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Page last updated at 13:14 GMT, Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The rise of the micro-pig

These pigs are small, not far away

They're tiny, can be house-trained, keep themselves clean - and oink. But is it wrong to have pigs as pets?

Paris Hilton has one, the Beckhams have two and it's been widely reported that the goody bags at the Golden Globe include vouchers for a micro-pig of one's own.

Standing as little as 12 inches high at maturity, these pocket-sized porcines are the latest celebrity pet craze.

12-18 inches tall at maturity
Registering with Defra required
Can be housetrained

In the UK, at least, the breeder Jane Croft, owner of Little Pig Farm in Cambridgeshire, is the driving force behind the animal's popularity. She has a long waiting list of prospective owners and has enjoyed masses of column inches of coverage in the two years she has been breeding.

"I'm really good at marketing," she says. "They are such great animals - highly intelligent, very clean, contrary to popular belief. I love pigs."

Just like a cat or dog, they can be house-trained, she says, and there are other advantages.

"There is no allergic reaction because they have hair and not fur."

Jane Croft and her pigs
Ever-decreasing piggies through selective breeding

Ms Croft, who has had a range of occupations in her life including taxi driver and veterinary nurse, says she was inspired to start her business by the example of another non-specialised breeder, and by the success of the animals in the US.

The mini-pigs in Ms Croft's care might get as tall as 16-18 inches at maturity but many are shorter. She has one called Moonpig which is a mere 12 inches high and is currently thought to be carrying a litter. Black pigs are less popular with buyers, she says.

The tiny sizes are achieved by taking the smaller pigs from litters and then breeding them, although Ms Croft says she also chooses animals for their colour and health. To get her breeding programme off the ground, she travelled the UK buying small pigs.

But there are some who are not convinced a trend for having pigs as pets is a good thing.

A particular small pig with a dog
Not the usual farmyard bunch...

Kirsty Bayley, pig herd manager at the Institute for Animal Health, is getting an increasing amount of calls asking about the phenomenon.

"They are farm animals, they shouldn't be kept as pets. They are not overly domesticated. They need to be kept in groups. They are not solitary animals."

Ms Bayley suggests the minimum number for the wellbeing of a group of pigs should be about 10.

There are also concerns that their normal lifestyle will be distorted if they are kept in an ordinary family home.

"Pigs are naturally rooters. They started out as forest animals. If they are kept in a house they are going to be destructive.

"They need to be able to show patterns of natural and normal behaviour. They are not going to get that."

Ms Croft does not agree that the pigs can't be pets, and she says she vets every single potential owner herself.

Spotted pig with dog
... but the pigs get on well with dogs, says the breeder

"It is a long term commitment. You can't keep them in the house all the time. They have got to have access to a garden. The ones I have in the house use a catflap. It is not right to keep a pig in a house permanently."

She is also aware of the pig's need not to be alone, and says she always tries to sell them at least in pairs. But she still feels they can thrive in groups smaller than 10.

And having kept pigs for 12 years, she is confident they can happily function as pets.

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