Things Pet Stores Don’t Want You to Know

The pet store seems like a happy place. After all, you can stop in to play with cute animals. You can pick up food and treats for your own pets. And you can even have your dog or cat groomed. But pet stores hide all kinds of secrets. They rarely treat animals as well as you think they do. Most get their animals from pet mills, not shelters or rescue groups. And few prioritize the needs of the animals over their corporate sales goals.

Of course, you can find a few good pet stores (usually ones with small operations and compassionate managers). But those are the exception, not the rule. The more you know about what goes on behind the scenes at most big-box pet stores, the less time and money you’ll want to spend there. Read on to learn about all the things pet stores don’t want you to know, from annoying to downright heartbreaking.

16. Pet stores try to sell you products that are a waste of your money

Girl choosing dry food in pet store
The pet store isn’t the best place to figure out what your pet really needs. |

Well-intentioned pet owners can find all kinds of things to buy in order to pamper their dog or cat. The problem? The pet store just wants to make a sale. It won’t help you to figure out what you really need and what’s completely unnecessary.

Many popular pet products amount to nothing more than a waste of money. Premium, natural, or breed-specific food is no better than the basic stuff. Many dental chews won’t actually improve your pet’s oral health. And things, such as vitamins and over-the-counter medications, are either unnecessary or even dangerous. The corporation behind your local pet store isn’t really concerned about your pet’s health. It just wants to make a sale.

15. The ‘trainer’ at the pet store might have been a cashier last week

young man with a beard taking a credit card
“Trainers” at pet stores are sometimes pretty unqualified. | 

You can definitely find dog trainers who can help you with your pet’s behavior issues. But the pet store isn’t the right place to look. Fox News learned though many pet stores have trainers on staff, sometimes these employees get little training themselves. Often, all they have to do is read a book on training.

If you want a good trainer, look for someone who’s graduated a program by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. Ask how many years of experience a trainer has. Request references. And if you’re considering a group class, observe a session before you sign up. 

14. Dogs bought at the pet store are more likely to have behavior problems

Aggressive dog is barking
A dog purchased at a pet store might develop behavioral issues. | 

Don’t want a dog with behavioral issues? Then, don’t buy one at the pet store, as they’re primarily from puppy mills. As Dogster reports, researchers have determined puppies purchased from pet stores develop more behavioral issues as adults than puppies purchased from breeders.

The researchers found pet store puppies were more likely to develop behaviors, such as separation anxiety, owner-directed aggression, stranger-directed aggression, dog-directed fear or aggression, mounting of objects or people, and house soiling. The reason why? It’s possibly because puppy mill dogs experience significant stress in utero, as young puppies, and during transport. 

13. AKC papers don’t say anything about your puppy’s health

Pet store puppies
Some pet stores boast that their dogs have AKC papers. But papers make no guarantees about a dog’s health. | 

Some pet stores boast that their puppies have American Kennel Club papers. But if you’re concerned about the health of that dog you’re considering buying, those papers don’t really mean anything. All they guarantee is the puppy’s mother and father were both registered with the AKC.

Registration doesn’t involve a health screening. It also doesn’t require an assessment of a dog’s temperament. So papers don’t indicate that your dog is healthy or free from the genetic ailments. And papers don’t indicate that the animal isn’t from a puppy mill — which is what you should really worry about at a pet store.

12. If a pet store is selling puppies, they’re from a puppy mill

Husky puppies
Any pet store selling puppies likely has purchased them from a puppy mill.  |

When you stop by a pet store — even just to grab a bag of food for the pet you already have at home — it’s hard not to sneak a peek at the adorable puppies. But Salon reports, “If a pet store is selling dogs rather than hosting adoptable ones from shelters, you can bet they’re getting them from puppy mills.”

Researchers estimate 90% of the puppies found at a pet store come from a puppy mill instead of a shelter. A sure sign you’re looking at puppy mill dogs? The store only has young puppies, with no adult dogs in sight.

11. Even pet stores who buy from ‘USDA-licensed breeders’ are buying from puppy mills

cute puppies locked in the cage
Pet stores also talk about USDA licensure for breeders. But it doesn’t mean much of anything. | 

Ask the pet store manager where the puppies come from. If you hear that they’re raised by “USDA-licensed breeders,” steer clear. Pet stores cite licensure as a reassurance for customers. But breeders have to obtain this licensure to sell to pet stores.

And Salon reports the term doesn’t mean a lot. Under the Animal Welfare Act, federal law actually allows USDA-licensed breeders to keep animals in cages with wire flooring. Those cages can be stacked one on top of another. Breeders are also permitted to breed females continuously. That means they don’t have to give the animals a break between litters. So, as Salon explains, the term “USDA-licensed breeder” really doesn’t give you any guarantees “about where the animals actually come from or how they’re being treated.”

10. Pet stores get even expensive dogs from puppy mills

Homeless puppies in the shelter
Even expensive puppies come from a puppy mill. |

Almost everyone’s heard the word “puppy mill.” But nobody likes to think they’ve actually supported such an operation. But going for a pricey breed or dog doesn’t guarantee anything.

The New York Times reports even expensive dogs at pet stores in high-end neighborhoods often come from unlicensed pet mills. “These so-called puppy mills are large-scale breeding operations that have a reputation for abuse, inbreeding and filthy conditions,” the publication explains. They apply an “agricultural mindset” to the breeding of dogs. They’re often run by farmers who raise soybeans and corn. These farmers learn they can make even more money raising dogs, especially if they spend very little on properly caring for the dogs. 

9. It’s not just puppies that come from pet mills

girl with sales assistant looking at fish
Other animals come from pet mills, too. |

Even on its website for kids, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is clear about where the animals at the pet store come from. Caged birds, for instance, are either captured or bred in captivity. “Like puppy and kitten mills, there are huge factories where thousands of exotic birds are kept in small, dirty cages without enough room to unfold their wings.”

