Your rights when buying a pet
Before you buy your new companion, it’s worth considering the four things that will broadly determine how strong your consumer rights are, and what you can do if anything goes wrong:
- Where you purchased your pet - from a private seller or business seller
- How you paid for your pet - in cash, cheque, bank transfer, debit card or credit card, in person or from a distance online or over the phone
- What information you have about your pet - what information the seller provided, and answers from the questions you asked to get a full picture of the animal’s health and background
- The written record you have about your pet - email confirmation of facts, a signed puppy contract or a commercial document from a pet shop
Buying a pet from a business seller
Pets are considered ‘goods’ in the eyes of the law. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 stipulates that goods must:
- be of satisfactory quality
- be fit for a particular purpose
- be as described
Your rights under the Consumer Rights Act relate to purchases from business sellers (eg pet shops).
If these consumer rights are breached, you may be entitled to reject the goods and receive a refund or to request a replacement.
Proving whether a pet is of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose can be difficult and any dispute would boil down to the tricky question of what it would have been reasonable for the seller to have known.
When purchasing a pet, remember to look out for any visible problems or issues before you commit to buying.
Are breeders private or business sellers?
It is not always clear whether a breeder should be considered a business seller or private seller.
But the general rule - whether or not the breeder is licensed - is: if the breeder’s intention is to make money from breeding that animal, then they it's a business seller.
Buying from a private seller
You have fewer rights when you buy a pet from a private seller, and key parts of the Consumer Rights Act don't apply.
If you purchase a pet from a private seller, rather than a business seller, you only have the right for the goods to match the description - for your pet to be ‘as described’.
Contractual rules about misrepresentation do apply, however. So, legally, the seller must:
- Accurately describe the animal. For example, an advert must not say the puppy is a an Alaskan Malamute when it’s actually a Siberian Husky. Accurately describing the animal is not limited to the breed. For example, if the seller says the puppy is well socialised with other dogs, but you take it home and it attacks or is fearful of your other dog, then the puppy is not as the seller described it in the advert.
- Not misrepresent the animal. The seller mustn’t tell you something about the animal which isn't true. For example, if it’s from a puppy farm, the owner mustn't tell you it’s been reared in a private family home. Similarly, if the seller says a kitten’s vaccinations are up to date and on further investigation it only ever had it's initial set and not received it's boosters, then that animal’s health has been misrepresented to you.
If you have the option to pay by credit card, do this as you’ll have more rights to get your money back under the chargeback scheme or Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 if you later have a dispute with the seller over your pet.
Ensure that you always get receipts, as well as any accompanying paperwork confirming you own your pet.
If you’re asked to pay a deposit, make sure that it is clearly established under what circumstances the deposit should be returned to you if the purchase doesn't go ahead.
What’s a puppy farm?
A puppy farm, also known as a puppy mill, is a high volume breeding facility where puppies are bred purely for commercial profit, often in poor conditions, with little regard for animal welfare and at an unhealthy rate.
Try to get as much information about the animal’s background as you can and take steps to avoid purchasing any puppies born and raised on a puppy farm.
If you buy a pet from a puppy mill, there’s an increased likelihood your pet will have health complications resulting from the conditions they were raised in.
What do I need to ask before buying a pet?
If you're buying from a private seller, the onus is on you as the buyer to ask all the right questions before making the purchase.
The seller doesn't have to volunteer extra information so, if you don't ask questions, you may not have the full picture of the animal's history or be aware of any potential faults.
If a problem occurs later on and it’s something you didn’t ask about, you have no rights.
There are two aspects to the description: what was written and what is said when you are there.
This means it’s important to ask as many questions as you can. Make sure you ask about:
The animal’s health
- Has the animal had its first vaccinations?
- Has it had recent boosters if it’s an older animal?
- Specifically, what vaccines have they had?
- Has the animal been treated for parasites and worms? If so, what was used to treat them? Has the animal already been checked by a vet? If so, could they show evidence of this?
The health of the parents
- Ask to see the parents if they’re there
- Ask about the health history of the parents, including how old they are and if they’ve had any issues before
The background and history of the animal
- Where was the animal bred? If it’s a private seller, did they breed the animal themself?
- How inbred is your animal?
- Has the animal been micro-chipped?
- Has the animal been socialised with other animals, small children or babies?
- If it’s an older animal, does it have any behavioural issues?
The breed and species
- What breed and species is the animal?
- Do they have proof of the breed, species or a pedigree certificate?
- Does the animal have any specialised needs owing to its breed or species - such as the specific lighting and precise diet needed for a snake?
You could check with your local vet before you purchase the animal if there are any additional questions you'll be asking or signs to watch out for when you meet the animal.
Have someone with you as a witness and don’t be afraid to ask for a vet check if you have your heart set on the animal.
You’ll have to pay for a vet check, but it can be well worth doing this in the long run, especially if it reveals any underlying health issues.
Make a record of what you’re told
If you’re asking the questions in person, write down all the answers you’re told and ask for the seller to agree to these with a signature.
If you can, try to ask the questions over email before you commit to meeting the seller and animal.
This is to make sure you’re getting as much information as possible in writing, as this will make it easier for you to complain if things go wrong later down the line.
Buying a dog? Get a puppy contract
If you’re buying a puppy, ask the seller if they’d agree to complete a Puppy contract, downloadable for free on the RSPCA website.
For breeders and sellers, a puppy contract is a record of a puppy’s breeding and care. A puppy contract can be used for all puppies, whether they are pedigree or not, and by any breeder or seller, including rescue centres.
You can use the information provided by the seller or breeder in the puppy contract to decide on whether you want the puppy.
If you have a puppy contract, you can also make a complaint later on if the puppy doesn’t match the description of the contract.
What to do when you get your pet home
Soon after you bring your new pet home, make an appointment with the vet to check the following:
- Get the pet scanned for the presence of a microchip as soon as possible - on the same day as you collect the animal if you can. If you find that the pet is microchipped and appears to have had a previous owner that you do not know about, you can deal with this as promptly as possible.
- Get your pet examined and treated for fleas and worms.
- Ask your vet to check your animal’s physical health, including the weight, eyes, ears and teeth.
Avoid pet scams: pay to a genuine seller
Make sure that any transactions such as paying a deposit or the full purchase price for an animal are done face-to-face, regardless of whether you pay by cheque, cash or bank transfer.
We've heard of scammers who will try and get you to transfer money before you’ve even met the pet or gone to pick it up, but the pet doesn't exist.
Don’t use services such as Paypal or Western Union money transfer to make a payment for a pet.