California Potbellied Pig Association, Inc

Enrichment- Part I

    The American Zoo and Aquarium Association defines enrichment as “a process for improving or enhancing animal environments and care within the context of their inhabitants' behavioral biology and natural history. It is a dynamic process in which changes to structures and husbandry practices are made with the goal of increasing behavioral choices available to animals and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors and abilities, thus enhancing animal welfare" (AZA/ BAG, 1999).    

     Therefore, the main goal of enrichment should be to enhance your pigs’ environment to provide both mental and physical stimulation through the use of novel stimuli. Enrichment has become a very important aspect of zoo keeping and is regarded as a crucial part of animal husbandry- so much so now that it is considered as important as proper veterinary care and a healthy diet. Though the main efforts of enrichment programs have focused on captive animals in zoos, it is just as important to provide enrichment for domesticated animals. Enrichment might seem to be a daunting task, as people often assume it means spending a great deal of time making complicated puzzle feeders or toys for their animals. Although you can certainly spend hours designing new items, it is important to remember that the purpose of enrichment is to enhance your potbelly pig’s environment. Hence, enrichment can be something as simple as spraying a bit of perfume onto a few patio stones in your yard or hiding a few treats when your potbelly isn’t looking. Both of these enrichment concepts take very little time but accomplish the goal of providing your pig with novel stimuli; allowing your pigs to utilize their natural behaviors and to make choices about their environment. Because pigs are extremely intelligent, enrichment should not be viewed as an optional part of their care- it should be a seen as an integral part of proper potbelly pig husbandry and a crucial step to ensuring a happy and healthy porcine friend.

When to use enrichment     

     The goal of enrichment should be to promote a stimulating environment for your potbelly pig. In general, I have found it works well to prepare one enrichment item per pig per day. This is not always possible, and even if enrichment is provided every three days or once a week, it will still help to enhance your potbelly pigs’ well being. Pigs are incredibly intelligent and curious, and benefit greatly from a regular enrichment schedule. Find what works for you and your pig, and be prepared to stick with it.    

     In general, when putting out enrichment items, it is important to only place them in the environment for a set amount of time and then REMOVE them, as many items loose their novelty if left in the environment. I generally leave the items out for up to one day. In addition, try to create enough enrichment items to where you can place them out on a rotating schedule. Enrichment items that are used too often will also loose some of their novelty for the pigs. Variety is key to creating a proper enrichment program.

How to use enrichment     

     It is important to consider the pig’s natural history when designing enrichment items. Pigs are natural foragers and rooters, spending a majority of their time in the wild searching for their food. By providing enrichment, you should be promoting the use of your potbellies’ natural abilities.     

     When you first introduce a new item to your pig, your pig may choose to ignore it or may choose to investigate it thoroughly. Even if your pig completely ignores an item, don’t immediately make the decision to discontinue using that particular item. Try putting it out several more times, and you might find your pig eventually decides that he or she likes that item. Even if they don’t seem to particularly enjoy an item or only spend a small amount of time interacting with it, I would still continue to use that item occasionally. Remember that any change to the environment that allows your pig to make behavioral choices (either investigating or ignoring an item) have served the intended purpose of enrichment.

Using enrichment to modify behavior     

     The most important goal of enrichment should always be to enhance the wellbeing of your pigs. Enrichment should not been seen as method to stop your pig from doing other undesirable, yet NORMAL behaviors. Rooting is a behavior exhibited by potbellies that is often described as an unwanted behavior done only by pigs that become bored in their environments. This is absolutely untrue and does an incredible disservice to pigs. Rooting is a NORMAL, HEALTHY behavior for pigs. Please do not expect the implementation of an enrichment program to stop your pig from exhibiting this normal behavior. Your pig should always have access to root, and this too can be considered a form of enrichment.     

     Enrichment CAN however, help stave off UNhealthy behaviors that are not normal and are exhibited by pigs out of boredom in a stale environment. It is important though to realize that the best way to deal with unhealthy behaviors is to PREVENT them from happening in the first place. Begin an enrichment program with your pig as soon as you acquire him or her and BEFORE your pig starts exhibiting unhealthy behaviors. Remember, the goal of enrichment is to enhance the well being of your PIG. Please do not ignore the needs of your pig and wait until your pig has developed unhealthy behaviors before deciding to implement an enrichment program.

Types of enrichment    

     There are virtually no limits on how many different enrichment items you can come up with. There are a few things to keep in mind when designing and implementing enrichment items. Safety should always be your number one concern when choosing enrichment items. Certain items that I use for my pigs are relatively risk-free and can be left with the pigs unsupervised while I am away at work or elsewhere. Other items may carry larger amount of risk. Some of these items can still be fantastic enrichment for the pigs, but need to be constantly supervised to ensure that the pigs’ safely is not compromised. Pigs can accidentally (or intentionally!) ingest small items and can become tangled in rope or string. Please select enrichment items carefully after fully considering all of the health and safety aspects of each item.    

     Many of the enrichment concepts used for pigs involve food items. Please be careful with selecting food items for treat dispensing toys. Be sure to only use healthy foods, and be careful not to add too much extra food to your pigs’ diet through enrichment.    

     Remember that enrichment does NOT have to be complex! Some of the easiest enrichment items are also some of my pigs’ favorites. Also, don’t assume that since you have one type of toy that your pigs won’t benefit from another similar toy. I have many different versions of the treat dispensing rolling toys, and even though they all are basically the same, their size and shape are different, which provides for more variety for the pigs. I would encourage you to be creative with your enrichment program. Remember that the ultimate goal of enrichment is exactly that- enriching the lives of our porcine companions!

Part II- Enrichment Concepts

Pigs are extremely sociable, enjoying good company,

even if it belongs to another species.