Did you know that pigs can play video games, smell things 5-7 miles away, recognize human faces, and solve multiple-choice questions? Prepare to have your porcine preconceptions punctured with ten surprising facts about pigs.
Table Of Contents
- #1 Pigs Are Highly Intelligent
- #2 Pigs Have Their Own Language
- #3 Pigs Have Personalities
- #4 Pigs Are Super Social & Make Friends With Other Animals
- #5 Pigs Are Inventive With Play
- #6 Pigs Have Long-Term & Episodic Memory
- #7 Pigs Are Very Clean
- #8 Mother Pigs Sing to Their Babies
- #9 Pigs Are Empathetic
- #10 Why We Are So Wrong About Pigs
- In Closing...
This article and video cover surprising facts about pigs while dispelling common misconceptions. Pigs are highly intelligent, social, clean, and empathetic beings with individual personalities and their own language. Our misconceptions about pigs largely stem from their behavior when confined and stressed within the animal agriculture industry. Free from such conditions, pigs are able to to engage in play, socialize, and exhibit their individuality.
Read below (and/or watch the video above) for more incredible facts about pigs!
Did you know that pigs can play video games,1 smell things 5–7 miles away,2 recognize human faces,3 and solve multiple-choice questions? Pigs often get mischaracterized as smelly, filthy, and gluttonous. We use terms like “chauvinist pig,” call a messy room a “pigsty,” and say “I’m sweating like a pig” when pigs can’t even sweat!
It’s time to puncture your porcine preconceptions with ten surprising facts about pigs. tweet this
While pigs have long demonstrated their complex cognition,5 every time a new study emerges, we seem surprised all over again by their intelligence.
Remarkably, they are also able to assume what other pigs can or can’t see, and what knowledge other pigs possess—an indication of a high level cognitive capacity called “visual perspective taking.”12
For example, pigs understand when another pig is “in the know” about a secret food site and will follow them to get a treat.13 In turn, the pigs “in the know” will practice “tactical deception” by avoiding the hidden food while other pigs are around.14
Their ability to use mirrors is a sign of sophisticated cognitive processing and an indication of self-awareness once thought to be limited to humans, other primates, elephants, dolphins, magpies, and African Grey parrots.15
Pigs have even been observed using tools, an ability which scientists believe may have been passed down from a mother to her offspring and mate, who were also seen using tools.16
Pigs have their own vocal language of oinks, squeals, screams, and grunts. Research has found that “[t]he sounds they make convey a wide range of information such as [their] emotional, motivational and physiological state[s].”21
There are around 20 distinct sounds in pigs’ vocal communication that we humans have recognized thus far.22 They make short grunts when excited, squeal when afraid, and scream when they’re hurt.23 Male pigs sing courting songs to females,24 and mother pigs can recognize their piglets by sound alone.25
The sounds pigs make vary with their personalities26—which brings us to the next fact: pigs have personalities!
Anyone who’s known a pig won’t actually be surprised to hear they have personalities. Pigs have individual likes and dislikes,27 just like we do. Some pigs are more outgoing, while others are more shy. Some pigs are eager to explore their surroundings, while others prefer to hang around familiar places.
While it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see personality in pigs, studies have shown they have distinct personalities.28 When interviewed for one study, even farmers raising pigs for slaughter described the pigs’ various personality traits.29
But to really see porcine personality in all its glory, visit a farmed animal sanctuary where pigs are free to live their best lives!
Pigs are very social animals and form tight bonds. Like dogs, pigs run up to greet friends of any species with wagging tails and happy noises.30 The complexity of their social structure and awareness of other individuals is similar to other highly intelligent animals.31
Pigs can differentiate between members of their own species as early as six weeks old32 and—as we’ve already learned—can also tell the difference between humans.33 Pigs prefer familiar friends over strangers,34 and extend their social circles to other species.
(Note: be sure to watch the video above for pigs socializing and befriending other animals, starting at 4:46)
Pigs play in many of the same ways dogs do. They wrestle, play fight, jump, and chase. They do that bananas-excited zooming around thing anyone with a dog is more than accustomed to. They play with toys, with water, with each other.
They’re even inventive with play,35 like figuring out how to mudslide down a mountain just for the sheer joy of it! (Note: be sure to watch the video above for adorable evidence of mud-sliding pig play, starting at 00:54)
But it’s not just fun and games—play is essential to the development of all animals, humans included. Pigs raised with the opportunity to play are more cognitively and socially developed than those confined for animal agriculture.36
Even newborn piglets have good short and long-term memories37—with some scientists going as far as saying astonishingly good.38 Pigs also exhibit what’s called episodic memory,39 a type of long-term memory specific to one’s personal experiences throughout one’s life.40
Our episodic memory is what gives us a sense of self through time. It’s our autobiographical memory—our personal history, rather than facts and figures we’ve memorized.
Studies have shown pigs understand the passage of time,41 remember specific events,42 and can anticipate future events43—all of which indicate they may possess “a sense of self through time” and are capable of “planning for the future.”44
Perhaps the most persistent misconception about pigs is that they’re dirty. This impression is mainly due to their practice of wallowing in mud to cool down.
As I mentioned, pigs can’t sweat. So they have to use mud or water to regulate their body temperature. Believe it or not, pigs are very adept swimmers!
In reality, pigs are one the cleanest animals. When given the choice, pigs never “go to the bathroom” where they live.45 Even piglets as young as six days old make sure to “go potty” away from their bedding.46
It’s only when confined in small spaces that pigs have no choice but to eliminate where they live.
Perhaps the most endearing fact about pigs is that mother pigs sing to their babies while nursing.47 Scientists believe mother pigs sing these songs to guide their piglets’ nursing so that it synchronizes with their milk production.48 That way, they get the most out of every meal.
Mother pigs can determine which of their piglets is in the most need based solely on the calls they make, and will respond to their cries differently and more intensely than those from piglets who are doing fine.49
Pigs are devoted mothers, and fiercely protective of their babies. This powerful bond is destroyed in the animal products industries, where piglets are taken from their mothers within days or weeks of their birth.50
We already learned that pigs are capable of assuming what other pigs know, and what they can or can’t see (perspective taking). Research shows they also share and match emotional experiences with one another.52
We’ve all experienced someone else making us feel uneasy with their nervousness, or lifted up with their joy. Just like us, pigs pick up on each other’s fear, excitement, nervousness, or delight.
Given all of these incredible facts, why do we have so many misconceptions about pigs? Well, our perception of pigs largely stems from our treatment of them as “food animals,” and their resulting behavior and characteristics when confined and stressed within the animal products industries.
Within these industries, pigs are deprived of the space, socialization, mental stimulation, clean environment, and emotional stability they need to thrive. As we learned, pigs perform admirably on intelligence tests, are super social, and have strong memories.
However, their social and cognitive abilities are impacted by their environment, just like humans and other animals. Pigs raised in the animal agriculture industries suffer cognitive and long-term memory impairment,53 display behavioral abnormalities,54 and are even driven mad by the conditions.55
We know pigs are every bit as sensitive, sentient, and emotive as dogs—and highly intelligent. Yet for most people, it’s horrifying to imagine a beloved dog in the same conditions we subject pigs to.
These incredible beings deserve more from us. And the good news is, we can choose to no longer exploit them. For guidance on taking pigs off of your plate, check out the free How to Go Vegan guide!
I hope you enjoyed learning these surprising facts about pigs! Please share this article and video to educate others about the truly amazing nature of pigs.
To support educational content like this, please consider making a donation. Now go live vegan, and I’ll see you soon.
— Emily Moran Barwick