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#1 Rule for Breeding Guinea Pigs: DON'T

So you think you want babies? Time for a reality check. There are many homeless guinea pigs in this country.  Sweet, innocent guinea pigs are killed in shelters every day. Rescues across the country are almost always full. Why? Irresponsible pet ownership. You think you are not or will not be one of them? Let's take a look at the realities of breeding.

According to Tracy Iverson, ARBA Cavy Judge and President of the ACBA (American Cavy Breeders Association), "... breeding a sow means a  20% chance she will die  ..." For
the full quote, see below.

You think you are going to have ONE or TWO babies?

What would you do with 8 babies?  Typical litters average 3 to 4. We have had rescue litters of 5 and 6. They could all be boars (males). Are you prepared to separate boars at 3 weeks into separate cages? A boar can get his mother pregnant as early as 3 weeks old. Are you prepared to deal with any fights requiring separation of adolescents as any of them mature--within a few months? Do you have adequate cage space allocated and built (see Guinea Pig Cages for cage size requirements).

What are you going to DO with the BABIES?

If finding good homes were easy, rescues wouldn't need to exist. Shelters wouldn't be killing animals every day to make room for more. Think you have friends that would want one? Then why don't they have one already? Every potential pig you will need to "give away" is one pig who remains in a shelter or rescue without a home. One pig who may die in the shelter because no one gave it a home, or it started out with a supposed "GOOD HOME" only to be later abandoned.

What would constitute a good home to someone who has intentionally bred their pet and is now looking to give away the babies? How are you going to find someone who won't do the exact same thing? How do you know what a "forever" home looks like? How would you screen yourself out of adopting (because you do not qualify as a "forever" home and because of that, not a good home)?

Most people can't find ANYONE to take their guinea pigs, LET ALONE find a GOOD home. That is the plain fact of it. Evidence of it abounds everywhere. Look at the forums, the lists, the shelters, the rescues. Most people jump at the first person who comes along who will take their guinea pig. They will rationalize the heck out of what a wonderful home it is.

Take them to your pet store?
This is very wrong. This is a DUMP and nothing less. You can read about all the details of dumping on the DUMP page. Why on earth would anyone consider breeding knowing full well they intended to dump them at a pet store? Why? Ask yourself why you are even thinking about breeding if you have this end result in mind. What is the point? Pet stores don't screen their buyers. Guinea pigs are purchased as snake and reptile food and bait for dog fights. Or, "Oh look mom, how cute. Can we please?" Six months later the filthy, malnourished pig ends up at the shelter because the kids are bored and the parents don't want it. Is that what you have in mind for your 'extra' babies?

Keep them? 
Keep all 8 if you have 8 babies? Giving you at least 10 assuming you had only one male and female to start with. Even with an average litter, you will now have 5 or 6 adult guinea pigs in a few short months! 

Do you know what types should NOT be mated? 
Do you know what types of guinea pigs have a high degree of risk of producing a lethal? A "lethal" usually has very small or missing eyes and missing or deformed yellow teeth. They often have internal problems that can cause pain (i.e., a deformed guinea pig). Their life span is typically short without very special care and attention. Are you willing to provide it? Or would you let it die? Or would you have it killed? Do you know the genetic history of the guinea pigs you want to breed? 


What are you going to do with the Mother and Father?

Once you breed a sow and a boar, what are you going to do with the mother and father? You can't keep them together, unless you are heartless. Back breeding (back to back breeding) can kill the sow. In fact, the boar should be removed from the sow once she is pregnant. She should have at least 5 months of rest between litters. So you will need to put the happy couple into separate cages.

Assuming you plan on KEEPING the BABIES . . .

Additional CAGE SPACE
Are you prepared to significantly increase your cage space? See Guinea Pig Cages for proper space requirements. At a minimum, males and females must be separated. You may have either females or males who will not get along and must be housed separately, again adding to cage space requirements. Additional cage space means additional cost in supplies as well. Additional $$$ will be needed for the cages and the cage supplies.

You will need more food--both fresh food and pellets. You will need additional bedding for the additional cages. You will need additional hay. You will need additional water bottles and hidey holes and food bowls and hay racks. You will have more refuse to deal with when you change the cages, potentially resulting in an additional trash can. All adding up to additional $$$.

