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The Case for Adopting (Not Buying) Guinea Pigs

Published: 10/17/2016 | Author: HappyCavy | Updated: 11/6/2017

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Adopted shelter guinea pig

Rosie the guinea pig was abandoned in North Portland and rescued by
The Portland Guinea Pig Rescue

I adopted a guinea pig from my boss a few months ago, and since then I’ve been desperately trying to find him a cage mate. I tried going through a guinea pig adoption agency, and they were terribly unorganized…. After about a 2 month struggle I gave in and went to a pet store.

It seems like many are against that, why? If they’re subjected to such poor conditions (like the one I adopted that was crammed in a small, poor ventilated box, in the bottom corner of empty cages with no hay or pellets), why wouldn’t one try to care for these abused animals? I guess if people keep buying, the store will keep selling?

Why are some people against getting guinea pigs from pet stores? Thank you!


Hi, Angelyce!

You ask a great question. It’s one we hear from many people when they’re deciding whether to buy or to rescue.

As you know, HappyCavy is a strong supporter of adopting guinea pigs over breeding or buying them in a pet store.

Before we begin, though, I think it’s important to highlight the goal behind adopting animals from a rescue organization rather than from a large retailer. And that is to stop the support of irresponsible animal breeding.


PetSmart store front

Source: Flickr

You see, large retailers like PetCo and PetSmart rely on breeders for a continual supply of live animals to sell. Each time a pet is bought from a large chain store, a new one must be provided by a breeder to take its place. As forum user ILoveMillie says, “When you ‘rescue’ a guinea pig from the pet store, you’re not rescuing the poor female guinea pig who now has to breed again and again to produce more babies.”

By adopting animals from local rescue organizations instead of large pet stores, you’ll be supporting the rescue and rehabilitation of the animals that slipped through the cracks at these breeders and big-box retailers.

Many may say it’s an uphill battle; nevertheless, it’s a battle worth fighting.

The Biggest Problem with Breeding

GuineaLynx (a.k.a, the “Guinea Pig Bible”) sums it up nicely: “There are far too many guinea pigs and far too few good homes. Given the large number of guinea pigs already needing homes, the responsible pet owner will not add to the population.”

From inevitable pregnancy complications (like hypocalcemia and dystocia, to name a couple) to the questionable practices employed by a largely unregulated breeding industry, buying from pet stores is a far too irresponsible practice when there are hundreds — if not thousands — of guinea pigs rescued each day by animal welfare shelters across the world that need loving forever homes.

Long story short: Buying guinea pigs from pet stores supports the irresponsible, short-sighted and selfish industry of for-profit animal breeding.

This isn’t to say you should love your store-bought guinea pig any less. And I don’t want you to think we are personally attacking you. But this an important question that we feel is best answered thoroughly and plainly.

So let’s move on to the sordid details, shall we?

Big-Box Retailers Rely on Breeders to Make a Profit

Guinea pig crowded in dirty cage

“Breeder” guinea pig cage conditions

Big-box pet stores like PetCo and PetSmart rely on breeders to provide them a constant supply of guinea pigs, hamsters, fish and other live animals to sell.

Our argument is that large retailers should not be in the business of selling live animals, as the opportunity for negative ethical and moral outcomes arise when suppliers are not thoroughly vetted. Abuses and “bad apples” far too easily fall between the cracks.

Case in point: In 2016, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) conducted an investigation into Holmes Farms, a Pennsylvania breeding operating churning out guinea pigs and other animals to be sold at Petco, PetSmart and Pet Supplies Plus. Despite whatever negative opinions of PETA you may have, the investigation unearthed shocking and seriously disturbing evidence of wanton abuse and neglect that may compel you to take action on PETA’s anti-cruelty campaign against PetSmart.

Are you bothered by that story? We are, too. Unfortunately, there are countless more.

Imagine: If these are just the stories uncovered, how many other animals right now are suffering under the supervision of breeders who either don’t care or are willfully ignorant as to the harm they are causing?

Aside from the moral implications of supporting the practice of breeding guinea pigs (or any animals for that matter), the Merck Manual for Pet Health – written by the same folks who produce the world’s best-selling medical textbook – provides even more back-up to the ethical problems of breeding: “In general, veterinarians do not recommend that individual pet owners attempt to breed guinea pigs. It is often difficult to find homes for young guinea pigs with caring and responsible pet owners. Breeding often reduces the lifespan of female guinea pigs and starting to breed after 8 months of age can be very dangerous for a female guinea pig”

Adopted Guinea Pigs are Better Adjusted

You’re right that rescues — well-managed, effective rescues — are very busy. From mountains of paperwork to cage cleaning to vet check-ups to managing inquiries and adoption appointments, many guinea pig rescues are understaffed and under-funded. But for what they lack in time and paid staff, they make up for in expert knowledge and quality care.

Guinea pig rescue organizations keep a close eye on the guinea pigs they shelter and are staffed with experienced pet owners who can recommend a perfect cavy companion for you based on your expertise level and lifestyle needs. Looking for a lap pig? Your local rescue has the perfect one in mind. Go for the shy guys? Ask a nearby shelter; chances are that just the right sensitive-and-sweet boar is waiting for you.

