Full Title Name:  Brief Overview of Retail Pet Stores

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Ashley Duncan Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2006 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal & Historical Center

This brief overview discusses the welfare issues that arise at retail pet establishments. It also outlines the types of laws that cover such pet shops.


Over half of all households in America have at least one pet. The most common types of animals kept as pets are birds, cats, dogs, fish, reptiles, and small animals such as hamsters and guinea pigs. While some of these animals are available for adoption at local humane societies, most people buy their pets from retail pet stores. Since there are so many animals being housed at retail pet stores, many welfare issues exist, including the availability of veterinary care, food and water, proper housing, and proper sanitation.

The health and safety of animals in pet stores is an important issue. Unfortunately, there is no federal law which regulates the care of animals in all pet stores. To find laws that address the care of animals in pet stores, you must look at state laws. There are currently fifteen states which do not have any laws regulating pet stores. The pet store laws in the other thirty-five states plus the District of Columbia greatly vary.

Twenty states plus D.C. require pet stores to obtain a license before operating the business. A business owner must apply for the license and the application will often inquire about the proposed methods of sanitization, proposed animal housing, waste management plans, and whether veterinary care will be provided to the animals. The cost of the license varies from state to state. Before a license will be issued, an inspection of the premises will be conducted. If the premises are in compliance with state law, a license will be issued.

After a pet store is up and running, many welfare issues exist, including the feeding and watering of animals, available veterinary care for sick animals, whether the provided housing accommodates space and safety needs, and whether animal cages are cleaned on a regular basis. Unfortunately not all states have very good laws regulating the welfare of animals sold in pet stores. In fact, less than half of all states mandate that food and water be provided to animals in pet stores. Out of these states, eight of them only require that food and water is available to dogs and cats.

The health of animals in pet stores requires not only proper nourishment, but also clean and safe living environments. Twenty states plus D.C. have laws requiring animal cages to be cleaned regularly. In twenty-one states plus D.C., there are laws regulating the housing of animals in pet stores. These laws usually require cages to be big enough for the animal to turn around.

The health and welfare of animals in pet stores also centers on the availability of veterinary care. Only sixteen states have laws mandating veterinary care in pet stores. The strength of these laws varies. For example, Minnesota only requires a veterinary exam before an animal is sold. This potentially means that pet stores in Minnesota are under no legal obligation to provide veterinary care to a sick animal if that animal is not being immediately purchased.

The source of animals available for sale in pet stores is also of grave concern. The Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) is concerned that puppies and dogs sold at retail pet stores actually come from puppy mills rather than reputable breeders. Puppy mills are dog breeding operations that aim to maximize profits at the expense of animal welfare. There are many problems with puppy mills, including overcrowding, inbreeding, minimal veterinary care, and the killing of unwanted animals.  

It is clear that there are many gaps in the protection of animals living in retail pet stores. If consumers are truly concerned about the welfare of animals in the current retail system, they must demand either a cease in the sale of pets at retail stores or a boycott in those stores that exhibit cruel and unhealthy practices. Further, inhumane conditions in pet stores will never be addressed unless concerned customers are willing to report such conditions to local animal control officers. The bottom line is that animals are seen as commodities in the retail pet industry. When profits are at stake, it will always be hard to assure animals are given the care they deserve. 



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