You will need more time allocated every day and every week for cleaning more often with more pigs and more cages. Also, it takes longer to feed more pigs. More fresh food to cut up and wash. Does that sound like a trivial concern? Not when you are rushing around and are late for school or work.

Are you prepared to spend what it takes to be a responsible pet owner? Owning and caring for 5 or more guinea pigs significantly increases the odds that you are going to have health problems that will require veterinary care that perhaps you haven't been used to dealing with and paying for. And unless you were EXTREMELY careful about who you bred to who (which requires a LOT of breeding and genetics knowledge), you will very likely reinforce gene traits which can lead to higher incidents of health problems. Again, additional vet care adding up to additional $$$.

Pregnancy or Delivery COMPLICATIONS?

All of the above concerns are assuming you get through the pregnancy and delivery. There is about a 25% chance that something will go wrong, a complication will arise. A vet may be needed. You may lose the sow. You may lose all the babies.

How many personal stories would you like to read? Think it won't happen to you? Betty shortly after delivery. The baby on the left didn't make it. It's a total gamble. Are you willing to risk the life of your pet sow and any unborn babies? That is EXACTLY what you would be doing by breeding her. Make no mistake about it. Yes, you will read that there are many pregnancies and deliveries that happen just fine. But, there are many that don't. Wilma's tragic birth. Phoenix on the left. Stillborn on the right. See Phoenix' story on the Adoptables page under Special Needs Piggie It is a RISK. A GAMBLE. Roll the dice. Place your bets. AND, if something does goes wrong, are you educated enough on the symptoms to know what to look for? Are you willing to spend the money (and it can be VERY SIGNIFICANT) if something happens? Do you know about the special requirements of a pregnant sow? For more photos of Wilma's delivery, see her gallery. Warning! These are graphic photos just after a difficult birth with one stillborn and one that ultimately did not survive--Phoenix, whose story is on the In Memory page.

We were handed a vet bill of $958 for saving a sow with a prolapsed uterus after delivery. Emergency surgery. We have had a number of pregnancy complications requiring emergency vet care and the associated bills. 

Heartbreaking stories abound everywhere. Don't be a statistic and don't learn the hard way--at the expense of your animal's life.

Just four of many:

"I'm so upset. On Monday, I had a pregnant pig die. Not sure why. She seem to be full term but not a lot of movement from the babies. She did have successful delivery about 6 months ago. We thought the pregnancy was going okay. Now today we had another pregnant one pass away. I can't stop crying. I don't understand what happened. The only thing I can think of, is that in the beginning of the pregnancy, we gave them both Ivermectin for mites. I have 7 others and I'm thinking about getting rid of them. I don't want to kill them some how. I've have guinea pigs for about 4 years now and I love them very, very much. I still just can't believe this has happened. I've given them the best home ever. A great big cage that an adult could sleep in. They eat more veggies then I do. AND then this happens. WHY?!?" (it wasn't the Ivermectin)

"I have been checking on the pregnant piggies often and when I went down early this morning - she looked funny. She didn't scamper off or try and get away from me when I picked her up. I held her for a few minutes and felt her bulging sides. They were hard. And I could not feel any movement inside. I figured that maybe she was just about to have the babies so I tucked her back inside of her little house and left her there. I went back down again a few hours later and she was laying on her side and looking worse. I figured at that point that she was going to die. I picked her up again and she was leaking fluid from her bottom. I made a soft bed in a box and petted her until she died a few minutes later."

"Margo had been pregnant for nine weeks now (Georgie was the father--he accidentally got to her before he was neutered) and everything seemed to be going just fine -- Dave and I had set up a drawer for her, and every night for the past week, she had been sleeping on the nightstand next to my head, in case she had babies during the night. Judging from the way she looked, I figured she had two or three inside of her. When I left for school this morning, she was doing fine, still fat, no sign of babies. I called home to check on her about four hours later, and Dave said that she had had four (!!!) babies, but the last one came out an hour ago, and there were still two stuck in her, and she was pushing, but was exhausted and seemed to have given up. I left school and when I got home, she was still alive, but was obviously worn out. Dave said that the two babies had been kicking and moving inside of her but that he hadn't seen any movement for half an hour. I felt her tummy, and it felt like the two were dead inside of her. We rushed her and the four kids to the vet, and the Dr. took her back to try and induce labor to get the other two out, but he said that before he could do anything, she had a heart attack, and died. He explained that it was her first litter, and six babies is a lot to try and get out, and she had lost a lot of calcium in the blood, and she just couldn't handle it."

