Potbellied Pigs: Are the Lardiest Pets a Health Hazard?

Barbie is a highly intelligent and affectionate child. She knows her colors, sleeps in her own bedroom and curls up at night with her head in her mother's lap.

But she eats like a pig.

She is one — a potbellied pig, that is. Barbie is one of the hundreds of thousands of such domesticated animals that live "the life of Riley." Or Wilbur, Babe and Porky.

In the wild, hogs carry a host of diseases and parasites, including cholera, tuberculosis, salmonella and anthrax, according to wildlife ecologists at the University of Florida.

But breeders maintain that, if properly immunized, domesticated pigs pose no threat to humans.


"They are a wonderful pet for people with the patience of Job," said Janie Finck of the North American Potbellied Pig Association. "They like to be part of the family. But you have to keep them occupied. They won't go in the corner and sleep all day like a dog or cat. And they can be destructive."

That is why many municipalities, like New York City, ban such pets. But animal control officers have turned a blind eye to one couple who raise a housebroken porker alongside their two children.

"There are a variety of animals that are prohibited in New York City for health and safety reasons, including pigs," New York's Department of Health said in a prepared statement. "In situations where families have animals that could potentially pose a risk, the health department works with them to relocate the animal to a suitable home outside the city."

But so far, health officials have not received any complaints on the live-in pig in New York, and they say health risks are "not much more than a cat or dog."

Like One of the Kids

Lisa and Joel Cummings of St. Albans, Queens, told the New York Post this week that their Vietnamese potbellied pig, Romeo, "runs around the house," and is "very calm and does well with the kids."

Their 200-pound oinker eats three pounds of pellets a day and is walked daily on a leash. The children love him.

Pigs — even the domesticated potbellied kind — are on a long list of pets that are prohibited from living in New York dwellings. That also includes ferrets, which are "known for their unpredictable behavior, and are prone to vicious, unprovoked attacks on humans," according to the New York City Department of Health.

"We compile this list mainly because this is a dense urban environment," said Sarah Markt, a health department spokesman. "There are some exceptions. You can keep chickens, because they are not terribly disruptive."

Bees, on the other hand, would pose their own danger, she said. Think stingers.

Animal experts say living with any large animal can pose hazards to small children, and parents should exercise caution with a swaggering tub of lard — even a domesticated pig.

"Pigs can get big and that may very well be a concern," said Carina Blackmore, the public health veterinarian for the state of Florida. "Animals can transmit disease to people, but pigs are no more dangerous than any other kind of livestock."

Pigs can carry ringworm or bacteria that cause intestinal illnesses in humans. Families with young children should practice good hand washing, according to Blackmore.

Finck, who rallied her town of Bradenton, Fla., to change ordinances, allowing pet owners to keep pigs legally, agrees that pet pigs are not for everyone, and especially not for city dwellers.

She owns four potbellied pigs, two of them living indoors.

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