What Do Pot Belly Pigs Eat? A Comprehensive Guide for Farmers and Producers

What Do Pot Belly Pigs Eat? A Comprehensive Guide for Farmers and Producers

Medically Reviewed By: Hannah Varnell, D.V.M.

While pot belly pigs are known as opportunistic feeders with a healthy appetite, they need a well-balanced, nutritious, and controlled diet to maintain their body size, reproductive health, and overall productivity.

The American Mini Pig is a breed standard that encompasses features of size, health, temperament, color, and some conformational traits. Pot Belly, Potbellied, or Pot-belly pigs are included in this breed standard, as are many backyard favorites such as Mulefoot, Ossabaw, Guinea Hog, Kune Kune, Meishan, and Juliana breeds. Many pet pigs are combinations of breeds originating from Europe and Asia over the last century to create more manageable-sized hogs in biomedical research. Pot Belly pigs are one of the most prominent genetic lines in this standard; many American Mini Pig “breeds” have incorporated this lineage, keeping pot belly pigs all in the family with mini pig owners.

Pot belly pigs are a charming, social, and intelligent domesticated dwarf swine breed first introduced to the United States from Southeast Eurasia in the 1980s as exotic pets. Today, pot belly pigs are popular and dependable companion animals and valuable additions to farms nationwide.

Inadequate nutrition can lead to reproductive issues and stunted growth, weakening a pig’s immune system, making them more susceptible to disease and increasing the risk of zoonotic and infectious diseases spreading on the farm. Furthermore, malnourished pot belly pigs may exhibit abnormal behaviors, such as aggression, due to frustration or discomfort caused by hunger or nutrient deficiencies.

Balancing your pot belly pig’s diet, promoting regular exercise, and controlling their portions will keep your animals healthy and ensure they reach their full health potential while reducing human and environmental impacts.

In this guide, we’ll cover pot belly pig dietary requirements, nutritional needs, and best practices for feeding, drawing from evidence-based veterinary research to help farmers make informed decisions.

What Do Pot Belly Pigs Eat?

Providing your pot belly pigs with a complete, nutritious diet is essential for their health, body condition, growth, fecundity, and overall well-being. A well-balanced pot belly pig diet consists of four key components: pellets, fruits and vegetables, hay and grass, and clean water.

  • High-quality Pot Belly Pig Pellets: One of the primary sources of nutrition for pot belly pigs is high-quality pig pellets. These specially formulated feeds provide essential vitamins, minerals, and protein that pot belly pigs require to thrive. When choosing pig pellets, look for ones designed explicitly for miniature pigs to ensure the correct balance of nutrients.
  • Limited Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: Pot belly pigs love fresh fruits and vegetables, but make sure to serve them in moderation as treats. Excellent, nutritious options include apples, carrots, leafy greens, cucumbers, zucchini, and bell peppers. Frozen vegetables may have added salt, so check the ingredients before serving them to your pig. A 2022 study suggests fruit and vegetable supplements for two weeks post-weaning may spur the development of a more diverse microbiome and improved intestinal health, but more research is needed.
  • Hay and Grass: Forage is essential to a pot belly pig’s diet. Offering them access to high-quality grass hay or fresh grass can help fulfill their fiber needs and provide mental stimulation through rooting and grazing. Make sure the hay or grass is free of mold and contaminants. Avoid high calories hays like alfalfa or other legumes unless the pig is lactating or gestating.
  • Limited Grains: Excessive grain consumption can lead to obesity and other health issues. Opt for cooked, unprocessed oats and barley to optimize digestibility, and serve grains in moderation.
  • Clean Water: Water helps digestion, regulates body temperature, and prevents dehydration. Your pigs should always have access to fresh, clean water free of microbial contaminants, excessive minerals, and high total dissolved solids.

