In a laboratory setting, it is important to provide housing that allows expression in a wide range of species-typical behaviors while also meeting the goals of the researcher. Substandard housing can lead to aggression, stereotypic behavior, anxiety and depression which will, in turn, affect research outcomes. Understanding the animal’s natural behavior, enables us to build quality environments that meet physical, behavioral and social needs. Proper design is critical for improved health and welfare, both of which impact scientific validity.

Making changes to current housing standards can be challenging especially since facilities may be at very different levels of current housing. Start making small changes from where your facility is currently to improve. Also keep in mind that some of the recommendations below (e.g., providing certain types of environmental enrichment) can change some specific experimental models.

Before implementing housing changes, be sure to consult the relevant scientific literature and consider the requirements of your scientific model. Each facility may require an individual approach to increasing housing standards as much as possible.


Key Natural Behaviors of Pigs

  • Social with tightly bonded social groupings and dominance hierarchies
  • Foraging behaviors such as rooting, grazing, and exploration
  • Diurnal with long periods of rest/sleep & long periods of activity
  • Highly intelligent
  • Social facilitation (synchronization of activities such as eating, sleeping, manipulating materials)


  • Stable social groupings
    • If adult pigs must be mixed use pens designed with extra space, getaway areas/barriers, & management techniques
    • If pigs must be singly housed, allow physical contact through wire mesh or similar
  • Floor pens with rough surface flooring and straw/shaving/sawdust bedding substrate to prevent slipping and promote rooting
    • If facility limitations prevent the use of such bedding, plastic or rubber mats can be used
  • Pen large enough to accommodate a defecation area separate from the feeding area
  • Behavioral management
  • Positive reinforcement, socialization, & habituation training for routine handling/procedures
    • Staff should receive proper training before implementing these procedures.
  • Robust enrichment schedule including multiple rooting, chewing, and play opportunities.
    • Key enrichment characteristics: edible, chewable, investigable, and manipulable (e.g., snout-operated pellet dispenser)
    • If possible, enough enrichment materials should be provided for all pigs to access them simultaneously to avoid aggression.
  • If possible, outdoor access with an activity area such as access to a pool and rooting area filled with bark and wood chips.

Photo credit to Americans for Medical Progress.

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