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.
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:
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:
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:
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):