Foods and Plants That Are Toxic For Your Pig

Do not feed your pig the following:

  • Grains:
    • Wheat bran
    • Food pellets not designed for pot belly pigs
  • Mineral Additives:
    • Salt
    • Nutmeg
  • Fruits:
    • Elderberries
    • Apple leaves and seeds
    • Apricot leaves and seeds
    • Pear leaves and seeds
    • Peach leaves and pit
    • Nectarine leaves and pit
    • Cherry leaves and pit
    • Plum leaves and pit
  • Legumes:
    • Raw lima and kidney beans
    • Castor beans
  • Vegetables:
    • Tomato leaves and vine
    • Avocado skin and pit
    • Corn stalks
    • Rhubarb leaves
    • Potato leaves and green areas
    • Broccoli roots and seeds
    • Cabbage roots and seeds
    • Turnip roots and seeds
    • Mustard roots and seeds
    • Cassava roots and leaves
    • Parsnip tops
    • Parsley celery tops
  • Nuts and seeds:
    • Acorns and oak leaves
    • Almond leaves and seeds
    • Raw cashews
    • Flaxseed
  • Herbs:
    • Giant hogweed
    • Buckwheat
    • St. John’s Wort

Common Nutritional Concerns in Pot Belly Pigs

While understanding what pot belly pigs eat is essential, it’s equally important to be aware of common nutritional concerns and how to address them:

Obesity: Obesity is a prevalent issue among pot belly pigs, and it can lead to various health problems, including joint pain, diabetes, and heart issues. To prevent obesity, control your animals’ portions and limit high-calorie treats, including fruits.

Dental Health: Pot belly pigs have unique dental requirements because their teeth continue to grow across their lifespan. You can help them maintain healthy teeth by providing appropriate chew toys and fiber-rich foods.

Gastrointestinal Issues: Digestive problems can arise if a pot belly pig’s diet lacks fiber. Ensure they have access to hay or grass to promote healthy digestion and prevent diarrhea or constipation.

Nutritional Imbalances: Pot belly pigs need the right balance of fat, protein, minerals, and vitamins to maintain their health and body condition. Vitamin supplements are only necessary if your pigs aren’t on a pellet feed designed for pot belly pigs. If you’re unsure, review your pig’s diet with your veterinarian to ensure they get the proper nutrients in the right proportions.

Is My Pot Belly Pig Overeating? How to Spot Obesity

Many farmers are concerned about their pigs becoming obese, which can cause lameness, joint pain, hoof problems, and other medical issues. Feeding your pot belly pig the right portions is as vital as ensuring their diet’s quality and nutritional composition. Here are common signs of obesity in pigs to watch out for:

  • Rolls of fat around the animal’s face and neck.
  • Difficulty finding the pig’s ribcage and hip bones.
  • Belly dragging on the ground.

Pot belly pigs can vary in size, with adults weighing up to 200 pounds. Monitor your pig’s body condition regularly and consult your veterinarian if you think they are under or overweight.

How Much Water Should Pot Belly Pigs Drink?

Your pigs must have easy access to fresh, clean water. Generally, healthy adult pot belly pigs should drink around a gallon of water for every 5 pounds of dry feed. However, their intake varies considerably based on age, diet, seasonal changes, and environmental temperature. Lactating sows require even more water to keep up with milk production. Sick pigs suffering from fevers or diarrhea may also require more water.

How Much Should I Feed My Pot Belly Pig?

As a fundamental rule for non-breeding adult pigs, you should feed them approximately half a cup of maintenance food for every 25 pounds of their weight. For instance, if your pig weighs 75 pounds, give them 1.5 cups of food divided into two daily meals. Remember that this is a general recommendation, and you should adjust it based on your pig’s body condition. If you observe your pig developing excess fat around their face or if you have difficulty feeling their hip bones, it may indicate obesity, and you should reduce their food intake. Conversely, if your pig feels underweight, consider increasing their food portion.

Sows may benefit from increased nutrition in the weeks leading up to birth. A recent study indicates that feeding sows high-energy diets with a high starch-to-fat ratio increased piglet birth weight and sow body weight and reduced harmful cholesterol levels in both sows and piglets.

For piglets up to 6 weeks of age, offer a starter ration of food, allowing them to eat as much as they want. From 6 weeks to 3 months of age, gradually limit their intake of starter food to approximately 1 to 1.5 cups per day. As they approach 3 months, gradually transition to a mini-pig adult diet.

Guidelines for Feeding Pot Belly Pigs

Now that we’ve covered the basics of what pot belly pigs eat, let’s dive into specific feeding guidelines to ensure your pigs receive the proper nutrition:

1. Control Your Pig’s Portions

Pot belly pigs are prone to obesity, so portion control is essential. Monitor their weight and adjust their food intake accordingly. As a general guideline, an adult pot belly pig should consume around 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pig pellets daily, divided into two meals.

2. Give Your Pigs Fruits and Vegetables as Treats

While fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy treats, they should make up no more than 10% of a pot belly pig’s daily diet. Overfeeding fruits and vegetables can lead to nutritional imbalances and weight gain.