And almost all of the saltwater fish sold in pet stores “are captured from their homes in the wild, and most freshwater fish are raised on farms under miserable conditions,” according to PETA. Don’t think just because you aren’t buying a puppy, you aren’t supporting unethical pet trade practices.

8. Those cages, tanks, and enclosures are way too small

woman holding rodent
The cages, tanks, and enclosures at pet stores are usually way too small. |

Don’t use the cages at the pet store as a guide to the size of carrier, tank, or kennel you should buy for your own pet. Most of the time, the cages and enclosures are way too small for the animal’s comfort. And, in many cases, it can be a health issue, too.

Salon warns, “The lingering aromas of animal excrement, urine or too much disinfectant are all signs of poor upkeep and unsanitary conditions.” And if a store crams two or three animals into a small cage or tank? “This is a sign the store is about profit, not about finding its animals good homes and humane living arrangements.”

Plus, the Huffington Post learned some pet stores even use the wrong materials to line reptile cages, modeling products that “aren’t a perfect fit for that species — or safe for it.”

7. Puppy mill dogs have never gotten toys or treats

cute puppies locked in the cage
At a puppy mill, dogs don’t get toys or treats, much less adequate nutrition and care. | 

Small cages and unsanitary conditions are a big problem at puppy mills, too. And your local pet store doesn’t want you to think about all the other things that animals endure on their way to the store.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, puppy mills don’t provide their animals with adequate veterinary care, food, water, or even socialization. And these dogs never get to experience toys, treats, exercise, or even basic grooming. The wire flooring in their cages often injures their paws and legs.

Plus, puppy mill dogs are prone to congenital and hereditary conditions, according to the ASPCA. And they often arrive in pet stores (and then at their new homes) with diseases and conditions, such as pneumonia, mange, fleas, intestinal parasites, and heartworm.  

6. Many pet stores put sick animals on display

little kitten
At many pet stores, a sick animal will go right on display. | 

If a pet store has a sick animal, it would make sense to treat the animal first before allowing it to interact with other animals and shoppers. But it doesn’t always work that way. Salon reports many times, you’ll see a puppy or kitten sniffling or sneezing thanks to kennel cough. Kennel cough can get serious. And the animal should get proper care and rest. But many pet stores put affected animals on display.

Plus, according to Salon, “Other diseases prominent among pet store puppies who come from mills include heart and kidney disease, epilepsy, parvovirus and mange. Pet store owners have been known to use antibiotics to mask the signs of these conditions in order to sell puppies.”

5. A sick animal can make you sick, too

woman holding a lizard
Sick animals can infect people. |

Many pet stores don’t tell customers when an animal is sick. That’s bad enough for the animal. But it can also be dangerous for you or your family. The Huffington Post learned puppies, kittens, and other mammals can transmit parasites to humans. And reptiles and amphibians can carry salmonella. Salmonella outbreaks have been linked to turtles and African dwarf frogs. And outbreaks of monkeypox and lymphocytic choriomeningitis have also been blamed on pet store animals, too. 

4. Many exotic animals die before they even get to the pet store

Bearded dragons
Exotic animals, such as lizards and snakes, often die before they get to the pet store. | 

Again, it’s not just puppies that pet stores obtain from pet mills. PETA notes many exotic animals die before they even get to the pet store. “The journey for many exotic animals in the pet trade, like lizards and snakes, begins in places outside the U.S., such as Africa, Australia, and the jungles of Brazil.”

Exotic animals get stuffed into tiny cages, or even into pillowcases or soda bottles, for transportation. They often don’t get proper food, water, or air. And many actually die before they arrive at the pet store. Plus, as PETA notes, “The sale of exotic animals is also unsafe for people and the environment since many of them carry dangerous diseases.”

3. Other small animals die on the way to pet stores, too

goldfish for sale
Other small animals arrive dying, ill, or injured. | 

PETA adds even less exotic small pets — such as mice, rats, guinea pigs, and hamsters — go through a lot on their way to the pet store. Many of these small animals arrive at pet stores dying of starvation. Others arrive with serious illnesses. Many arrive injured. And some even arrive pregnant.

As PETA explains, “Many animals are forced into tiny boxes and containers and suffer for days before being unpacked from the containers they were shipped in.” Fish are transported in tiny plastic bags. And in rare cases, animals get left in shipping crates for weeks without food or water. 

2. Some pet stores just want to sell sick puppies before they die

sick puppy
Some pet stores won’t tell a customer how sick a dog is just to get the animal out of the store. | 

A former employee of a large, commercial pet store reports for Dogster that the store would receive puppies who were already sick. “And our job was to sell them before they died.” At this particular store, the policy was to deworm them and start them on antibiotics (without evening taking them to a veterinarian).

Puppies would stay in metal cages that gave them sores. And when they developed upper respiratory issues, they’d get crammed three or four at a time into a nebulizer unit for treatment. That exposes them to each other’s viruses and infections. The same pet store had a policy of putting bleach in puppies’ water bottles, so the bottles wouldn’t have to be washed. 

1. Pet stores just don’t take proper care of animals

young customers selecting tropical fish
You can’t depend on pet stores to properly care for their animals. |

Even if animals don’t arrive at the pet store with major health issues, pet stores don’t do much to prevent them from developing those issues. Pet stores place rats and reptiles in severely crowded enclosures. They put fish in tiny tanks. Many put birds in cages where they can’t stretch their wings. And according to PETA, “Sick and dying animals are often left to starve, tossed in the trash, or shoved into freezers while they’re still alive.” Many pet stores just don’t take good care of their animals.