Google “teacup pigs” and click the Image search tab. You’ll end up with results that are filled with tiny pigs, some no larger than a beer stein or, per the name, a teacup. Something like this:
They’re tiny, fuzzy, pink-ish, and altogether, cute. They’ve been around for decades but their popularity was rekindled in 2009, when celebrity-at-large Paris Hilton purchased a teacup pig which she has since named Princess Piglette. The pigs, which range from $500 to $5,000, seemed like the perfect pet; Hilton told Hello Magazine that she always wanted a pet pig, and this one fit the bill: “I went online and found these tiny teacup pigs that stay under twelve pounds when they’re fully grown. They’re incredibly smart, lovable, really clean and litter trained.” Many others followed Hilton’s lead and bought little piggies of their very own.
But they what soon learned is that for all that money, you get much, much more than you expected for. When buying a teacup pig, purchasers are often told that the pigs don’t grow much, if at all, often maxing out at about ten to twelve pounds (to echo what Hilton said). Unfortunately, that’s a lie — a big, fat lie. Here’s what Princess Piglette looked like shortly after Hilton got her, via Hilton’s Instagram.
And here’s the same pig a few years later, via her Pinterest account:
Same pig, different size. That’s because it’s a potbelly pig — it’s what teacup pigs turn into when they grow up. Or, to be accurate, it’s what they were from the beginning because there’s no such thing as a teacup pig — despite what those selling teacups claim.
The teacup pig scam goes back decades, with its origins lost to history. The ruse is straight-forward — breeders sell baby pigs as if the animals were full-grown, and the buyers are often left unaware of the truth. Per the Best Friends Animal Society, this can end up being cruel to the animal, too “Breeders may send pigs to their new homes with inappropriate feeding instructions that stunt pigs’ growth, leading to fragile bones that break easily, as well as many other health problems. These unfortunate pets are essentially starved at key points in the body’s growth cycle, at the hands of their unsuspecting new families.” And ultimately, the pig is going to grow anyway. Like most other animals, potbelly pigs will grow even if fed very little — they just won’t grow properly. Even if you starve the animal, you end up with a large, sickly pig on your hands.
If you don’t follow the feeding “instructions,” though, you’ll end up with a healthy pig — one which typically weighs 100 pounds (and twice that on the high end) and is a voracious, indiscriminate eater. As a result, many potbelly pig owners give up their pets, often without a new home lined up. Anna Key, a vice president of the North American Potbellied Pig Association, told CBS News that “an estimated 90 percent of pigs adopted in the U.S. are later taken to a rescue or sanctuary.” (To Paris Hilton’s credit, Princess Piglette is not one of the 90%.)
All of these homeless pigs have resulted in the creation of many non-profit shelters for potbelly pigs, such as the perfectly named “Lil’ Orphan Hammies” in California. Unfortunately, the space in those shelters is typically at or near capacity, so the best advice is simple as Modern Farmer wrote in 2014: “never buy a teacup pig.” Because if you really want a pet potbelly pig, as Modern Farmer points out, the shelters will gladly let you adopt one — in part because of the teacup pig scam, they have more than they can deal with.
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