Plus, with such intimate knowledge of their shelter animals, rescue volunteers are experts at catching minor problems early, before they become major problems (unlike at PetCo, PetSmart and in Marcy’s story later on.) Most shelter guinea pigs come to you already spayed or neutered – which can calm down boys and will remove the risk of girls getting pregnant if housed with boars, along with preventing a myriad of other health issues.

Because rescued guinea pigs receive one-on-one attention and individualized care plans, guinea pigs from rescues are generally better adjusted with more predictable personalities than their store-bought counterparts.

Two guinea pigs adopted from a shelter

Two very cute and happy rescued guinea pigs

By Adopting a Rescued Pig, You are Saving Two Lives

When you adopt a guinea pig from a rescue, you are not only giving your adopted guinea pig a life of new-found luxury, you are saving the life of the guinea pig who gets to take the space left open by the guinea pig you adopted.

Even better? Rescue two guinea pigs (guinea pigs are happier in littlepairs!) and you really save four lives. And that means you just helped rescue an entire herd of guinea pigs. A herd!

Get the Right Information the First Time

Guinea pig rescues give you all the info you need to be the best guinea-pig caretaker you can.

What should you feed your new guinea pig? What kind of time commitment does it take to care for a guinea pig? By getting in touch with your local shelter, you can find out if guinea pig ownership is right for you. And, if you’re ready for the commitment, you can get the resources and information you need to raise a happy and healthy cavy.

Alternatively, large retailers typically employ staff with little to no knowledge of the pets they are selling. Such lack of training and expertise can to lead to inhumane and even fatal consequences for the pets they sell.

Because of this, new pet owners generally go home from pet shops with a lack of understanding as to what is required to keep their new pet happy and healthy, and that can lead to problems for both pets and owners.

But do rescues have baby guinea pigs?

Yes! Many guinea pig rescues and shelters have more baby guinea pigs than they have forever homes! It’s sad, but true.

Rescues frequently take in pregnant sows that are abandoned, neglected or surrendered to them.

So don’t assume that, just because you want a baby, that the only place to get one is your local Large Animal Store™.

Contact your local shelter, and, if they don’t have a baby available, ask to be placed on a waiting list. Chances are that, in no time, you’ll get a call that a baby guinea pig of your choosing is waiting for you.

Rescuing Means that Your Adopted Guinea Pig Hit the Jackpot

Adopted shelter guinea pig

Rosie the rescued guinea pig

The chances of you winning the lottery are slim to none. But rescue an adopted guinea pig, and you can change the world for one (or two!) guinea pigs in need.

Plus, the bragging rights that come with rescuing a guinea pig will score you countless points among friends, family and other pet owners.


Adopted Guinea Pigs are Healthier

Shelter guinea pigs already receive a proper diet and the care they need to thrive in a new home while big-box store guinea pigs are typically sold with untreated — or worse, undetected — illnesses that can balloon into vet bills costing hundreds of dollars.

According to Dr. Mark Burgess of Southwest Animal Hospital, a Portland-area veterinary clinic specializing in the care of exotic animals like guinea pigs: “Health issues seen in the pet trade (stores, breeders) include skin parasites such as lice or mites (mange), digestive upsets secondary to improper diets (poor quality cavy feeds including seeds, nuts and dried fruits or feeding inappropriate types of fresh fruits or vegetables), or fighting and bite wounds due to crowding and/or cage stresses. Occasional unwanted pregnancy occurs due to misidentification of the gender of young cavies. Ringworm fungus is occasionally seen in young cavies as well, and causes local areas of bald and crusty skin.”

Mites, poor diet, fighting, cage crowding and ringworm. Sounds fun, right?

Which bring us to our next topic: Marcy the pet store guinea pig.

Marcy the Pet Store Guinea Pig and Why Buying Costs More than Adoption

Guinea pig on cage fence

Source: Portland Guinea Pig Rescue

Marcy the guinea pig is the archetype of the guinea pig rescue story.

Warning: Information and images below may not be appropriate for young readers. Proceed with caution.

Marcy was purchased from a large retailer as a pet for a child, which is the first tragedy of this story.

After paying a nominal fee for Marcy and buying a too-small cage and low-quality guinea pig food, the parents took Marcy home. As with many of these stories, things didn’t go well. Several months later, for unknown reasons, Marcy the guinea pig was unceremoniously dumped at a local humane society; these facilities are typically more experienced with the proper care of dogs and cats than guinea pigs.

After Marcy was surrendered, the humane society noticed she had developed abscesses on her neck from “strangles” (Cervical Lymphadenitis) — a highly contagious (and potentially lethal) disease that is commonly found in pet shop guinea pigs.

