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Safe Cohabitation Considerations For Pigs

Two pigs touch snouts outdoors.
Lizzie and Felix come nose to nose at Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary!

This resource has been fully reviewed and updated by a member of The Open Sanctuary Project’s staff as of October 13, 2021

Because every resident is a unique individual, it’s difficult to offer specific guidance regarding safe cohabitation with members of other species. However, there are certain species who may be more likely to safely cohabitate than others, and in some cases there are species combinations that are best avoided entirely due to potential safety risks or care needs that are too different. In order to make responsible, informed decisions about living arrangements and social groups for any species at your sanctuary, it’s important to consider who they are, generally, as a species, what their needs and preferences are, and also to consider who they are as an individual. Additionally, you’ll want to think about any safety risks they could potentially pose to another species and vice versa. Below we’ll discuss important things to keep in mind when considering living arrangements and social groupings involving pigs. In addition to the information below, you’ll need to consider the specific needs of the individuals you are considering housing them with.

Social Considerations

If you’ve ever spent time with pigs, you probably know that they are social animals who enjoy spending time with their pig friends and sleeping in communal nests. Wild and feral pigs live in small matriarchal groups called sounders. These groups typically consist of 1-6 females and their offspring. Wild and feral male pigs tend to be more solitary, but in a sanctuary setting where residents are neutered and spayed, both males and females commonly form strong bonds with other pig residents. With this in mind, we recommend giving pig residents the opportunity to live with other pigs whenever possible. However, it’s important to offer residents enough space and resources- overcrowding and competing for resources can result in unhealthy group dynamics.

As social animals, pigs living in isolation can become bored and depressed. Ideally, pigs should live with other pigs, but if this is not possible, it will be important to identify ways to meet their social needs, which may include companionship with a member of a different species.

Further Reading
Sometimes you need to consider separating an individual from their companions due to a health issue. You can read more about considering alternative living arrangements due to a health concern here. Also, be sure to check out Creating An Enriching Life For Pigs for enrichment ideas to utilize during times when someone must be away from their companions.

Dietary Considerations

When housing pig residents with another species, it will typically be necessary to separate the two during meals. Pigs can move quite quickly when they are excited to eat, and, especially with large breed pigs, this is a prime time for accidental injuries if a resident of another species gets mixed up in the excitement of mealtime. Separation during meals will also be necessary to ensure that your pig residents don’t consume more food than they should or food that is not specifically designed for them. Similarly, consuming pig pellets may not be safe for non-pig residents. 

In addition to pig pellets, forage plays an important role in a pig’s diet. When feeding pigs hay, grass hays, such as timothy or bermuda, are best. Legume hays are generally not a good choice because they are often lower in fiber and higher in calories, protein, and calcium than what pigs need. Therefore, housing pigs with individuals who require legume hay can be challenging and arrangements would need to be made to prevent pigs from regularly consuming the legume hay.

Some residents, such as ruminants and equines, rely on salt or mineral blocks (or loose mineral formulations) in order to get important nutrients. These sources can be very dangerous to pig residents because pigs are very vulnerable to salt poisoning. Salt licks or mineral supplements left out in the rain can create pools of briny water that, when consumed by pigs, can result in salt poisoning. In addition to concerns about salt poisoning, you’ll also want to consider other possible toxicity issues related to supplements provided for other residents. Some mineral feeders will be better able to keep pig residents away than others. We recommend talking to an experienced pig veterinarian about the specific salt or mineral supplementation in question so you can understand the specific risks and make an informed decision about whether or not having it in the same space as your pig residents is advisable. Even if you are confident that the feeder will prevent them from accessing it, keep in mind that accidents happen and a broken feeder could result in your pig residents gaining access to the supplement. Your safest bet may be to house your pig residents separately so that the other residents can have access to the supplementation they need without worrying about the risks it poses to your pig residents.

