When I was a kid, my parents bought me a guinea pig from a pet store. I named him Howie and loved him more than anything. Howie was adorable, affectionate, and intelligent. There was just one weird thing: He would only walk backward. Even as a child, I wondered if there was some kind of physical or mental trauma in his past that had led to this strange behavior.

guinea pig
Freeimages.com / Helena Ruiz 
Since then, I’ve learned that animals in pet stores endure a living nightmare from the second they are born. Seventy-two percent of exotic animals in the “pet” trade DIE before even reaching pet stores. Animals are bred in MASSIVE mills or torn away from their families and homes in the wild; crammed into tiny, waste-filled cages; and deprived of everything that is natural and important to them—often including basic necessities. Beware: The following information could make you cry.

Phase 1: Breeding-Mill Hell

A PETA investigator spent seven months at U.S. Global Exotics (USGE)—which, at the time, was one of the largest international dealers of exotic “pets” in the United States. USGE shipped animals to PETCO, PetSmart, and other pet stores. Following PETA’s investigation, more than 26,000 animals were rescued (the largest animal seizure in HISTORY) and USGE was permanently shut down. But animals continue to suffer and die at other exotic-“pet” suppliers. 

Global Exotics Dead Baby

Most animals bound for pet stores are bred in warehouses, where they are crammed together and confined to barren bins, hutches, and other tiny containers. These facilities are basically factory farms where animals are mass produced and sold like products, their most basic needs often ignored.

Exotic Breeders Lizard

Small animals like rats and reptiles are either kept in tiny, filthy, severely crowded cages or housed alone and denied the opportunity to socialize. At USGE, some animals were even kept for days or weeks in pillowcases, shipping boxes, or 2-liter soda bottles. Deprived of exercise and social interaction and denied ANY kind of veterinary care, animals’ minds and bodies deteriorate. Sick and dying animals are often simply left to starve to death, tossed into the trash, or shoved into freezers while still alive.

Exotic Breeders Sad Mouse and babies

PETA’s investigations have revealed that breeding mills often employ only a small staff of three or four people—nowhere near enough workers to care for tens of thousands of animals properly. Many animals go without adequate food, water, air, space, humidity, heat, and veterinary care, and they are often denied a painless end to their misery. The intense confinement and deprivation drive many animals to claw desperately at cage openings in an attempt to free themselves, pace back and forth ALL day, fight for space and food, and even refuse to eat.

Exotic Breeders Sad Snake

Phase 2: Shipped Like Merchandise

Animals are shipped to pet stores in cramped containers that are breeding grounds for parasites and viral infections. They often arrive malnourished, severely ill, pregnant, or injured. Many animals are left to languish for days in agonizing pain before being unpacked from the containers they arrived in. Dead or dying animals are considered a normal part of the process—pet stores just pop them in their freezers.

Exotic Breeders Dead Mice

Small animals like guinea pigs, lizards, and mice are not the only animals who suffer during transport. Betta fish are put in tiny plastic bags …

betta fish in tiny bag

… and stuffed into cardboard boxes.

betta fish in bow

During the USGE investigation, PETA discovered more than 400 iguanas in a shipping crate. They had been left there for about two weeks without food or water because of a canceled order. Half of them were dead.

Exotic Breeders Iguana

Phase 3: Suffering on Pet Store Shelves

Pet stores are all about profit, so they cram as many animals as possible into their cages. Small animals such as mice, hamsters, gerbils, and rats live in tight quarters. Fish (who were meant to have entire oceans or lakes to inhabit) circle endlessly in tiny tanks. Birds are packed into cages where they are barely able to stretch their wings—let alone fly.


Keeping animals in these conditions results in horrifying outcomes. The stress of confinement causes some birds to ATTACK their cagemates. In one incident, a parakeet at a PETCO store became the victim of a frenzied attack. All the flesh was pecked from his skull, and he languished in agony until he died. 

Birds in cage

A PETCO shopper noticed this rat (Ricky) gasping for breath. She reported his condition to the manager, but nothing had been done when she checked back later.

Video thumbnail for youtube video Rescued Rat | Blog | peta2.com

She purchased Ricky and took him to a vet. Ricky was diagnosed with a chronic respiratory condition that is commonly found in animal-breeding facilities because of unhealthy living conditions. Ricky was saved, but many animals in pet stores aren’t as lucky.

Rescued rat submitted photo

Pet store employees are often ill-equipped to care for animals. One PETCO employee carelessly slammed a cage door, breaking the back of a baby chameleon. Nothing was done, and the baby was left to suffer from his injuries. He died the next day.

sick hedgehog in pet store

Worst of all, the pet trade encourages people to see animals as impulse purchases instead of complex beings who require a lifetime of care. Pet shops sell animals to anyone who can pay, often sending animals home with unprepared, incompetent, or even abusive guardians.

The Bottom Line

Pet stores do not think of animals as living beings who deserve respect. They see them as mere objects to be sold for profit. To companies like PETCO and PetSmart, animals are nothing more than inventory.

cute guinea pig adopt rescue

Animals continue to suffer and die in the pet trade because people continue to buy them. Be a superhero for animals: Do not patronize stores that sell animals, and urge your friends and family to do the same.

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