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The Ziffels were ahead of their time

Although dogs and cats dominate the pet market, more and more less traditional species are being kept as companions. Even miniature pigs, like the Vietnamese pot-bellied, once considered strictly farm animals, are gaining in popularity among pet owners.

In Vietnam, pot-bellied pigs typically live with their owners in the family's hut, serving as pets as well as a source of income. They are threatened as a species in their native country because of war.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, pot-bellied pigs were imported into the United States and Canada, primarily for zoos. A few began to show up on farms and in rural back yards. Today, a lot of people are cross-breeding miniature pigs.

Pot-bellied pigs are playful and affectionate and very family-oriented. They like to talk to their owners, using various grunting sounds. In order to be sure of getting a pure-bred pot-bellied pig, potential buyers should know what to look for and be willing to shop around. Prices range from as low as $200 to more than $1,200.

Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs are not the smallest of the miniature pigs; they weigh 40 to 70 pounds at maturity. A pure-bred pot-bellied pig is dish-faced, with a protruding belly and sway-back. It is usually all black. Its tail is straight, with a bristle on the end.

Pot-bellied pigs live about 10 to 15 years. Either sex can have tusks; these must be trimmed every year or two. Baby pigs need to be checked for intestinal parasites at about three to 11 weeks and vaccinated against the common infectious diseases of swine. Because iron deficiency is common in piglets, they also must be checked for anemia and treated, if necessary. Like dogs and cats, adult pigs should receive booster shots annually, more frequently if there is a risk of exposure to other pigs. Both males and females should be neutered, between 2 and 6 months old.

There are several high-quality, brand-name pig chows available, including a piglet formulation called "starter" feed. These may be supplemented with fresh vegetables and small amounts of fruits and bread.

Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs can be litter-trained. Like kittens, piglets learn much more easily if the mother was litter-trained. Males (boars) tend to froth at the mouth, especially when eating, and they produce a strong body odor. All pigs can be quite noisy when upset.

It is very important to keep baby pigs on a firm, non-slippery surface. Indoor-outdoor carpeting can help reduce injuries.

For a list of the veterinarians in your area who specialize in exotic pets, call the Pinellas Animal Foundation at 347-PETS.

Karen Ann Wilson is a certified veterinary technician and a free-lance writer; information for this article was provided by Victoria L. Clyde, D.V.M., Exotic Animal Veterinary Referral Practice, St. Petersburg, a member of the Pinellas Animal Foundation.

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