Get 15% Off on Holiday Sale Get 15% Off on Holiday Sitewide Sale

ADVERTISEMENT

Why Buying Pets Online Is Asking for Trouble

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

pets for sale

Story at-a-glance -

  • Up to 36% of Americans use the Internet to find their new pet
  • When looking at animals online, pet owners must be careful to avoid scams or inadvertently supporting puppy mills or unethical breeders
  • Many online breeders are not licensed, ethical or transparent and may be selling puppy mill dogs with greater health problems than dogs from other sources
  • Thousands of consumers have been scammed by online pet retailers after paying for a dog they never received, getting a sick puppy that required thousands of dollars in veterinary care or being sent a different dog than the one they picked
  • There are some reputable breeders who have an online presence, but any outlet that is selling dogs in a virtual manner, without allowing you to meet the dog (and hopefully their parents) and see the facilities first, should set off a red flag
  • Many rescue organizations and shelters post available dogs online and even allow you to fill out an application prior to meeting the animals

The Internet is a common source people use when looking to add a new pet to their family. A 2019 survey by the American Pet Products Association suggests the percentage may be as high as 36% when it comes to people finding their new pet online.1 There are benefits and pitfalls to searching for a pet online, however, pet owners must be especially careful to avoid scams or inadvertently supporting puppy mills or unethical breeders.

When advertising available pets online, sellers have the veil of anonymity, which is particularly problematic since federal inspection reports that once listed violations of animal welfare laws by breeders were made no longer publically available online in 2017. The end result is akin to “anything goes,” putting both animals and the people who buy them at risk. Candace Croney, an animal welfare professor at Purdue University, told WTOP News that choosing a new dog online is like searching in the Wild West:2

“Getting dogs through the internet is an area that I think we’re going to have more attention and more scrutiny about, and I think that’s how it should be. We’re not buying widgets here. This is where I think online retailing of dogs potentially becomes the Wild West, because you’re going to have to go into it with a certain level of trust, but we’re talking about living beings that are coming into our home.”

Why You Shouldn’t Buy Dogs Online

In 2016, the USDA ruled that pet dealers selling animals online must have a federal license, because the prospective owners could not meet the animals in person to review their health condition. However, if an online breeder offers to bring the animal to you in a neutral location, such as a parking lot, the licensing standard may not apply.

Further, according to the ASPCA, “USDA has licensed only a handful of the thousands of breeders that sell dogs online, leaving a field wide open for abuse.”3 It’s not a good idea to meet up with a seller to purchase an animal offsite, as you’re unable to see the conditions the animal came from.

A reputable breeder will want to meet and interview anyone interested in buying a puppy. They’ll also be proud to show you the parents, their living environment and their medical records (including DNA results for heritable diseases). I would insist on meeting the parents (the mother dog, at a minimum), and if the breeder won’t show you the living conditions in a separate building or part of the house, be suspicious.

Thousands of consumers have also been scammed after paying for a dog they never received, getting a sick puppy that required thousands of dollars in veterinary care or being sent a different dog than the one they picked. Data is scarce on how many people are scammed trying to buy pets online, but WTOP reported:4

“The Better Business Bureau told ABC News that online pet sales are one of the main types of scam complaints they get, either from consumers who say they got a puppy that’s sick or different than advertised, or that they never received a puppy they paid for at all.

While there isn’t much national data available on how many puppies are bought online or how many of those have health problems, the Humane Society of the U.S. says they’ve received more than 5,000 consumer complaints from people who bought puppies between 2007 and 2017.”

Are There Reputable Breeders Online?

In most cases, if you buy a puppy online (or from a pet store), you are most likely supporting the puppy mill industry, because these are the two ways that puppy millers sell millions of dogs each year.

A review of seven studies and one anecdotal report, published in 2017, found that dogs born in puppy mills and sold directly to consumers via the Internet or retail pet stores had a greater incidence of behavioral and emotional problems that cause distress in adulthood, compared to dogs from other sources.5

The puppy mill dogs sold over the Internet were not only more likely to display increased fear but also increased aggression, most commonly directed toward the owners or family members, along with strangers and other dogs. This is one more reason to avoid buying dogs online; however, there are some responsible breeders who also use the Internet to advertise their pups.

How can you tell the difference between a responsible breeder and a puppy mill or irresponsible breeder? It can be quite difficult, which is why I strongly recommend using my 18-point breeder’s questionnaire as a starting point and always insisting on meeting the breeder, seeing the living environment and getting a full health background on the puppies and their parents.

There are some reputable breeders who have an online presence, but any outlet that is selling dogs in a virtual manner, without allowing you to meet the dog and see the facilities first, should set off a red flag.

Another, even better option is to adopt your next puppy or dog from a local animal shelter or rescue organization. This is one area where you can use the Internet for a good purpose, as many rescue organizations and shelters post available dogs online. Often, you can submit an application and be approved for adoption ahead of time, so when you get to the facility you can focus on meeting the animals and finding your new family member.