed. We give him paper and cardboard to tear up. We also have dog toys that he can chew on.

Does it know any tricks?

Yes. Hamilton learns tricks reasonably quickly. His first trick was taught just hours after receiving him. He was able to twirl in place clockwise and counter-clockwise. Other skills are: sit, hop over obstacles, go under obstacles, shake, wave, moon-walk, and fetch a ball. He can find any food we hide from him and can pull ropes to activate mechanisms that release treats. Teaching him to fetch was the most challenging trick so far. Some tricks we are planning to teach him: lay down, roll over, play dead.

Does it like to cuddle?

Hamilton used to cuddle when we first received him. He would lay on the couch and watch TV with us, but after the visit to the vet, where he received shots, he has no interest in cuddling. Picking him up will result in high-pitch squeals. He will flop over if we rub his belly, which allows us to get very close to him. As he gets older and trusts us more, I’m sure he will like cuddling again.

Can it traverse stairs?

At first, Hamiton’s legs were too short, and he was too scared to go up or down the stairs. As we coaxed him with treats and after his legs grew, he is now able to run up the stairs, but still takes his time to go sideways down the stairs.

Where does it sleep?

He has a few dog beds that we bought, turned into blankets after he ripped out all the stuffing. He likes to roll himself into his blankets when he goes to sleep or naps. He sleeps in the hallway adjacent to the bathroom in the basement. He takes a couple of naps a day.

Does it run?

He will run in three specific instances. First, if he thinks you are going to leave him, he will run to catch up. When he gets the “zoomies” he will run around like he’s being chased by an invisible predator. And finally, he will run away if he does not want to go back in the house and you’re trying to grab him.

How did you train it to walk on a leash?

We had no trouble training him to walk on a leash. I think the breeder pre-trained him when he was a small piglet. When we hooked the leash onto his harness, he did not try to pull away. Little yanks on his leash will indicate him to move on or to get away from specific areas. He loves to go out for walks now.

Did you find a veterinarian or animal clinic that services pigs?

Yes. There is one in Chicago that specializes in pig care. They are located in Bronzeville and take care of all the pigs in the Chicagoland area.

Does it live in a cage?

No, it does not live in a cage. We only used the cage to transport him around when he was younger. He lives in our basement bathroom and the adjacent hallway, blocked by a gate when we are away or at night when he’s sleeping. At other times he’s roaming around the basement or on the main floor.

How do you transport it?

When he was younger, we used a cage. Now he sits or lays on the floor of the car in the back.

Do you still eat bacon and pork?

Yes. We still eat bacon and pork, but not when he’s around. And we do not feed him any meat.

Update: 04–28–2020

Hamilton is now 36.9 lbs and 6 months old. He’s gaining about 2 lbs a week. At this rate, he will hit 60 lbs at 10 months. As it gets warmer outside, he loves to stay in the back yard rooting for hours and exploring. We plan to buy a plastic kiddie pool and fill it up with water for him to splash around during hot summer days. It’s been difficult to teach him to lay down on command.

Update: 05-16-2020

I started to chart Hamilton’s weight gain to determine when it will start to plateau and predict his upper range. Currently, there are not enough data points yet.

Update: 10–28–2020

Hamilton is now over 100lbs when he turned 1 year old.

I will continue to update this FAQ with additional questions as they are asked.

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