Law on Puppy Mills in the United States

August 12, 2021Zihao Yu


A puppy mill is a “factory farm” for dogs, where profit takes priority over the health, comfort, and welfare of the dogs. Dogs that are bought by people from pet stores or on the Internet mostly come from commercial puppy mills. Although there are no legal terms on puppy mills, the Humane Society defines a puppy mill as “an inhumane, commercial dog breeding facility in which the health of the dogs is disregarded to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.”

Facts Inside Puppy Mills

According to the Humane Society, in the United States, 10,000 puppy mills are estimated to be currently active, but of which fewer than 3,000 are regulated by the USDA. Within these facilities, 500,000 dogs are kept solely for breeding purposes in all puppy mills, and 2.6 million puppies are sold each year after originating from a puppy mill. Each female dog is estimated to "produce" 9.4 puppies per year.

"Caged Kindness" by midnightrook is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Issues Inside Puppy Mills

Animal Welfare and Health Issues

All dogs deserve the good life, with plenty of food, shelter, socialization, and veterinary care, but most commercial puppy mills cannot provide enough care and conditions. Dogs are confined in small cages of the minimum legal size allowed by the local governments, but the rules only impose the minimum standards and care to commercial breeders. Dogs in puppy mills are kept in cages with high density and high volume, as it’s legal for licensed breeders to own 1,000 or more dogs. The breeders are not responsible for neither the welfare nor the health condition of the moms and pups. Puppies bred in these harsh environments are frequently physically and emotionally damaged. Dogs from puppy mills are often sick and unsocialized, which may increase the risk of abnormal behaviors and mental problems.


Force Breeding

Female dogs are forced to breed constantly to produce as many as possible, which is estimated to be around 9.4 puppies per breeding female per year. “Mother dogs spend their entire lives in cramped cages with little to no personal attention. When the mother and father dogs can no longer breed, they are abandoned or killed.” Read more here.



The pups “produced” from the puppy mill cages are put into small cages for sale to pet stores and online retailers. During the transportation process, their welfare and health condition are always neglected without adequate care such as “adequate vet care, sunlight, fresh air, protection from the heat or cold”. The whole process is called "from cage to cage".


Sick Pets

“Because puppies from puppy mills are more likely to have health problems due to poor care, many consumers are faced with significant veterinary bills or even the death of their puppy soon after purchase.” Although some jurisdictions have passed consumer protection law for puppies, which are as known as “puppy lemon laws” to provide financial support for dog owners, these laws cannot provide the protection for puppies, even if the dog owner is offered a refund, another puppy, or reimbursement. At the same time, the dog owners are afraid that the seller may destroy the returned puppies instead of taking care of them.


Although all states have anti-cruelty laws to prevent neglect and mistreatment of dogs, these laws are seldom applied to puppy mills. Puppy mill dogs are often treated as agricultural "crops" and not as pets.

"Santorini Strays" by Klearchos Kapoutsis is licensed under CC BY 2.0

U.S. Legislation

At the federal level, in 1966, Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act, which outlines specific minimum standards of care for dogs, and some other kinds of animals bred for commercial resale. Under the AWA, certain large-scale commercial breeders are required to be licensed and regularly inspected by the USDA.


At the state level, according to the report by the Humane Society in 2020, among the 50 states in the U.S., 17 states require licensing and inspections, or elect to inspect under its authority, 17 states require some licensing or limits but do not regularly inspect, and 16 states have no specific laws to address puppy mills.


For detailed provisions of puppy mill laws, there are the categories of Commercial Breeder Laws, Puppy Lemon Laws, Pet Leasing Restrictions, Pet Store Sales Restrictions, and Outdoor Sales Ban/ Restrictions. Read more here.


Retail Pet Sale Ban

On the other hand, as puppy mills are one of the most important parts of the whole retail pet sale industry, the laws banning retail pet sales are important for puppy mills. “Retail pet sale bans prohibit pet stores from selling dogs and cats (and sometimes additional animals like a rabbit) sourced from commercial breeders. Instead, stores can offer animals available for adoption from rescues and shelters. In 2017, California made history when it became the first state to prohibit pet stores from selling commercially-bred animals. Maryland followed suit with a similar law in 2018.  Hundreds of cities and counties, including Cook County (Chicago), Boston, and Philadelphia, have also passed retail pet sale bans.” (ALDF) There are close to 300 U.S. cities and counties that have passed retail pet sales ban legislation.


“Retail pet sales bans often include language promoting partnerships between animal shelters/rescues and pet stores, so that stores can encourage the adoption of homeless pets instead of stocking commercially bred puppies.” (ASPCA)



Unfortunately, a puppy mill ban or retail pet sale ban is not a popular trend in Asian jurisdictions. With the trend of retail pet sales, the slogan “Adopt Not Shop” will have a limited impact. The ban on puppy mills or retail pet sales will make people adopt more from animal shelters and abandon fewer animals so the ban will have a good impact on animal shelters and stray animals. There is still a long way to go to educate the public and change the view of society.

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