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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

I have introduced the topic of well-reasoned swine-phobia in past blogs and it is now time to expound upon this premise.

1. Pigs are smart. I think on some level the general public realizes the cognitive capacity of swine, simply because our literature has told us so. Everyone knows the story of The Three Little Pigs — that third pig was a crafty one, wasn’t he? At the end of that story, what they don’t tell you is that the third little pig then hunted down that wolf, stole his identity, and went on a Caribbean cruise with the wolf’s bank account and then tarnished the wolf’s professional reputation by placing some morally questionable material on the wolf’s work laptop.

Other more benign swine literary figures include Babe the sheep herding pig, and Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, both of whom, while cute, still demonstrate disturbing intelligence.  However, don’t forget the most telling of all: Snowball and Napoleon, the power-hungry and corrupt swine from Animal Farm.

Aside from pop culture and literature references, I can also provide you with hard science to prove my point. A study in 2009 published in the journal Animal Behaviour illustrated how smart pigs are. By using a mirror, the pigs in the study learned how to use reflective images to investigate their surroundings and find food. This sort of visual learning demonstrates a level of cognitive understanding specific to only certain types of animals such as dolphins and apes.

2. Pigs have a large capacity to learn. This sort of goes along with Premise #1, but I have an example to illustrate this specific point. One day in vet school during a sophomore animal husbandry class, a small group of pigs was let out into the arena. It was a hot day, and during break someone took the hose off the wall to spray down the hogs. The hose was then placed back on its holding rack and class continued. Soon, one of the pigs walked over to where the hose was hanging, took it off the rack, and squeezed the nozzle in its mouth to spray more water. Some people thought this was cute and entertaining; I was horrified. The pigs were watching our every move.

3. Pigs are omnivores. Pigs can live off almost anything. They have thrived for centuries off food and refuse that humans throw away. They can root in the woods when there are no human handouts. They are practically a self-sustaining population.

4. Pigs have an excellent memory. This combined with their capacity to learn makes them virtually unstoppable, except for the fact that they have hooves. I believe it’s difficult to drive a car or operate a machine gun with hooves. 

In conclusion, I must go back to Animal Farm by George Orwell, one of my favorite authors.  If you haven’t read this classic novel, make sure you do so. In this story of a barn full of animals that overthrow the farmer, it is the pigs that become the leaders. As the political powers of the pigs increase, they become corrupt and resort to editing the list of commandments all the animals wrote together at the start of their freedom.

At the beginning of the revolt, the first animal commandment was, "All animals are created equal."  After years of pig ruling, the commandment changes to, "All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others." 

The first pig I see walking upright toward me, I’m running for the hills.

Dr. Anna O’Brien

Image: pigs in clothing are disturbing by Heather Champ / via Flickr

Comments  3

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  • Great Post!
    07/13/2012 07:17am

    What a great post! It's entertaining, literary and includes critters!

    It's also a great reminder that I haven't read "Animal Farm" for many years and need to pick it up again.

    Happy Friday, everyone.

  • Pigs are smart
    07/13/2012 08:11pm

    Yes, Orwell knew what he was talking about.

  • pigs
    07/13/2012 09:23pm

    Love this post. As for Animal Farm, I have read the book and seen the film, and it is fantastic.

    I have always wondered about the Jewish and Muslim prohibitions of eating pork. Much has been said about this. It is not, I think, that swine are in some way unclean. Pigs are more like us than any of our other food animals. They are our genetic relatives, more than sheep or cattle. This can be most uncomfortable. Eating pigs, if one thinks about this in a particular way, is close to cannibalism. I must say that I myself eat pork happily, despite my Jewish upbringing. This does, however, bring me up against the question of whether I should be eating any animals at all. I cannot imagine eating a cat or a dog. This may be about love. We love these companion animals and they love us. I find it hard to envision love and pigs together. They are surely intelligent but also have some of the worst features to be found in humans. I expect love is more important than brains. I hadn't really thought this until thinking about this post. This is a thought in progress.

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