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Pet purchase protection laws

Know your rights if your new pet isn’t healthy

by Jami Barnett, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team
puppy at the vet
Note: The information presented here is general. To understand your specific rights, contact the governing authority related to the sale of companion animals in your state, the State Attorney General’s Office, or a local lawyer.

Pet lemon laws, commonly called puppy lemon laws or pet lemon laws, make it easier for pet purchasers to get their money back if a recently purchased pet becomes sick or dies. Options usually include returning the animal for a refund, exchanging it, keeping it and receiving a partial refund and/or be reimbursed for veterinary costs associated with treating it. To receive reimbursement for veterinary costs or the purchase price of the animal, seek medical attention for your new puppy if it gets sick. Retain all paperwork related to the purchase and the cost of care.

As of 2017, 22 states have enacted pet purchase protection acts. If you live in a state without puppy lemon laws, you might be able to get compensation from the breeder or seller if their new puppy becomes sick.

Methodology: For this article, I spent over 35 hours researching pet lemon laws and animal law. This included reading the text of pet purchase protection laws for several states, reading two law review articles, reviewing relevant sections of the Animal Legal and Historical Web Center site run by Michigan State University and reading the American Veterinary Medical Association newsletter articles on animal law.
dalmatian puppy at the vet

Which states have pet lemon laws?

As of this article’s publication, the following states had some sort of pet purchase protection act:

puppy and owner

Common questions about pet and puppy lemon laws

What protections do puppy lemon laws offer?

Laws and protections available vary between states with pet purchase protection acts. There is no standard for the length of time new owners are protected or for their options if their pet becomes ill. If you live in a state with a puppy lemon law, contact the State Attorney General’s Office or a local lawyer to get the most recent information on the laws in your state.

In general, the laws require the seller to take action if the dog gets sick, develops a hereditary problem or dies within a specified period of time. Although most states protect owners if the animal gets sick within two weeks, the exact time frame varies. For example, in Vermont pet owners are only protected if the animal they bought gets sick within seven days, while those in Illinois have 21 days. The timeline for discovering a genetic problem ranges from one month to over a year, depending on the state.

In most states, owners have three options if their dog or cat gets sick:

  1. Return the pet for a full refund.
  2. Exchange the pet for one of similar value.
  3. Keep the pet and get reimbursed for qualifying veterinary expenses.

State laws vary on how much can be reimbursed for veterinary costs and whether or not state taxes are included in a refund if the owner wants to return the dog or cat.

What protection exists in states without pet lemon laws?

In states without pet lemon laws, buyers’ rights will vary based on the contract laws in the state. If you live in a state without a specific pet lemon law, contact the State Attorney General’s Office or a contract law attorney.

Many of the protections in these states will be determined by the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). The UCC defines goods as moveable items that can be sold. While it may be distressing as an animal lover to look at your pet as a good, this legal definition can help you if your dog dies or gets sick shortly after they purchase it because goods come with an implied warranty of merchantability.

The implied warranty means that goods should be fit for the use for which they’re sold. Courts determine goods’ intended use and whether or not they’re fit on a case-by-case basis. In the case of a dog, the use and fitness will depend on whether it was purchased as a companion animal or as a show dog.

Do pet lemon laws require sellers to provide registration papers for purebreds?

Some states’ pet lemon laws have specific protections for people who buy a pet that is advertised as being a purebred that can be registered with a specific group, like the American Kennel Club (AKC). In those states, if the seller fails to provide the new owner with the appropriate registration documents in a given period of time, the buyer is entitled to a partial discount or a full refund.

Buyers in states with pet lemon laws that do not specifically say the seller must provide advertised registration papers and those in states without a pet purchase protection act may have some recourse under contract law if they clearly told the seller that they planned to show the dog.

Who do puppy lemon laws apply to?

States with pet purchase protection acts specify who must abide by the law. Breeders and sellers are often classified separately, and each group may have different responsibilities. Individuals who breed a small number of animals on their residential property and sell those dogs directly to consumers, sometimes called hobby breeders, are often excluded from the rules governing both breeders and sellers.

In states without pet lemon laws, contract law may only apply to the merchant who sold the pet to the consumer. The merchant might be a pet shop, a breeder or an individual who sells multiple litters of puppies each year. Courts will determine whether contract law governs a particular seller on a case-by-case basis.

Internet sellers may or may not be held to the same standards as other sellers in any state. Courts have a difficult time determining jurisdiction when consumers buy an animal online. If you’re considering buying a dog online, make sure to thoroughly research the seller’s reputation before you make a purchase.

puppy and owner at table

What to do when getting a pet and steps to take if it becomes ill

To have the strongest case for receiving compensation, take the following actions:

  • Take a new puppy or kitten to a veterinarian for a general check-up within a week of receiving it, even if the dog or cat seems healthy.
  • Retain all paperwork from the seller and any visited veterinarians for at least one year after the purchase.

If your pet does become ill:

  • Take it to the vet immediately and retain all records and receipts from the vet’s office.
  • If the dog or cat dies, take the body to the veterinarian to determine whether it died of an illness that the breeder or dealer should have known about.
  • Notify the breeder or dealer as soon as a veterinarian diagnoses a sick dog or cat. Follow all veterinarian recommendations for treatment.
  • Contact the agency that oversees puppy lemon laws or fraudulent merchants in their state, typically the State Attorney General’s Office.
  • Contact an attorney who specializes in animal law or contract law.
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by Jami Barnett, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Jami Barnett, Ph.D., is an experienced researcher, and she believes consumers have a right to clear and honest information about products. In her role at ConsumerAffairs, she thoroughly researches products and companies by interviewing experts, reviewing research studies, reading governmental regulations and investigating customer service responses. Her work gives consumers the information they need to make smart purchasing decisions.