It should come as no surprise that puppies (and kittens, and pretty much any type of animal) from pet stores can carry infectious diseases. The same can be said about puppies (and kittens, and pretty much any type of animal) from other sources. It’s really a question of the relative degree of risk. Particularly when you have young, stressed animals, with variable medical care, from questionable sources, being kept in groups that are frequently changing, the risk of disease increases a great deal. It’s exactly these types of animals that are most commonly found in pets stores.
I certainly don’t want to suggest that all pet stores are like this – some stores are run by people or companies that genuinely care about the animals, and that take precautions to only obtain healthy, well-cared for animals from ethical sources. Unfortunately, there also are many pet stores that are not run like this, and puppy mills are still alive and well because of it. In addition to having poor sources for their animals, some pet stores compound the problem by not providing adequate animal care.
A recent report about a pet store in Denver, CO, highlights this type of situation. The report describes a number of sick animals from the pet store, failed inspections, critical and repeated sanitation violations, and inadequate veterinary care of the animals there. The store owner seemed more concerned about complaining about "bunny-squeezing, tree-hugging, slimeball animal activists" – otherwise known as normal people that were unfortunate enough to buy sick animals from the store and had the gall to complain – than actually fixing the problem.
If you’re thinking about getting a new pet, here are some things to think about:
- If you want a new pet, research your options. Breeders, human societies and local classified ads are alternative (and usually cheaper) options to buying from pet stores.
- Ask specific questions about the origin and healthcare of the animals. Don’t accept any vague answers.
- More expensive does not mean better. Pet stores often charge astronomical prices for mixed breed dogs.
- Beware of animals in pet stores that came from "breeders" from far away. They could be from a puppy mill.
- Take your new pet to your vet immediately to identify any potential problems as soon as possible.
- If you or someone in your house has a weakened immune system, talk to both your physician and your veterinarian about any potential new pet. They can give you recommendations about what species, breed, age, and source of animal would be best for your household.
- Buying a pet is never an emergency. There is always time to ask questions, search for answers and look for other options. Never buy a pet of any kind on the "spur of the moment." A few extra days of research could save you years of heartache and expense, and could help prevent members of your family from getting sick.