Again, Dr. Mark Burgess: “Strangles (caused by a type of Streptococcus bacteria) is quite common in the pet trade [emphasis ours], affecting mostly young cavies. It is contagious and often fatal if untreated. Sick cavies should be isolated. Successful treatment usually requires a combination of antibiotic therapy and surgical removal of the neck abscess(es) by an experienced surgeon. Culturing the abscess can confirm if it is Strep or some other infection (such as one caused by a puncture wound). Crowded cages, soiled bedding, and overall levels of stress may influence the likelihood of a cavy developing strangles.”

Marcy’s strangles was most likely first contracted at the breeder that supplied her to the pet store. The treatments and surgeries necessary to treat strangles are generally too great an expense for breeders to justify spending — whether they are “backyard breeders” (amateur at-home breeders) or supply breeders for large pet shop retailers. Money is made in volume of animals produced, not compassionate and responsible care.

And, because strangles is highly contagious, the guinea pig that will be sent from the breeder to the pet store to take Marcy’s place will also suffer from this deadly disease. And the next one. And the next one.

Guinea pig with drain holes in neck

Source: Portland Guinea Pig Rescue

Back at the humane society (again, one better equipped to deal with cats and dogs than cavies), Marcy’s wounds were lanced (unwisely) and drains placed in her neck (also unwise), which caused the strangles infection to spread throughout her body. The drain “holes” can be seen in the photo above.

After this damaging treatment, the humane society transferred Marcy to the good folks at the Portland Guinea Pig Rescue, where volunteers diligently flushed and packed her wounds for weeks before she could even be considered a candidate for the first of three surgeries she needed to save her life. Says Dominique Chishti, Co-founder of Portland Guinea Pig Rescue: “The flushing and packing treatment was fairly horrifying, especially when the holes became connected and we’d flush one and it would start spraying out of the other.”

In all, Marcy had to undergo nine different stress-filled vet appointments with the total cost for medical treatment spent by the rescue, from intake to adoption (not counting housing, bedding, food and incidental care costs), coming to $1,500.

Guinea pig on sniffing a pumpkin

Macy, healed and happy
Source: Portland Guinea Pig Rescue

And why did this happen?

Because large retailers have no business selling guinea pigs. There is simply no way that a responsible, ethical breeder can be supplying guinea pigs to a pet store that suffers from strangles. And, if said pet store was capable of selling animals in a responsible and humane way — with properly trained staff and a guinea pig vet expert on duty — a story like Macy’s would never have happened.

On top of this, the couple that adopted Marcy for their child was able to walk into the pet shop, select a pet and walk out without any questions asked by staff if they understood the potential cost commitment of buying a guinea pig or if they appreciated the level of care she needed.

The short side of the story: A $30 pet store guinea pig rarely costs only $30. In this case, the realized cost for a healthy guinea pig was $1,500.

The long side: If this can happen to one guinea pig, in one store, why support the practice that enabled Marcy’s troubles? It’s unconscionable.

Where to Find a Guinea Pig Rescue or Shelter

Looking to adopt a guinea pig?

There are several online resources you can use to find a guinea pig rescue near you from which you can discover and adopt the perfect, healthy piggy. Visit the links below to get started.

Take a Stand against the Pet Trade

Share this article and take action on one (or, preferably, both) of the platforms below to send a clear message to pet shops that irresponsible pet sales are not acceptable:

Then find a guinea pig rescue near you and send money or volunteer your time. There are so many guinea pigs that need the care of a loving human like yourself!

Share Your Reasons for Rescue

Is there something you’d like to add to this story?

Your reasons for supporting rescuing? A special rescue story? Ways others can help — in the comments section below!

The Case for Adopting (Not Buying) Guinea Pigs, 4.2 out of 5 based on 19 ratings
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About HappyCavy

HappyCavy is the Internet's only 4-webcam broadcast inside the lives of a female guinea pig herd from Portland, Oregon.

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  • Julie Vasold

    Excellent article!

  • Thank you, Julie!

  • Katie Wilson

    My guinea pigs toenails need cutting but as they are only 2-3 months old they are very fidgety and they don’t let me, please can you tell me what i need to do…

  • Hi, Katie, GuineaLynx has a great resource on how to clip guinea pig nails. There are also some tips and different holding techniques that you can try:

    Since your guinea pig is fidgety, you may have to have someone hold your guinea pig for you, possibly in a towel to keep them still.

  • Katie Wilson

    Okay thank you very much

  • Cathy Koh

    Where r da guinea pig rescues in Singapore? My mom promised me a adopted guinea pig if I score well for my exams.

  • Cathy Koh

    Just bribe your guinea pig with her fav treat

  • Hi, Cathy! You may want to check out, it’s a group of guinea pig owners in Singapore who may be able to tell you where you can adopt a guinea pig.

  • Cathy Koh

    Ok thx!

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About This Guinea Pig Website

HappyCavy has been online since June 2009 with Hammy and Piglet. In October of 2009, a sweet, fuzzy cavy named Bitsy joined the webcam broadcasts.

Feebee and Buttercup were welcomed to the HappyCavy Forever Home as friends and co-conspirators in January 2011. Dot joined us on July 2012, and Winnie and Rosie were the most recent addition on February 8, 2015 and June 6, 2015, respectively. Learn more about the guinea pigs here.

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