Pig Housing & Handling

Evidence-based refinements for pigs.

In a laboratory setting, it is important to provide housing that allows expression in a wide range of species-typical behaviors while also meeting research goals. Substandard housing can lead to aggression, stereotyping, and anxiety. 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 improve 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

  • 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.

Blood Sampling

NC3Rs Pig Blood Sampling: Cranial Vena Cava, Ear Vein, Saphenous Cannulation, External Juglar Vein

Further Reading

If you know of other resources that you think should be featured on this page, please contact us at contactus@na3rsc.org.

See Next

Non-Human Primates: Housing & Handling