3. Provide Ample Grass and Hay

Ensure your pot belly pigs have access to fresh hay or grass daily. Giving them opportunities to graze and root around contributes to their mental well-being and supports healthy digestion.

4. Make Sure They Have A Clean Feeding Environment

Maintain a clean feeding area to reduce the risk of contamination and disease. Regularly clean your pig’s food and water containers and store feed in a cool, dry place to prevent spoilage. Dirty pig environments have been associated with reduced growth performance and increased manure gas emissions.

Pot Belly Feeding Guidelines (1)

Nutritional Deficiencies in Pot Belly Pigs

Protein Deficiency: Insufficient protein intake or lack of essential amino acids results in poor growth, inefficient feed conversion, and increased fat deposition in growing and finishing pigs. In lactating sows, it reduces milk production, excessive weight loss, and delayed return to estrus. All essential amino acids should be consistently available to optimize protein use, ideally through free-choice access or mixed with grain.

Fat Deficiency: Certain essential fatty acids, like linoleic acid, are crucial for pigs. A deficiency manifests as hair loss, scaly dermatitis, skin necrosis on the neck and shoulders, and poor health in growing pigs. However, standard swine diets usually provide adequate essential fatty acids.

Mineral Deficiencies in Pigs:

  • Calcium or Phosphorus Deficiency: Causes rickets in young pigs and osteomalacia in mature ones, leading to bone deformities, lameness, and fractures. High milk-producing sows are particularly vulnerable.
  • Salt Deficiency: Poor growth and reduced feed intake are common, sometimes accompanied by hair and skin issues.
  • Iodine Deficiency: Results in hairless or weak/stillborn pigs. Soybeans and soybean meal can contain goitrogens, potentially causing goiter if not supplemented with iodine.
  • Iron and Copper Deficiency: Reduces hemoglobin formation, causing nutritional anemia, with symptoms such as pale mucous membranes, skin edema, and listlessness. Iron deficiency is more prevalent.
  • Zinc Deficiency: This can lead to parakeratosis, especially in pigs fed high-phytic acid diets with excessive calcium.
  • Selenium and Vitamin E Deficiency: Causes sudden death in young pigs and increases vulnerability to iron toxicosis in nursing pigs.

Vitamin Deficiencies in Pigs:

Most commercial pig pellets are vitamin-fortified, so you shouldn’t need to supplement vitamins if your feed is well-balanced. Nevertheless, deficiencies can still occur. Here are some of the signs of common vitamin deficiencies:

  • Vitamin A Deficiency: Affects eyes and epithelial tissues, impairs reproduction in sows, and can lead to blind or malformed piglets.
  • Vitamin D Deficiency: This can result in rickets, stiffness, weak or bent bones, and paralysis.
  • Vitamin E Deficiency: Impairs reproduction and the immune system, often with signs resembling selenium deficiency.
  • Vitamin K Deficiency: Causes prolonged blood clotting times and hemorrhages. Moldy feed or excessive dietary calcium can interfere with vitamin K.
  • Riboflavin Deficiency: Impairs reproduction in sows and leads to slow growth, poor appetite, skin issues, and possibly cataracts in growing pigs.
  • Niacin Deficiency: Causes digestive tract inflammation, diarrhea, weight loss, and skin problems in pigs.
  • Pantothenic Acid Deficiency: Results in a “goose-stepping” gait, ataxia, and noninfectious bloody diarrhea in pigs.
  • Choline Deficiency: Can lead to incoordination, abnormal shoulder conformation, and potential kidney damage.
  • Biotin Deficiency: Causes excessive hair loss, skin issues, eye exudates, mouth membrane inflammation, and hoof problems.
  • Vitamin B12 Deficiency: This can lead to hyperirritability, voice issues, hindquarter pain, and impaired hematopoiesis in neonatal pigs, often with fatty livers.

Symptoms of malnutrition generally include reduced appetite and stunted growth, which can be attributed to numerous other causes. If your pot belly pig isn’t eating or is displaying new, problematic behaviors, consult your veterinarian.

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Medical Reviewer Profile: Dr. Hannah Varnell is the founder and CEO of Wellfarm Veterinary Consultants, a large animal veterinary practice serving livestock production farms across Virginia. A former global health and agricultural development researcher, Dr. Varnell is a pioneer in practical approaches to herd health. She completed her veterinary degree at North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine and her residency in Production Management Medicine at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.