An example of a typical amateur breeder who had no clue she had been breeding guinea pigs with a high propensity for producing lethals and didn't recognize a lethal when she had one. As mentioned in the above-referenced paragraph, what would YOU do if you bred a lethal? Kill it, like this person is considering? Or spend a lot of time, money, and effort in providing a decent life for the animal you had to bring into the world?

"Two of my guinea pigs birthed last week. Each had 3 babies, 2 of each litter were very normal and healthy. But one of each litter were solid white females born with their eyes glued shut. I brought them to the vet, who cleaned out the eyes and prescribed Terramycin applied a few times daily. So for one, the eyes just about cleared up. The other's eyes are now open, but I think the piggie is actually blind. You would think discharge means illness, but these guys live with a whole herd, all of which are A-ok. And the other babies seem just fine, too. If the eyes were the only issue, that would be one thing. But something that we noticed just after the vet visit is that both these little girls have severely crooked teeth. I keep close track of my breeders and these were not inbred at any point. They do, however, have the same father, who has since found a new home. What may have caused these things to happen to these babies? I am considering euthanasia now, simply because it seems cruel to keep these guys alive when, once they are weaned, they will be unable to eat normally, and possibly not at all. What is your opinion and what do you suggest I do when they go to their next vet visit?"

So you think you are a "responsible breeder?" All of the above issues do not apply to you. You are not a "backyard breeder." You don't breed just to have babies. You don't breed to teach your children life's little lessons of nature. You breed for the noble cause of "improving the line" or "bettering the breed" or "keeping a line alive" and maybe winning a few ribbons at shows along the way.

You're not one of those big, bad commercial breeders who sells guinea pigs to the distributors who in turn sells them to labs, universities, pet stores, reptile owners, dog fighters, exporters, etc. Or, maybe you don't see any problem with selling guinea pigs to pet stores and the distributors who may just supply pet stores. You definitely don't sell any guinea pigs at the auctions.

Rescuers face the results of all kinds of breeders every day. No matter how responsible you think you are, every guinea pig bred displaces a home that could have gone to one in a shelter or rescue. Do rescuers think there is such a thing as a "responsible breeder?" Most don't. What exactly is a "responsible breeder." Who gets to define it? If there is such a thing, the standards of care and placement should be significantly higher than a rescuer's standards or a pet owner's home. Is that possible? Personally, we have yet to hear or know of one, but it may be theoretically possible.

Who can see both sides of the issue? Someone who used to be very much into breeding and showing and is now a rescue. Someone in touch with and very knowledgeable about cavy health. Someone who is an RVT (Registered Veterinary Technician). Someone who is well-respected in the cavy world for always providing helpful and useful advice. That someone is Serafina Cupido, also known as "Josephine" online. Read about how she defines a 
Responsible Breeder .

If you have thoughts to share on this issue, please post them on the Cavy Rescue forum. Any comments posted on the "Your Thoughts" page requiring a reply or discussion will be moved to the forum.

Responsible breeders justifying their purpose in life

From a breeder: "People who say the shelters are too full of animals don't realize that it's less than 10% of those animals that are purebreds -- the vast majority of them are from backyard breeders -- people who think babies are cute." So the implication is that "responsible" breeder's pigs don't end up in shelters? Many Humane Societies, SPCAs, shelters, and rescues would disagree with that statement. 

Even if that were true, breeders sell their pet-quality animals (of which they get many) to pet owners, either directly or at shows or through distributors or pet stores or auctions or what have you. One generation of guinea pigs is all it takes to produce a guinea pig that doesn't LOOK like a purebred. Where are the backyard breeders getting their pets? Unless every so-called responsible breeder has a no-breeding policy upon the sale of one of their animals and does everything within their power to ensure it (spay/neuter prior to sale and/or stringent placement policies), they are simply adding to the supply for the backyard breeders and so-called responsible breeder wanna-be's.

