Puppy Mill FAQs

How do you define a puppy mill?

A puppy mill is a breeding operation that breeds dogs for profit, prioritizing financial gain over the health or well-being of the dogs. If a breeding operation breeds for profit and sells to pet stores or to consumers over the Internet, it is not a responsible breeding facility. While puppy mills may vary in size and conditions, any breeding operation that places profit over the health or well-being of the dogs can be accurately described as a puppy mill.


Inside of a puppy mill in St. Anne’s, Illinois.

Are all puppy mills the same?

Yes and no. There is variation across facilities. Some may be better or worse than others, but any breeding operation that places profit over the health or well-being of the dogs meets the commonly accepted definition of a puppy mill. Puppy mills are in business solely to make a profit. Veterinary care, staffing, and humane living conditions are expensive and cut into the profit margin, particularly for large numbers of dogs. Mills keep overhead costs as low as possible to maximize their profits.

I’ve heard a lot of different terms used to describe puppy mills. What is the difference between a puppy mill, a commercial breeder, or a puppy farm?

These terms all describe the same thing – a breeding operation that breeds dogs exclusively for profit and keeps the costs for caring for the dogs as minimal as possible. There is a difference, however, between these types of operations and responsible breeders. We will never use the term puppy mill, commercial breeder, or puppy farm to describe a responsible, reputable breeder. To learn more about what makes someone a responsible breeder, click here.

What if a breeder has a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) license?

In order to sell to a pet store, a breeder must obtain a USDA license. The fact that the breeder has a USDA license does not provide an assurance of quality or humane breeding. Instead, it means that it is held only to very minimal standards of care and is most likely a puppy mill. To learn why a USDA license does not mean that you are purchasing a responsibly-bred pet, click here. Responsible breeders do not sell to pet stores, and are prohibited from doing so by their breed club guidelines.

What does it mean if the store assures me that my puppy is registered or has papers?

It simply means that your puppy is registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) and that his or her parents are registered with the AKC as a purebred. Contrary to popular belief, this registration means nothing with respect to the quality of breeding (and whether the breeder conducts appropriate genetic testing) or the conditions in which the puppy was bred. The AKC has a long history of opposing legislation that would improve conditions for dogs living in mills and supports the commercial dog breeding industry. Read more here. We have seen first-hand the profits that the AKC makes from registering puppy mill dogs sold at dog auctions.

What if a pet store assures me that their breeders are in compliance and that they only buy from the best breeders?

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean anything more than that the breeders are licensed to sell to pet stores and that they meet the USDA’s minimal standards. The USDA’s standards for care of companion animals are extremely minimal, and these standards are not adequately enforced. Pet stores will often tout that their puppies only come from the best USDA-licensed facilities, yet the conditions in USDA compliant facilities are often far below what most people would consider acceptable for companion animals.

How do you know that the puppies sold in pet stores come from puppy mills?

You can trace the origin of a puppy sold in a pet store through federal and state records. Commercial breeding facilities that sell to pet stores must be licensed by the USDA. Pet stores in Illinois are required to provide the name of the breeder for each puppy. You can look up a registered breeder on the USDA website and see the number of adult animals, puppies, and any violations that the breeder has incurred. In addition, when a puppy is shipped from out of state, a veterinarian must file a health certificate with the state department of agriculture for every puppy shipped into the state that identifies the breeder or broker. By looking at the breeder or broker on the health certificates, or by going into the pet store and looking at the name of the breeder, you can see where pet stores are sourcing their puppies from. If you would like to research a breeder on the USDA website, click here.

I keep seeing the term broker. What is a puppy broker?

Brokers are pet dealers that obtain puppies from breeders, transport them, and then re-sell them to pet stores (in other words, a “middle man”.) Brokers need a Class B USDA license to operate. Brokers are a key part of the puppy mill supply chain as most pet stores obtain their puppies from brokers, and not directly from the breeders. Brokers often ship large quantities of puppies at a time for long distances in crowded conditions, creating a significant risk for the spread of illness.

Isn’t the problem the breeders, and not the pet stores?

Pet stores are the primary sales outlet for commercially-bred puppies. Pet stores are necessary to sustain and perpetuate the puppy mill industry. It is imperative to cut off the end of the supply chain to decrease the number of puppy mills. Further, pet stores are complicit in consumer fraud. Pet stores often misrepresent the true origins of their puppies and mislead consumers into believing that they are purchasing a responsibly and humanely-bred puppy. Focusing our educational and advocacy efforts on pet stores is an extremely effective way to fight puppy mills.

If pet stores stop selling puppies, will there be a puppy shortage?

Absolutely not. There are millions of dogs in shelters and rescues needing homes at this very minute. Many shelters and rescues have puppies available, and there are thousands of puppies available on Petfinder.com. The idea that consumers will no longer be able to obtain a puppy is a myth perpetuated by pet stores that sell puppies.

What if I need a designer breed, hypo-allergenic dog, etc.? Can I only get those at pet stores?

There is no such thing as a designer breed, or a truly hypo-allergenic dog. A designer breed is a mixed breed dog, or what many refer to as a “mutt.” You can find this at your local shelter. Many “specialty” breeds are unhealthy and should not be bred in the first place. For example, “teacup” breeds are bred by taking the runt of one litter and breeding with the runt of another. Breeding dogs for appearance or based on popular trends results in unhealthy dogs that are not properly tested for temperament or genetics, undesirable physical and mental traits, and often a surplus of those dogs in shelters. Read here to learn how the creator of the Labradoodle regrets his creation. If you want a specific breed of dog, you can find nearly any breed at a breed-specific rescue, or find a responsible breeder that specializes in that particular breed (and will not sell a puppy to you without meeting you first).

Are there specific breeds that come from puppy mills?

Unfortunately, puppy mills produce all kinds of dogs. This can include purebreds, but also popular hybrids, aka designer dogs. They sell labradoodles, yorkipoos, maltipoos, pomskies, schnoodles, cockapoos, cavapoos, teddy bear puppies, maltichons, puggles, goldendoodles, sheltidoodles, chorkies, maltese shih tzus, peekapoos, goldadors, cane corsos, shihpoos, mastiffs, bulldogs, basset hounds, collies, shelties, corgis, labs, golden retrievers, shepherds and more.

Is your goal to shut down pet stores?

No. In fact, we love pet stores! We support pet stores that sell quality food, pet supplies, and offer services for pet owners. In 2014, Americans spent over $58 billion on their pets. We simply want pet stores to operate humanely and to stop exploiting animals for profits. There is a wave of stores across the country that provide space to showcase rescued animals available for adoption. There are many ways for pet stores to be successful and profitable without supporting cruelty – both local family-owned businesses and large national chains are thriving without selling animals.