Delaware Seeing an Increase in Feral Pot-Bellied Pigs From Unwanted Pets

by Craig Garrett
Potbelly Pig - stock photo

The number of feral pot-bellied pigs in Delaware is on the rise, thanks to pet owners releasing them into the wild. The state Department of Agriculture is warning people to be on the lookout for these animals.

These abandoned pets are a menace to society. They tear up lawns and gardens, disrupt other wildlife and carry diseases that can be deadly to humans. Every day, agricultural officials in Kent and Sussex counties receive another call about these sightings of massive animals in rural areas, public parks, and people’s residences.

In recent months, about a dozen of these animals have had to be killed by state veterinarians after they were caught. These cuddly pets, who can live indoors or outdoors, are marketed as micros, teacups, minis, pockets and pygmies. At two months of age they only weigh about 35 pounds – the same weight as a mid-sized adult dog.

They can grow to an impressive 200 pounds, and live for more than 20 years. Many owners find themselves abandoning their pigs after they become too big or have large litters of babies. Without a home, these pigs often end up in nearby yards, fields, and parks–something officials spoke out against this week.

“I love them, don’t get me wrong,’’ state veterinarian Dr. Karen Lopez told NPR affiliate WHYY. “They’re adorable, they’re precious as tiny little piglets.” However, that cuteness recedes as the hog grows. “But as they get older they’re not as attractive to adopters. And they may have already developed behavior problems. So the rescues don’t want to take these animals. But they’re not food animals, so livestock auctions won’t take them either.”

The irresponsibility of some pig owners is costing the animals dearly

Lopez can only speculate as to how many potbellied pigs are roaming around Delaware. “I think that there are more out there than I know about,” Lopez said. “And that’s what’s so concerning to me. I only know about the ones that people call about. Could there be 100 pigs out there? Could there be 200 pigs out there? I don’t know. Maybe it’s not that much, but I think I do think there’s more than we know about when we do get a call from a constituent.”

After pigs are caught by livestock welfare investigators, they are brought to animal shelters. Unfortunately, local shelters only take in cats and dogs, so if the owner cannot be found–even after public notices have been posted–the staff is forced to put down the pigs.

“The three of us that worked on this were totally emotionally exhausted and tearful for an entire week,’’ Lopez explained. “It is a shame because pigs are paying for the irresponsibility of their owners.”

The Department of Agriculture is now requesting that all pig owners spay and neuter their pets to control wild populations from expanding. If you are finding it difficult to care for your pot-bellied pig, they urge you to call 302-698-4561 for guidance instead of releasing the animal into the wild.