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USDA Regulations on Environment

The Animal Welfare Act

The US Department of Agriculture administers and enforces the AWA (Animal Welfare Act), a federal law of limited purpose and scope. The individuals who must either obtain a permit to buy and sell listed animals (which includes guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits, but not birds, rats, or mice) or register for their use includes certain classes of breeders and dealers of animals, exhibitors of animals, and research facilities, but, pet owners, agriculture use and most retail pet stores are not under the control of this law.

The general thrust of the law is to define those categories of people who must be licensed in order to engage in particular animal activities. The law will then seek to prohibit unqualified individuals from obtaining or renewing a license. Additionally, there is an inspection program to assure that those who have licenses meet the standards of care set out in the USDA regulations. Failure to provide care can result in criminal charges, civil fines and revocation of licenses, resulting in the individual being unable to continue to keep and use animals. The AWA requires that all individuals or businesses dealing with animals covered under the law must be licensed or registered with APHIS. However, each individual needs to self identify and obtain a license or register.

Who Must Comply

Breeders who derive over $500 in gross income from the sale of guinea pigs (or any animals covered by the regulations) in any calendar year are generally required to have a USDA license. Few who should -- do. APHIS (The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) ensures that all regulated commercial animal breeders, dealers, brokers, transportation companies, exhibitors, and research facilities are licensed or registered. APHIS also searches for unlicensed or unregistered facilities. While 'hobby breeders' who sell animals directly out of their home to individuals are not subject to licensing, any breeder who also sells animals to pet stores or dealers or other potentially regulated entities must be licensed when their gross income exceeds $500.

Cage and Environmental Regulations

The AWA regulation on cage size only requires 10 INCHES by 10 INCHES (and only 7 inches high) of cage space for an adult guinea pig. And with that, they are supposed to be able to "make normal postural adjustments with adequate freedom of movement." In addition, that space is supposed to accommodate "nursing females with their litters." Pretty pathetic. So you know that their requirements are bare bones survival minimums. However, APHIS does state that although Federal requirements establish acceptable standards, they are not ideal. Regulated businesses are encouraged to exceed the specified minimum standards.

The relevant regulations that apply to guinea pig housing and environment are:

bulletTemperature: ambient temperature shall not be allowed to fall below 60 deg. F. nor to exceed 85 deg. F.
bulletVentilation: provided with fresh air either by means of windows, doors, vents, or air conditioning, and shall be ventilated so as to minimize drafts, odors, and moisture condensation.
bulletLighting: ample light, by natural or artificial means, or both, of good quality and well distributed. Primary enclosures shall be so placed as to protect the guinea pigs from excessive illumination.
bulletCage construction: shall be constructed of smooth material substantially impervious to liquids and moisture. THIS MEANS NO EXPOSED WOOD CAGES.
bulletOther species: guinea pigs shall NOT be housed in the same primary enclosure with any other species of animals.


In addition to conducting regular (annual) inspections, APHIS will perform inspections in response to public input about the conditions of regulated facilities. Concerned individuals also are encouraged to inform APHIS about facilities that should be licensed or registered. 

Many State and local governments have passed additional animal welfare legislation. The public is encouraged to work with Federal, State, and local officials as well as local humane organizations to help eliminate inhumane treatment of animals.

For more information about the Animal Welfare Act, write to:

Animal Care
Unit 84
4700 River Road
Riverdale, MD 20737
Telephone:  (301) 734-7833

E-mail: [email protected]

Web page:

Lists of Licensed Breeders and Dealers

For a list of licensed breeders, dealers, and facilities across the United States, please see the Facility Lists on this page: