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How Intelligent Are Pigs?


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The world as we know it is actually full of different creatures that are a lot more intelligent than we think. This is especially sad when we realize the fact that we accredit dogs and cats as the most intelligent companions we could have in our lives, when there are so many more intelligent creatures out there that we treat with indifference.

So, the purpose of this article is not to just throw fun facts your way, but instead it’s meant as a reminder that every animal is special in their own way and that they deserve to be acknowledged as such. Just to reiterate our beliefs however, this is also not meant to be a pro-vegetarian or pro-vegan article as we do not condemn anyone for consuming meat nor do we have any particularly strong beliefs regarding it.

We would like to tackle this topic from an objective point of view, showcasing the fact that not only are pigs intelligent creatures, but that they may actually shock you with how much brain function they can muster, to the point where they could even be considered smarter than most other creatures out there.

So, before we go any further, let’s just answer the question that is most likely on everyone’s mind as they’re reading this, aka:

Are Pigs Smarter than Dogs and Cats?

Are Pigs Smarter than Dogs and Cats
Photo by National Pork Board / pork.org

This is actually a very controversial question to ask because there are a lot of nuances to it that come in to play. We can offer you a broad answer based on the most recent studies that were made on the topic but in actuality there are plenty of studies that seem to indicate the opposite.

For now though, we will use the example that came from a 2019 study which showcased the cognitive differences between four-month-old piglets and puppies and everything that they observed from their interaction.

First and foremost, it would appear as though they are no different from one another in that they responded the same way to human cues. While this sounds like an open and shut case, this study forgot to mention several key factors that shouldn’t be dismissed so easily.

Pigs and Dogs
Animal Aid / twitter.com

Even though they didn’t respond to human cues, we have plenty of proof to suggest the fact that pigs actually share a lot of our emotional, mental and social indicators, meaning that they actually react a lot more like we do most of the time than most other creatures on this planet.

Although this study was highly inconclusive by the end of its runtime, what we do know for a fact is that several other studies showcased the fact that not only are pigs highly aware of their surroundings and of the social cues that happen around them, but that they are also cognitively complex on top of that.

What this means is that while they may be a bit dismissive of social cues, they can still tell them apart quite easily, and they also have the capacity to become a lot more social with one another than dogs or cats have ever been.

Last but not least we would like to mention the fact that pigs have also been proven to have memory skills similar to our own, meaning that they can easily keep track of everything that happens around them for a decent period of time after it happened.

Pig Cognition and Communication

Pig Cognition and Communication
Kameron Kincade / unsplash.com

We mentioned previously how pigs are technically a lot more gifted when it comes to discerning social cues than cats or dogs, but another interesting part about this is the fact that they can actually even go as far as to solve problems using their skilled performance and conceptual understanding of tasks.

This is important to not especially when considering the fact that it was fully documented as of 2020 when a team of professionals from the Pennsylvania State University managed to get ahold of four pigs.

These four pigs were then used to fiddle with a joystick-operated video game, and despite the fact that it seemed like a lost cause at first, after multiple tries the pigs managed to solve the puzzles on the screen by using their snouts to play around with the joystick.

When it comes to their communication though, pigs are a lot more primal than we thought at first sight. It turns out that despite the fact that they can discern social cues and properly analyze the way that people act around them, they still choose to be less vocal about it, with one exception, food.

Little pigs in the barn
Photo by Bnenin / stock.adobe.com

When food is involved, it turns out that every domesticated pig breed is an opera singer in disguise because they immediately start ramping up their vocal cords going on a full concert for the treats.

This is also important to note because while food was not involved, the pigs appeared to not react to social cues all that much and especially to the requests of the team, but when food was added to the mix, they immediately understood what they had to do.

On top of that, the scientists also made sure to measure out their intelligence by observing the way that they interacted with one another, specifically between the individuals and their offspring.

