5 Incredible Facts about Pigs

Empathetic, highly social, and deeply intelligent are not what come to mind for most people when thinking of pigs. But these animals are more complex than most would think.

Jul 5, 2023By Chelsea Pinkham
facts about pigs

Pigs are often thought of as dirty animals. The name “pig” is often used to describe someone who is greedy, selfish, or messy. However, there is more to these creatures than meets the eye. Because pigs have traditionally been viewed as mere livestock, studies on pig cognition and behavior are only beginning to scratch the surface.

Still, there is a great deal of evidence that pigs are both socially and cognitively complex animals. Learning just what pigs are capable of might inspire us to treat these animals better.

Pigs can play simple joystick video games

Sniffing pigs

Pigs are incredible at problem-solving. In fact, they consistently perform well at mazes, puzzles, and other cognition-related tests. These animals are also highly trainable with the use of rewards-based training. One especially impressive study is that of the joystick “video game”. Animal behavior researchers taught pigs Omelette, Hamlet, Ebony, and Ivory how to manipulate a joystick with their snouts. The objective was to use the joystick to move a small cursor through a simple maze and offscreen. The machine would then dispense a treat for the pigs. After a great deal of training and preparation, all four pigs were able to successfully play the “game”.

Just like humans, the pigs varied in skill and success rates. When the treat dispenser broke, the pigs continued performing merely for praise from the researchers. While the simple game wouldn’t be considered complex to us humans, these findings are a big deal! They show that pigs are capable of tool use, object manipulation, and an understanding of cause and effect at an advanced level.

Pigs’ memory can parallel those of apes

piglet outside

Ever heard the saying “an elephant never forgets”? Well, it turns out that pigs are not fast to forget, either. These animals possess incredible memory skills. One study shows that when given an option between crates with differing lengths of confinement, pigs remember which crates would result in their being confined for longer, and preferred crates that resulted in a shorter period of confinement. This indicates that pigs have the capacity to anticipate the future and have a concept of time.

Pigs also demonstrate a strong ability to create spatial maps or remember the layout of a location long after visiting it for the first time.

Mother pigs “sing” to their young

pigs piglets sleeping

One of the first things that young pigs learn to remember and discriminate against is their mother’s voice. Because wild pigs live in groups and often give birth around the same time, it is essential for piglets to be able to discriminate the sound of their mother’s vocalizations. Piglets will come running to the sound of their mother’s grunts.

Pigs have at least 20 recognized vocalizations, including a soothing grunt that mother sows will use to calm their piglets during nursing. These long, drawn-out grunts almost sound like “singing”. Pigs are incredibly social animals, and their mothers set them up for the social skills they need. Many pigs in a sanctuary setting will keep a relationship with their mother for the rest of their lives.

Pigs are far cleaner animals than most might think

Pig in mud

Because of pigs’ love for mud, many people assume them to be dirty animals. But swine love mud for a good reason! Pigs are actually incapable of sweating. Wallowing in the mud is how they stay cool, and it also serves as a thick “sunscreen” for their bare, exposed skin. Those tiny, bristly hairs don’t offer much protection from the sun!

Pigs have an incredible sense of smell, and they can detect water underground from quite a distance. The muscular, round end of a pig’s snout is also called a “disc”, and pigs will use this tool to root up the earth until they find the water below. They might be muddy, but pigs prefer not to live in filth. Pigs actually prefer to eliminate away from their nest, and will typically eliminate in the same place. They’re tidy animals by nature and prefer a clean nest to sleep in at night. Many pigs will spend hours organizing and “tidying up” their nests every day!

Pigs like to make physical contact while they sleep

Kunekune pigs sleeping

Who doesn’t love to cuddle? Pigs are snugglers by nature. In fact, this behavior can save their lives! It’s thought that pigs prefer to sleep making physical contact so that the rest of the herd will be quickly alerted if one senses a predator. Still, it’s a pretty adorable tendency.

Pigs will often bond closely with a specific herd mate and choose to pair up with their companion at night. They can often be seen sleeping snout-to-snout, gently grunting in their sleep. Domestic pigs are frequent nappers, with most taking several naps throughout the day. Most pigs actually spend about an equal amount of time between sleeping and being awake.

Chelsea Pinkham
By Chelsea Pinkham

Chelsea is an animal advocate, rescuer, and aspiring rewards-based dog trainer. She is a Fear Free Certified Pet Professional with over a decade of animal experience. Chelsea has worked at animal shelters, sanctuaries and with many private dog training clients. She immerses herself in canine behavior education as she pursues her CPDT-KA dog training certification. In her spare time, she trains dozens of fun tricks for her and her partner’s rescued adventure cat, Iggy!