The Current State of Pet Shop Laws
To view pet shop laws, state by state, please click here.
Federal Law Summary
While some legal protections exist, these laws are not sufficiently specific to provide meaningful protection to pet shop animals. For starters, the average person probably looks to federal law for a framework mandating the fundamental care of pet store animals here in the U.S. However, that assurance is misplaced as federal protection for these animals is almost nonexistent. The U.S. Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in 1966 (7 USC §§ 2123-2157). Originally called the “Laboratory Animal Welfare Act,” this law has been amended several times since its passage and now addresses certain warm-blooded animals maintained by animal dealers, transporters, and exhibitors in addition to research facilities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the AWA through its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
This expanded AWA initially sounds great but, on closer examination, significant exemptions and limitations in this law become apparent. The AWA mandates standards of care for certain animals with regard to their housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary services, and protections from extreme weather. These animal care standards are minimal and do not adequately protect the covered animals from mistreatment, neglect, and improper handling.
Furthermore, the AWA protects limited types of animals and then only in certain situations. The AWA protects dogs, cats, non-human primates, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, farm animals used in research or exhibition, and horses used in nonagricultural research. Cold-blooded animals — which are frequently housed and sold at pet stores — are not regulated by the AWA. While the AWA requires certain animal facilities to comply with licensing, inspection and animal care requirements, the following entities are not classified under the AWA as animal dealers: retail pet stores, hobby breeders, public animal shelters, private animal shelters, and boarding kennels. As a result of these numerous exemptions and limitations in coverage, exotic and wild animals are the only animals housed in retail pet facilities that are afforded protection under the AWA; accordingly, the individual states are the primary source of legal protections for most animals housed in pet stores.
While federal regulations currently are being considered that may provide some protection to certain animals sold at pet stores, it is unclear when these proposed regulations will take effect and it is difficult to predict the precise nature of the regulations themselves.
State Law Overview
Only 27 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws which establish some form of humane care standards for animals kept at pet shops and sold in a retail environment. Summarized below — and outlined in this chart — are each state’s laws governing the treatment and sale of animals at pet shops.
Food, Water and Sanitation:
Twenty-four states (Arizona, California (food only), Colorado, Delaware (food only), Hawaii (food only), Illinois (food only), Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia) require that pet stores provide the tangible, common-sense basics of food and water, and 21 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland (birds only), Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia) and the District of Columbia require proper sanitation for the animals housed in their facilities. These provisions often specify the quality of food and water provided as well as a maximum length of time between feedings or supplying fresh water, and the sanitation, storage and cleaning methods that keep housing, food and bedding hygienic and dry.
While 17 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) require that pet shops provide veterinary care to sick or injured animals, only 2 of them (Kansas and Nebraska) require that each pet shop devise, in conjunction with a licensed veterinarian, a written program preventing disease, parasitic infestations, and injuries for the animals housed at the pet shop. A number of states require a certificate of health to accompany animals when they are transported across state lines for sale at a pet shop; other states require these health certificates prior to offering the animal for sale regardless of whether or not the animals were imported to the state.
Twenty-three states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Wisconsin) and the District of Columbia prohibit the sale of some unweaned animals. Consumer protection is a partial motive for these provisions, which are designed to prevent the sale of sick or diseased animals to the public. In some states, these measures restrict the sale of puppies and kittens under the age of eight weeks while other states prohibit the sale of rabbits or ducklings under a certain age. As a result of our sponsored efforts, California is the first state to prohibit the sale of unweaned parrots in retail venues.
Lighting and Stress:
A surprising number of state laws have evolved to the point where more abstract — but nonetheless important — quality of life provisions are required for animals in pet stores. For example, 13 states (Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, and Virginia) and the District of Columbia require that lighting be sufficient to provide for cleaning and inspection of the animals for signs of illness or injury. Several of these states require the provision of diurnal lighting to reduce animal stress.
A variety of provisions in 18 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, and Virginia) and the District of Columbia establish requirements for the housing or caging of animals at pet shops. Most often, these provisions require that animals be provided with adequate space to stand up, sit down, and assume natural postural positions. Some states also require all housing to be constructed in a manner that prevents injury to the animals housed within. Maine and Minnesota require that housing be provided in a manner to minimize stress and the abnormal, repetitive, meaningless behaviors that can accompany housing in a constricted manner.
Temperature and Ventilation:
Eleven states (Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, and Virginia) and the District of Columbia require that the temperature in pet shops be kept in a range which promotes the comfort and health of the animals contained within. And 14 states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, and Oregon) and the District of Columbia require that facilities be ventilated to minimize noxious odors, moisture and condensation.
While the breadth and level of detail varies substantially, 8 states (Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey, and New York) mandate the techniques by which animals can be euthanized (put to death) at pet shops. An additional 12 states (California, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Wisconsin) provide broader restrictions — restrictions on humane euthanasia methods in a variety of settings. In addition to pet shops, these laws would apply to other entities such as animal shelters.
Sixteen states (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia) have enacted so-called “lemon laws” — consumer protection measures solely geared to provide specific recourse to members of the public who purchase sick or diseased animals from pet shops. In states where there is no lemon law, the state attorney general’s office, the state department of consumer affairs or the Better Business Bureau may have jurisdiction to address consumer disputes with a particular pet shop. These states also require pet shops to disclose particular information to purchasers and prospective purchasers, which may include the name and contact information of the breeder, any veterinary care provided to the animal prior to sale, a guarantee of good health, the animal’s vaccination history, recommendations for spay/neuter, and/or species-specific care guidelines.
Licensing and Record-keeping:
A latent but nonetheless important requirement in 21 states (Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida (birds only), Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland (birds only), Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont) and the District of Columbia is the requirement that pet shops obtain a license from a particular state or local agency prior to engaging in the sale of animals. (Cities or counties may require a local license independently of state law.) Pet shops are required in 20 states (Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island) and the District of Columbia to record basic data, such as the dates of acquisition and sale of each animal, the animals’ identification numbers, the breeder’s name and contact information, and/or the purchaser’s name and contact information. These record-keeping requirements aid in the enforcement of that state’s pet shop laws.
Nebraska is the lone state requiring that pet shops provide training in the appropriate care of animals to their employees. This knowledge is imperative for the employees who actually provide the day-to-day essentials to the animals. It is incumbent on these employees to be able to safely and adequately care for the animals in the pet stores’ custody as well as to observe the animals for signs of illness or stress and to promptly report such concerns to the veterinarian for follow-up.
At this time, only one state — California — requires socialization for pet store animals. State laws should be strengthened to require socialization and enrichment to improve the quality of life and reduce stress on the animals.