What they realized from this is the fact that the sows that interacted a lot more with their piglets ended up with a lot more of them surviving over the first couple of months than the asocial members.

Problem-Solving Skills

Pigs Problem-Solving Skills
Horizon Hog Farm / facebook.com

Yet another study was actually conducted in Budapest to spot whether pigs could be considered an alternative to cats and dogs as pets for the whole family and as far as they could tell, it would appear as though the requirement for this role is that the animal should have an above average level of problem-solving skills.

We all know that most companion animals rely on human oriented behaviors in order to “fix” the problem that they encounter. If they see another dog making their master uncomfortable, they will most likely react to it, if they break something they will look to their master to see if they did wrong, etc.

The results for this test were actually surprising to say the least as the scientists discovered the fact that pigs actually turned to humans just as much as dogs did, and in some cases, they tried to get their confirmation even more than dogs or cats did.

But the key difference in their behavior here is related to the fact that if dogs don’t get the confirmation, they just stop doing what they’re doing or they move on from it, but pigs on the other hand tend to continue to try and solve their task until they reach a positive conclusion.

So, all of this combined seems to indicate the fact that pigs are actually better at problem solving than dogs and the great majority of companion pet.

Tool Use

Pigs Tool Use
Kameron Kincade / unsplash.com

Back in 2015, a study was actually conducted by an ecologist that wanted to see whether a family of critically endangered pigs could even use tools and to his surprise, the test was a roaring success. According to him, the pigs not only picked up the tools willingly, but they actually used them almost immediately to dig up within the zoo enclosure, a never-before seen fact to say the least.

But that’s not all, he also stated that besides the three Visayan warty pigs that started digging using their tools, the females actually ended up using the sticks on the side to build nests for their piglets and themselves.

What’s even crazier about this is the fact that the ecologist also noticed the fact that the piglets, despite only being a couple of months old, were already starting to mimic the adults’ behavior, trying to use the tools for themselves.

This in turn has pretty much proven the fact that not only are pigs capable of using tools to solve problems but they can also teach one another how to use them.

Emotional and Social Intelligence

Pigs Emotional Intelligence
Photo by Fotokunst63 / stock.adobe.com

In order to test the emotional intelligence of pigs, a group of scientists came together and conducted the following experiment. They took ahold of several trained pigs that were specifically taught to expect a reward at the end of the survey and they placed them in the same pen as a handful of untrained pigs.

Within minutes, both the trained pigs and the untrained pigs were waiting patiently for the treats, signifying the fact that the untrained pigs were able to pick up on the emotional response caused by the possibility of the treats which made them anticipate them too.

This study also showcased the fact that pigs can actually take decisions collectively which implies the fact that domestic pigs are either “proactive” or “reactive” when it comes to their emotional responses. As far as their social intelligence goes, the scientists actually uncovered a very surprising fact about pigs which is the fact that they actually often times take advantage of one another to get to their goals sooner.

In order to test this out, they released a pig into a foraging arena filled with a bunch of hidden buckets of food. The pig was allowed a couple of minutes to forage around before the second pig would be released.

Pig farm
Photo by Krumanop / stock.adobe.com

The important thing to note here is the fact that the pig that came after the first one immediately skipped all of the places that the pig ahead of them had foraged, immediately picking up where the first one had just finished. This continued even more so as more and more pigs were released into the arena, to the point where the final pig actually didn’t even look at the foraged places, directly chasing the pig that was the farthest away from them to get in front of them.

If that wasn’t enough of an indicator of their intelligence, yet another interesting fact was observed by the scientists as the next day, when they tried the experiment again, they discovered the fact that the pigs that were exploited had changed up their pattern to make it harder to be taken advantage of.

This was actually one of the most conclusive test results that we’ve ever received based on pigs and it is one of the best indicators of the fact that pigs are actually a lot smarter than they look.