Providing drinking water (and keeping it clean) can be a bit more challenging with pigs than other species because pigs are notorious for spilling and flipping smaller water containers and getting into larger ones. During times when they have access to mud, pigs can quickly turn clean drinking water murky with one dunk of their muddy snout. You’ll want to keep all this in mind when considering safe cohabitation. You’ll need to provide water sources that work for everyone, and you’ll want to consider if other residents will be discouraged from drinking freely if pigs are constantly dirtying available drinking water.

For more information on your residents’ dietary needs, check out our species-specific Daily Diet, Treats, And Supplements resources.

Housing Considerations

Pigs need ample space both to avoid unhealthy social dynamics and also to allow for enough space to forage. Some species or individuals may not be safe in areas this expansive. Rooting is a natural pig behavior, so it should not be discouraged, but without enough space, pigs can easily destroy pasture vegetation. If they share a space with other residents who rely on grazing, this could pose a serious issue. Additionally, rooting can leave the terrain very uneven, which could be difficult for other species to safely walk on.

Proper ventilation is imperative for a pig’s respiratory health. In the winter, you’ll want to consider if you can provide the necessary ventilation for your pig residents while also keeping residents of other species safe and comfortable. During cold weather, pigs will often burrow into deep nests with their companions for additional warmth. A pair of pigs cuddled together in a deep nest may be able to stay comfortably warm in a space that leaves someone else, a goat resident, for example, shivering in the cold.

In the warmer months, mud and/ or water sources are necessary to help keep pigs cool. You’ll want to consider if these pose any safety risk to other species before allowing them to live with pigs.

For more information on your residents’ housing needs, check out our species-specific Creating A Good Home resources.

Safety Considerations 

When considering mixed-species social groups, be sure to consider any potential safety risks. We don’t recommend housing pigs with farmed bird residents due to the possibility that the pigs could hurt the birds, even accidentally. There have been reports of birds being killed in a sanctuary environment by pigs. While you may think that the risk to birds is directly linked to the pig’s size, this is not the only concern. It’s true that large pigs could accidentally trample a smaller bird resident, but piglets can pose a potentially greater risk to birds. Some of the reports of bird residents being killed by pigs involved piglets who were trying to play with a bird resident who flew into their living space. Feral pigs also pose a significant risk to birds. While adult domesticated pigs may pose less of a risk to birds, you should always exercise caution where possible when it comes to protecting resident lives and be mindful of the potential consequences of species cohabitation. For these reasons, we do not recommend housing birds with pigs, especially feral pigs or piglets.

We also generally advise against pigs living with dogs. While some pigs and dogs have gotten along well, this is not always the case, and a dog could seriously injure a pig, especially a smaller individual. Pigs are prey animals and housing them with a dog could result in undue stress and potentially dangerous situations. In fact, even if you know a pig and dog get along well, we recommend they only be together while supervised because there have been reports of dogs unexpectedly going after a pig with whom they previously got along fine.

Regardless of who they live with, if you care for male pig residents, be sure to consider any risks associated with their tusks. Even the most docile pig could injure another resident with a swing of the head if they have sharp tusks.

When considering safe living arrangements, in addition to considering any safety risks associated with physical interactions between individuals, also be sure to also consider the living space itself. There may be features that are important to include for certain species that do not typically pose any safety concerns, but the introduction of a pig could change that. Pigs are incredibly strong and curious and may take it upon themselves to rearrange a living space or could inadvertently do so by scratching against a moveable object. Depending on the objects involved, this could lead to safety issues. For example, consider the risk posed to sheep or goats if a pig resident moves or tips a freestanding hay feeder while they are trying to eat from it.

Consider The Individuals

In addition to understanding who pigs are and what they need as a species, be sure to consider the specific individuals in your care- thinking about their unique personalities and preferences as well as their health care needs. For example, you may find that an older, more docile pig resident is a better fit for some species than a younger individual who is more energetic.

There’s a lot to consider when figuring out social groupings for sanctuary residents, and things can get even more complicated when you start thinking about how different species will do together. Be sure to consider the needs of all species and think about whether or not you can meet everyone’s needs and keep everyone safe in a mixed-species group.

SOURCES:

About Pigs | HSUS

Potbellied Pig Behavior And Relationships | Best Friends 

Updated on December 10, 2021

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