Exotic pets, rodents and birds

Help, My Piggies are Chewing Each Other's Hair!

Barbering, what is it and what causes it?

By Kirstin Key, Companion Animal Care Services, Copyright 2001

So you get a new piggy, quarantine her for two weeks, move her into a play area and let her get used to your current piggy. They get along great, and you move them into the same cage. A few days later, you come out to feed and notice that one of your piggies has short short hair now, that used to be long!!! What happened?

There are some people who will tell you that your piggies are battling dominance and this might be a humiliating thing to do to an animal that won't be submissive. This is certainly a safer way of 'marking your territory' than fighting, and it might be just as effective. When I've run sow pens I've often noticed it is only one animal that is not affected, meaning she or he is the one chewing on the other animals!

You'll usually see a former longhaired pig suddenly turned into a trimmed shorthaired pig, and uniformly so. Babies will often barber their mothers, or sometimes will do so to their siblings. Some will do so through cage bars if the unfortunate recipient happens to be lying close enough to reach.

Another school of thought is that the pigs eating the hair (obviously suffering no problems from the digestion of the high protein meal) is deficient in protein in it's diet. You can offer more hiding spots, more hay in their cage, and more greens, and sometimes it seems to stop, other times it doesn't appear to help. I think at some point it becomes a habit for bored pigs, much like twiddling hair or biting nails is for us.

You will most often not see any fuss from the piggies being trimmed, other than a pitiful squeak or a jump if a hair is literally pulled out. Other times this behaviour can be self-corrected by a cagemate that will not put up with this and will retaliate in his or her own way.

Some folks have tried a product called Bitter Apple, which is a chewing deterrant spray. Some animals appear to not be effected by the taste of bitter apple, so this may not work for you.

If your pig is by itself and in show coat (a wrapped longhair) and you find that you are suffering from pigs chewing themselves, let's talk about this. If you have ever had long hair and put it back in a ponytail, you can attest to the headache and discomfort when one hair is being pulled too tightly. Keep your piggy in hay, lots and lots of free choice hay, and this often will help alleviate chewing. Be sure to double check that no hairs are being pulled from the rubber bands, and that the wraps aren't so loose they are flopping, which can also irritate the piggy. Some pigs will chew no matter what, they despise wraps so much. Others just don't seem to care.

If you have questions or comments about this article, please email me.

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