Guinea Pigs Shouldn’t Be Used As “Guinea Pigs” in Science

Abigail and RubyImage courtesy of Shannon

Shannon's guinea pigs, Abigail (left) and her sister Ruby (right)

Every time I visit with my guinea pigs (Abigail, Eleanor, Ruby and Penny), or see one of them ‘popcorn’, I’m sadly reminded that most guinea pigs don’t live like this. In many parts of South America they are used for food and/or ritualistic sacrifice, and even if they’re ‘lucky’ enough to be kept in other parts of the world, many of their most basic needs for space/socialization/enrichment are never met. And worst of all– many GP’s are used in vivisection (animal experimentation) and end up nothing more than discardable test subjects for our cosmetics, cleaning products, cigarettes, pharmaceuticals, and medical research. I love my guinea pigs, so I couldn’t in good conscience, support industries that would keep my dear Ruby in a cage the size of a shoebox her entire life, until she was deemed no longer ‘useful’ and ‘sacrificed’ (the industry term for killing).

If you’re like me, your exposure to many animals (specifically small mammals like guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, rats) was limited to other friends’ pets, or chance encounters in the wild. I had a pretty traditional immigrant upbringing which meant that both sides of my family saw small animals as pests, likely remnants of an old cultural fear of parasites and disease. I remember the one and only time I saw a mouse scurry across the floor of my childhood home. It was early morning during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, and I was watching the swimming. I’d never seen my mother shriek like that, and still haven’t to this day. I remember being so happy that someone so magical was running around in my house.

I didn’t know much about small mammals, and while I had no doubt in my mind they were as unique as the cats or dogs I’d been exposed to, I had no idea that their personalities were so easily discernible. Of our four ladies, we know who is the leader (Eleanor), who is the most anxious (Ruby), who is the most stoic (Abigail) and who is the friendliest (Penny). We know who prefers being on the ground (Abigail and Penny) and who prefers climbing up to their second and third level (Ruby and Eleanor). While Eleanor loves a bit of dried banana, Ruby and Abigail could do without it. Penny will eat everything and demand seconds. Ruby will eventually eat the blueberry you put in front of her, though she’d prefer a freeze-dried strawberry any day. Despite Abigail and Ruby requiring overhead cover at almost all times in order to be comfortable, Eleanor and Penny are brave young maidens who come right out to meet you, somehow certain you’re not a hawk. While Penny and Abigail like petting, no one loves it more than Eleanor, who will settle into your lap for as long as you’ll have her. Ruby likes minimal contact. All four of their calls are distinct to me; I could maybe even recognize them with my eyes closed.

Learning that each of my guinea pigs has such a vibrant personality, entirely different from her sisters, and bearing witness to their idiosyncrasies every day has been such a gift. I’m so thankful I’ve come to know just how special guinea pigs are because it provides a personal motivation to what has, until recently, been a more general ethical impulse to protect them.

OK, so you’re sickened that animals are used this way, but how do you ensure you’re not supporting this insanity when you’re just trying to buy shampoo or cleaning products? In terms of who tests on animals, if you shop in conventional stores, it can be a bit of a minefield. But guess what? The fine folks at Leaping Bunny and PETA have created very comprehensive lists, which I am pleased to share:

Leaping Bunny Shopping Guide – comprised of a number of impressive advocacy and awareness groups, this guide is the only internationally recognized standard for cruelty-free products and ingredients, however Canadians may not recognize many of the companies listed on here. So in addition to this list, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the following resource as well.

PETA’s Cruelty-Free Shopping – contains a particular search function on their site, which allows you to search whether or not particular companies are animal friendly (really handy!), as well as provides you with a list of which companies test on animals, and which companies don’t. Additionally, they have a list of common animal ingredients so you can learn to recognize them in your potential purchases. I recommend perusing the list based on products you already have in your home, and determining alternatives to them based on what you find.

Lastly, I would be remiss to not mention a big part of the vivisection industry. Organizations that raise funds for illness research (like the Canadian and American Cancer Societies) experiment on a broad range of animals, from mice to dogs. Despite 70% of all cancers being diet-related (and related to a diet high in animal foods at that), only 1% of the budget of these organizations goes towards prevention! So if donating to these fundraising efforts that support vivisection bothers you, why not make it a personal mission to educate the people you can about the benefits of a plant based diet? Many of the disease epidemics currently sweeping North America are diet-related (i.e.: type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, most cancers) and prevention is the most responsible way we can handle this serious public health crisis. If this is something that interests you, I suggest familiarizing yourself with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), whose site is full of wonderful resources and alternatives to animal experimentation.

For my guinea pigs and your guinea pigs and animals everywhere,

If you have a great idea for an article about guinea pigs, please let us know. Guinea Pig Today is a network of guinea pig lovers and we’re always looking for the next great story. View our submissions page for more information on how to submit your idea.


Shannon works for a national farmed animal protection group and in her spare time likes eating delicious vegan food with her partner Joseph, and remarking at how adorable their 9 adopted companions are. Her four guinea pigs (Abigail, Eleanor, Ruby and Penny) are loving life in their private suite (yes, they have their own room!)

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3 Responses to “Guinea Pigs Shouldn’t Be Used As “Guinea Pigs” in Science”
  1. snooters says:

    What a wonderful article! Guinea pigs are great pets but deserve a large habitat , love & respect (as do all animals). Thank you Shannon for writing such an article to let people know that Guinea pigs are not always treated in the way they show be .

  2. Veganwheekers says:

    Great article! I too make a point to use cruelty-free products as well as enjoy a vegan diet. Love for all animals! 🙂

  3. Very well put! Thank you for writing this article Shannon, I couldn’t agree with you more.

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