Inadequate Husbandry Practices
While there are responsible pet stores out there, MANY are not. If you don’t believe me, take a few hours to research the basic needs of common pet store animals (ferrets, iguanas, water turtles, parrots) and then visit your local pet store. You will likely find cramped quarters, inadequate lighting, poor heat, and low quality diet. Animals that require socialization (such as puppies, kittens and parrots) rarely receive any at all. While this would most likely be okay for most animals for short durations, in reality, animals can spend months, even years in pet stores and they can’t possible thrive under these inadequate conditions for such long periods of time.
The Death Traps
In some stores, you can find dead and dying animals in absolutely disgustingly filthy cages. Whether the employees are overwhelmed or just apathetic, the conditions in these stores have deteriorated beyond belief. I have entered pet stores and been sick from the smell of feces and urine. I have seen the skeletal remains of a snake in one enclosure, a bloody glob that was once a hamster in another. I have photos of parrot cages that are so encrusted in droppings you can hardly see the parrots housed inside. (Don’t be fooled – even the stores with spotless showcases can have a completely different set up in their Employee Only backrooms.) To read a news story about one of these death trap pet stores, click here.
Pet store employees are not always qualified to work with animals, let alone sell them. Unfortunately, these employees are often who customers ask for pet care advice. I have heard worthless to downright dangerous advice given by pet store employees who claim to be the experts of their departments. These “experts” are also usually the ones that provide “in-store veterinary care” to animals.
In many stores, employees are taught to prey on ‘impulse buyers’. These buyers know little to nothing about the animal they’ve impulsively decided to purchase. They are not prepared to bring the animal home but instead buy everything at once at the direction of an employee. Some of the more common impulsively bought animals (green iguanas, parrots, even dogs and cats) are completely inappropriate pets for the average ‘impulse buyer’. When the buyers lose interest, these pets pay the price of neglect and improper care – most end up dead or in animal shelters.
Before they reach store shelves…
Pet store abuse is just one of many hardships pet store animals have to endure before they (hopefully) find a home.
Pet store animals come from one of three sources:
- Backyard breeders – A “backyard” or “home breeder” is someone who keeps a number of animals and either breeds them deliberately or just lets them breed. They may breed dogs, cats, hamsters, reptiles, etc. They usually have no understanding of or concern about breed standards, genetics, socializing, or animal health. They usually sell their animals out of the newspaper or online but will occasionally sell to local pet stores. A backyard breeder who is successful may decide to expand and become a commercial breeder.
- Commercial breeder – Known as ‘pet mills’, these large-scale breeding facilities produce animal after animal, with only profit in mind. Animals are kept in rows of bare wire cages, fed low quality food, given prophylactic (preventative) veterinary care, and have little or no socialization with humans. They are considered livestock – not pets. The news is full of horror stories about mills that have been closed down due to extreme neglect and abuse. Even the more “responsible” mills are contributing to the overpopulation of dogs, cats, parrots, rabbits, and green iguanas.
- The wild – Pet stores also sell ‘wild caught’ animals that have been imported. These animals go through a long, complicated ordeal that leaves up to eighty percent of them dead by the time they reach stores. The survivors almost always have a long list of health problems that dramatically shorten their lifespans. Many of these animals are already being captive bred here in the US. Why are pet stores still selling wild caught specimens? (Because they are cheaper and easier to get, of course.) Of all the animals you can purchase in a pet store, wild caught animals are probably the least likely to thrive.
The risks involved
Not surprisingly, the chances of purchasing a sick or injured animal from a pet store are extremely high. When this happens, customers are often left to deal with the problem on their own. Pet store ‘warranties’ usually require that the sick pet is returned to the store, where it is euthanized or sold to another unsuspecting customer. Every day I receive emails from pet store customers who are dealing with stores that refuse to honor their warranties. Unfortunately I often have to tell these people that they are out of luck due to the unscrupulous contracts they’ve been tricked into signing. The rest of the people end up having to go to court to see any money from these stores.
In addition to the high risk of animal disease, there is also the danger of zoonotic diseases (those that can be spread from animals to humans). Animals not properly maintained or kept in dirty conditions are more likely to transmit these diseases. Salmonella, monkeypox, and psittacosis outbreaks in humans have all been linked back to pet stores.
Many pet stores are also selling worthless, even harmful, products. With the exception of food and medicine, there are no safety regulations for pet products. Manufacturers can make and sell anything they want – safe or not! Some of these products can hurt or even kill your beloved pets.
The bottom line..
The bottom line is that the pet industry is about making a profit, not about the animals caught in the middle. In addition to the abuse that goes on in pet stores, there are many other unscrupulous practices that occur in the pet trade such as: (cyanide fishing, production breeding, fish painting, the sale of unweaned animals). Fortunately, as customers, we have the power to effect real change by taking action when we witness abuse and being more mindful in our dealings with the industry.
I created this website not as a ‘pet store hate page’, but as a source of information. Not all pet stores abuse their animals or obtain them from abusive sources. It is, however, important that action be taken against the stores that do. It also undeniable that the industry as a whole needs to change. Too many animals are being mistreated before they even reach store shelves.