Pigs Social Ingellicence
Photo by Phoenix Han / unsplash.com

But there are still a lot of people that would dismiss pigs’ intelligence because of the common misconceptions that are always spread around regarding their behavior and their “cleanliness” which is often times associated with intelligence.

We consider cats to be intelligent for example because they take care of themselves and they always make sure that their fur is clean as day. Dogs are also generally very clean although they do jump in a mud pile every now and then.

Pigs on the other hand are considered to be “nasty” and “dirty” which often times equates to them being dumb. This couldn’t be farther away from the truth according to the following statements:

Stereotypes Over Facts

Pigs Stereotypes
Pig farm in Vampula / Photo by kallerna
/ wikipedia.org

During this section we would like to specifically cover the fact that according to most people out there, regardless of whether they’ve even seen a pig in their life or whatnot, pigs are actually very dirty creatures that rarely ever move around and when they do, they just get dirtier than before.

This is a very common misconception that has spread like wildfire over the centuries and it is one of the reasons as to why so many people can’t accept the fact that pigs are actually just as smart as any other household pet.

Everybody believes that pigs are just dirty creatures, that regardless of their upbringing they will constantly jump in dirt and get mud all over their bodies. But, are dogs any different?

Train the pigs
Pig farm in Vampula / kallerna / wikipedia.org

Any dog owner will let you know instantly that if there is a dirty puddle in the middle of the road and the dog isn’t on a leash, chances are that you will have to start prepping up for an early bath that day because they can’t possibly resist the temptation.

At the same time, an Associate Professor of Animal Sciences from the Purdue University stated in an interview that she had grown her own pigs at home and she tried to make their life as clean as possible while also giving them a plethora of different toys to mess around with.

As a result, according to her, the pigs are always extremely clean, and on top of that they are always looking forward to getting their much-needed bath at the end of every day. She also stated that we are not supposed to judge the pigs for being dirty when nine out of ten times it isn’t the pigs that caused this to begin with, but us. If we don’t take care of our dogs, they will eventually get dirty and they will stay dirty.

That happens with most animals out there with the exception of cats. Cats are very clean creatures that always make sure that their fur is healthy as long as they are healthy themselves.


How Intelligent Are Pigs
Ben Mater / unsplash.com

So, just to reiterate what we found out today, are pigs actually smarter than cats and dogs? According to the studies we covered here today, they are at least as smart as them if not smarter, depending on how you would like to actually measure intelligence.

But even if we were to dismiss all of these facts and studies, we can still look at the simple statistics that were showcased by simply examining the pig’s brain capacity. While not all pigs are going to be as smart as one another, according to most scientists out there, pigs are actually considered to be the fourth most intelligent animal in the world right now.

They are only surpassed by the chimpanzees, the dolphins and the elephants, and while each and every one of these animals is smart on their own, they have all been acknowledged as intelligent by the masses while pigs are still often times shunned at.

Smart pigs
Photo by Mali Maeder / pexels.com

This is rightly so very unfair and as far as we can tell, this stereotype is very much so engrained into our society to the point where it’s hard to educate anyone on the intelligence of pigs without getting ignored. Luckily, it appears as though the masses are slowly yet surely learning this fact as more people own pigs as pets now than ever before.

Again, we don’t expect everyone to consider pigs to be a replacement for your dogs just because they’re technically more intelligent than them. We also don’t expect people to turn vegan because of this fact. The purpose behind this topic was to discuss the intelligence of this animal and why it is such a controversial topic to debate over in the first place.

We respect you regardless of whether you are a meat eater or if you turned to veganism or vegetarianism for health or ethical reasons. So, until next time, thank you for reading and we hope that you learned something new today from this short article.

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About Leah Shelton

Involved in the “green” arena for over 20 years, Leah has worn many hats due to her diverse experience and knowledge in the field. In addition to writing for Agronomag, she’s also a sustainability consultant with a unique perspective on eco-friendly farming practices. Learn more about Agronomag's Editorial Process.

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