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Buying a Pet

Although pets are not treated much differently than other consumer goods in the eyes of the law, buying a pet is much different than buying a pair of socks or a television set. But in addition to pet "lemon" laws and disclosure requirements, various laws also protect the health and well-being of animals sold as pets.

Most pet sales regulations are at the state level, while the federal Animal Welfare Act applies more to animals used for research, exhibition, and transport.

This article covers the basics of purchasing a pet, including disclosure regulations; sales agreements and warranties; exotic pet laws; and more. See "Consumer Transactions" for FindLaw's complete coverage of legal topics pertaining to the buying and returning of consumer goods.

Disclosure Rules for Pet Sales

Regulations governing the purchase of pets typically focus on professional breeders and retail sales at pet shops. However, anyone selling puppies or kittens out of their home also may be subject to such disclosure rules. Basically, anyone selling animals as pets must disclose facts about the animal's age, health, and background. It is also a good idea to ask about immunizations, medications, and veterinary treatments.

Pet store regulations primarily set standards for sanitation; ventilation and heat; proper nutrition and water provisions; and generally humane treatment. Some states have additional legal requirements that animals be inspected by a veterinarian before being sold. But keep in mind that pet shops often source their animals from breeders in states with lax animal welfare laws in order to maintain lower overhead costs.

Depending on your city and/or state of residence, you may need to obtain a breeder's license if you plan to sell even just one puppy or kitten. Just a single litter of puppies in many states automatically characterizes the owner of the mother as a breeder, for example. Most states require the disclosure of a breeder's license for those selling puppies and kittens.

While disclosure of an animal's age and health is required throughout the U.S., certain states have additional requirements. Below are two examples of states with tighter disclosure laws:

  • California: Retailers must provide each pet buyer with a written form documenting the animal's medical history; retailers also must post the animal's state (or nation) or origin on each cage or display container
  • Ohio: Any seller (retailer or otherwise) must inform the prospective buyer if the animal has ever attacked or attempted to attack an individual; if so, the seller must describe the event in detail (this information is filed with the local board of health and provided to the buyer)

Pet "Lemon" Laws

Roughly 14 states have regulations protecting pet buyers that are similar to so-called "lemon" laws for automobile purchases. California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania are among those with pet lemon laws.

Basically, these laws allow a consumer who purchased an unhealthy animal to return the animal for a refund, an exchange, and reimbursement for applicable veterinary costs. Some such laws only cover dogs, while others also apply to cats or other animals.

Below are two examples of pet lemon laws:

  • Florida: Pet buyers have 14 days to report infectious disease and one year to report hereditary defects (covers both dogs and cats); possible penalty and misdemeanor charges against the dealer where applicable
  • New York: Pet buyers have 14 days to report infectious disease or hereditary defects (covers both dogs and cats); no penalty for dealers in violation of pet dealer regulations

Warranties and Sales Agreements

Even if your state's pet laws protect you from unhealthy pets, you may want to get other assurances—such as pedigree or training claims—in writing. As with any sale, a written sales agreement is a legally binding contract between the seller and the buyer. Use the following considerations when deciding whether or not to draft a sales agreement when buying a pet:

  • If your state has no pet lemon law, consider adding similar conditions in the form of a warranty (for example, an agreement that you may return the animal if it is determined to be unhealthy within the first two weeks)
  • Where did the animal come from?
  • If the dealer or breeder claims a dog is trained to guard homes, ask for documentation as a condition of the sale
  • Ask for documentation that the animal is of a claimed pedigree
  • Any guarantees or warranties should be written in the agreement

Exotic Pet Laws

While most people prefer to keep dogs or cats as pets, others prefer more exotic animals such as ferrets, hedgehogs, or even cougars. But most states restrict the kinds of animals that may be kept as pets, usually for the purposes of public safety and the welfare of wild animals.

Examples of state exotic pet laws are listed below (check your state laws for more specific information):

  • Arizona: Restricted animals include non-domestic canines and felines (wolves and bobcats, for example); primates (with some exceptions); crocodiles and alligators; poisonous snakes
  • California: No wild animals may be kept as pets
  • Florida: Restricted animals include bears, chimpanzees, and rhinoceroses; but animals such as howler monkeys, macaques, wolves, cougars, and bobcats may be kept as pets with a permit
  • Illinois: Dangerous animals may not be kept as pets, including large cats and poisonous reptiles
  • Texas: License is required to keep dangerous animals as pets, including bears, cougars, and tigers; Texas law does not cover the keeping of monkeys, wolves, or many other wild animals
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