Buying a Pet? BBB Tips for Avoiding Costly Pet Buying Mistakes

September 04, 2008

The Better Business Bureau regularly handles complaints from consumers who have purchased a pet only to find that the new pet has serious health problems.  In a complaint received this week, a consumer who purchased a dog from a breeder in Louisville reported that the dog was ill when purchased and was later diagnosed with a condition called mega esophagus. 


“The vet bills were in the thousands and she now requires costly medications daily,” the consumer wrote.  “This is a rare condition and took about 4 months to diagnose…(and) she needs to be fed several times a day in a chair that keeps her upright so the food enters her stomach.”


To add to the problem, the breeder of the dog initially agreed to refund the $450 paid for the dog, but has never provided the refund.  Now, the breeder is telling the pet owner that she is losing her home and declaring bankruptcy, and will be unable to provide the refund.


It’s fair to say that this consumer has experienced a true pet-buying horror story.  Here are a few tips to help you avoid such a horror story if you are looking for a new pet:


Consider adoption:  Animal shelters have dogs, including purebreds, just waiting for homes.  You can also find pets through breed-specific rescue groups for every breed of dog and certain other pets as well.  You may be responsible for some veterinary bills at the time of adoption, but you can have more confidence that a mature pet which has been checked out by a veterinarian will not have a serious disease.


Find a responsible breeder and visit the premises where the dog is being raised:  Expect to see dogs in the home as part of the family, not outside in a kennel; ask for references from other families who have purchased puppies; ask to meet the pets parents, especially the mother, and check to make sure all dogs in the family appear happy and healthy; ask about the breeder’s relationship with a local veterinarian and what veterinary care the prospective pet and parents have received.


Do careful research on the breed of pet you are considering:  Learn both about the disposition of the animals in that breed, and especially about potential genetic problems that are common in that breed of animal.  All breeds of animals have certain genetic diseases that are more common in the breed.  Find out if the animals parents and grandparents have been tested to ensure that they are free of these genetic problems.


Be cautious about “puppy mill” dogs:  The Humane Society of the United States says, “Just because a website says great things about their ‘home raised’ or ‘family raised’ puppies doesn’t make it true. Many puppy millers pose as small family breeders online and in newspaper and magazine ads.”


Check out the breeder with the Better Business Bureau:  It is always useful to get a BBB Reliability Report® on any business or charity you are considering, and that includes pet breeders or veterinarians.  Simply go to, click the orange button that says “Check Out A Business or Charity,” and use the search box you’ll see to search for information by entering the business name, telephone number or website URL of the business.  You can also use the BBB website to search for a list of businesses that meet BBB standards by using the “Find A BBB Accredited Business” button to locate BBB accredited businesses for any specific type of business.


Here are several online sources for pet buying and pet care tips:


CLICK HERE to see a BBB alert about a puppy scam.