A puppy mill is a large-scale commercial dog breeding facility where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs.

Puppy mills usually house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions without adequate veterinary care, food, water or socialization. In order to maximize profits, female dogs are bred at every opportunity with little-to-no recovery time between litters. Puppy mill puppies, often as young as eight weeks of age, are sold to pet shops or directly to the public over the Internet, through newspaper ads and at swap meets and flea markets.

In a puppy mill, dogs are often kept in cages with wire flooring that injures their paws and legs—and it is not unusual for cages to be stacked in columns. When female breeding dogs reach a point of physical depletion and can no longer reproduce, they are often killed.

Because puppy mills focus on profit, dogs are often bred with little regard for genetic quality. Puppy mill puppies are prone to congenital and hereditary conditions including heart disease and blood and respiratory disorders. In addition, puppy mill puppies often arrive in pet stores and in their new homes with diseases or infirmities ranging from parasites to pneumonia. Because puppies are removed from their litter mates and mothers at a young age, they also often suffer from fear, anxiety and other behavioral problems.

Because so many of these breeders are operating without oversight, it is impossible to accurately track them or to know how many there truly are. The ASPCA estimates that there could be as many as 10,000 puppy mills in the United States.


There is no legal definition of a “puppy mill,” so don’t be fooled by pet store owners who show you “papers” or licenses to prove that their dogs are from humane sources. The fact is, responsible breeders would never sell a puppy through a pet store because they want to screen potential buyers to ensure their puppies are going to a good home.
Pet store puppies come from puppy mills. Responsible breeders do not sell their puppies to pet stores because they want to meet their puppy buyers in person. The suppliers of pet store puppies are largely “puppy mills,” commercial facilities that mass-produce puppies for sale.

Common Health Problems that Impact Puppy Mill Dogs: Illness and disease are common in dogs from puppy mills. Because puppy mill operators often fail to apply proper husbandry practices that would remove sick dogs from their breeding pools, puppies from puppy mills are prone to congenital and hereditary conditions. These can include:

  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Musculoskeletal disorders (hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, etc.)
  • Endocrine disorders (diabetes, hyperthyroidism)
  • Blood disorders (anemia)
  • Deafness
  • Eye problems (cataracts, glaucoma, progressive retinal atrophy, etc.)
  • Respiratory disorders

  • On top of that, puppies often arrive in pet stores and their new homes with diseases or infirmities, including:

  • Giardia
  • Parvovirus
  • Distemper
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Kennel cough
  • Pneumonia
  • Mange
  • Fleas
  • Ticks
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Heartworm
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Fearful behavior and lack of socialization with humans and other animals are typical of puppy mill dogs. Puppies born in puppy mills are typically removed from their litter mates and mothers at just six weeks of age. The first months of a puppy’s life are a critical socialization period for puppies. Spending that time with their mother and litter mates helps prevent puppies from developing problems like extreme shyness, aggression, fear and anxiety.
    Many pet store owners will tell you they get all their puppies from “licensed USDA breeders” or “local breeders.” Pet stores often use this licensing to provide a false sense of security to customers, when what it really means is that they do, in fact, get their puppies from puppy mills. Being registered or “having papers” means nothing more than the puppy’s parents both had papers. Many registered dogs, as well as pedigreed dogs, are sold in puppy mills. The only way you can be sure that a puppy came from a reputable source is to see where he or she came from yourself. Puppies sold online often come from puppy mills. Responsible breeders would never sell to someone they haven’t met because they want to screen potential buyers to ensure the puppies are going to good homes.

    Responsible breeders want to know as much about you as you do about them. If the breeder won’t allow you to see where the breeding dogs are living, you should walk away.

    Please make adoption your first option. Purebred dogs end up in shelters just like mixed breeds. Breed rescue groups exist for just about every breed possible. If you have your heart set on a purebred, please be sure to visit your local shelter or find a breed rescue group before searching for a breeder. If you can’t find what you want through a shelter or breed rescue group, please learn how to recognize a responsible breeder. When buying a dog from a breeder, always be sure to meet the puppy’s parents or at least the mother, and see where the dogs live. Never meet a breeder at an off-site location, and never have a puppy shipped to you sight-unseen.
    The federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), passed in 1966, requires breeders who have more than three breeding female dogs and sell puppies to pet stores or puppy brokers to be licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In most cases, the standards that breeders are required to meet by law are extremely minimal. Under the AWA, it is legal to keep a dog in a cage only six inches longer than the dog in each direction, with a wire floor, stacked on top of another cage, for the dog’s entire life. Conditions that most people would consider inhumane, or even cruel, are often legal.

    More than half of U.S. states have chosen to legislate higher standards of care for commercially bred animals beyond the bare minimums required by the AWA. Unfortunately, 21 states have no laws on the books regulating commercial dog breeders—and a number of states that do require breeders to be licensed and inspected by the state only require commercial breeders to meet USDA standards of care.

    The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man - Charles Darwin


    Hundreds of localities across the country have enacted ordinances to ban the sale of puppy mill dogs in retail pet stores. These ordinances are extremely and increasingly popular with local advocates across the country, and rightly so. We anticipate that these ordinances will continue to increase in the foreseeable future, and in some cases, we know that state-level legislation is being contemplated.

    All national animal welfare groups oppose the sale of dogs bred in substandard, inhumane conditions wherever those sales occur, and of course that includes retail pet stores.

    Properly worded ordinances send a strong message that a given community does not support puppy mill cruelty. They protect consumers who may unwittingly purchase sometimes sick or genetically compromised puppy mill puppies from pet stores. They promote the acquisition of shelter/rescue dogs instead of commercially bred dogs – causing increased shelter animal placement, decreased euthanasia, and a resulting fiscal benefit to the locality. Nationally, they pressure the commercial pet industry to clean up its act.

    Poor animal care standards among breeders/suppliers is causing them to lose markets, leaving them to choose between ceding those markets forever or forcing their breeders/suppliers to demonstrably and dramatically improve living conditions for dogs.

    In many cases, ordinances are championed by local advocates who contact their council members. Unfortunately, in some cases the language promoted is less than ideal. In some cases, cities that have enacted ordinances are being sued by store owners -- supported by the powerful commercial pet industry -- and cities and national animal welfare groups are forced to spend resources defending laws that should have been more appropriately worded In short – this issue is popping up all over the country and we need to do a better job of being proactive rather than reactive. Because laws governing pet sales vary greatly from state to state and even town to town, there is no “cookie cutter” legislation that can be provided to advocates. If you think that you would like to pass a sales ordinance in your city or county, please contact us for further information and we will try to help in any way that we can.
    See the list of all of the United States and Canada jurisdictions who have passed this legislation
    Petland, the Ohio-based company that has more than 70 retail stores across the U.S. "It is the largest chain of puppy-selling pet stores in the U.S.," says Kathleen Summers, the director of outreach and research puppy mill campaign at the Humane Society of the United States.

    Learn More

    Petland is one of the last chains to sell commercially-bred puppies through their stores. Large chains such as Petco, Pet Supermarket and PetSmart, no longer sell puppies, but instead work only with shelter and rescue dogs and cats. The movement of pet stores is away from the “puppy mill retail sales model” to a “humane” business model such as Woof Gang Bakery with eight stores in Florida.

    Read more about Petland here

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