Additional Reading

Why You Should Not Breed from the South Tyneside Guinea Pig Rescue

A Thread on a Forum: Breeding and Death A breeder's changed perspective on breeding

A Thread on a Forum: Crappy Television (mixed in the thread are some powerful messages and personal experiences)

A Thread on a Forum: Response to 'How do you start breeding' by a breeder


Spring 2002, Journal of the American Cavy Breeders Association:
"To Show or Not to Show . . .  An Age Old Question" by Lysa Grant, Pennsylvania. Page 41. The author is quoting Tracy Iverson about his breeding and showing opinions. Referring to one of his champion cavies, he says, "She is the most beautiful REO (Red-Eyed Orange) that I have ever produced. Why on earth would I stop showing her? I would never risk her life in the breeding pen, since breeding a sow means a 20% chance she will die..."

Iverson goes on to talk about using the mother, sisters, aunts and cousins to do the "production" in hopes for another one like her.

(ARBA is the American Rabbit Breeders Association.)

ACBA Purpose

Are you aware that the ACBA not only supports, but publicly and explicitly states, that it promotes the use of guinea pigs as RESEARCH ANIMALS"The Purpose of the AMERICAN CAVY BREEDERS ASSOCIATION shall be to promote the breeding and improvement of the cavy, and to secure publicity for and interest in the cavy as an exhibition, pet and research animal." 

If you participate in ANY cavy show or 4-H program where the ACBA is involved in any way, such as adhering to their breed standards, you are directly or indirectly supporting an organization and industry that promotes animal testing. While some people believe that a certain kind or amount of animal testing for the good of human progress is acceptable, how much do you know about that aspect of the breeder's organization? Do you support it? How much do you really know about animal testing?

Are you aware that any monies paid to the ACBA, such as membership or show fees are potentially funding lobbying efforts by the ACBA to promote animal testing legislation? Also, are you aware that breeder's organizations and associations, in general, actively lobby against any legislation that might regulate breeders in any way?

"But I'm a responsible breeder"

Are you? See below.

 "But, if no one breeds, the species will die out in 7 years!" 

Extinction of the species--People try to pass this off as an argument to justify breeding.

If NO ONE were to breed guinea pigs? On what planet would that happen? Not this one. Let's talk in terms of the reality of today. This is not a theoretical problem. It's a fact of life now.

This issue is about YOU. Right here, right now, making a decision to be part of the solution or part of the problem.

YOU breeding a pair of guinea pigs is not going to save the world from extinction of the Cavia Porcellus species (no chance of that because it's not an issue). But, YOU breeding guinea pigs means one or more might die in shelter for lack of a home.

 "There ARE no homeless guinea pigs in OUR area!" 
  Another popular refrain from those looking to justify breeding as well as buying pigs from pet stores.

If you happen to live in an area where there is not an abundance of guinea pigs, you still live within one or two day's drive (AT MOST) of someone's shelter or rescue who has guinea pigs needing homes. Rescue railroads can be organized with cavy volunteers to get pigs from an over populated area to one with few cavies. This is the 21st Century. Many things are possible and the internet allows people to organize and communicate quickly.

 "If you eat meat or you wear leather . . .
you've got no right to be against breeding!"
  Another popular argument from those looking to ignore the issues of breeders and breeding.

"The philosophical animal rights debate is a question of absolutes -- either you use animals or you don't," says Curtis. "The vast majority of people in the world today have decided to use animals because they want meat and other products of animal origin. It's an issue that's already been decided in our society. The more complex issue that remains open for discussion is animal welfare, and that isn't a matter of absolutes. Animal welfare concerns our moral responsibility to support the well-being of animals. This concern always sparks angry debates, because each and every human being is going to have a different opinion about where to draw the line."

From Eston Martz. 1991. If we could talk to the animals (Interview with Stan Curtis). Penn State Agriculture, Spring/Summer. p. 18-21.

 Did You Know? 

Shelter workers in Los Angeles report that fully 25% of ALL animals euthanized appear purebred.

 Looking for help with an accidental pregnancy or litter? 

If so, please visit the section on pregnancy at Guinea Lynx.


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