Buying a pet
New laws aimed at stopping puppy farming in Western Australia have passed State Parliament. They include a requirement for consumers to receive information at purchase about where dogs have come from and the transition of pet shops into adoption centres.
For many Australians, a pet is an important part of the family. Owning a pet can be extremely rewarding, but it is important to remember pet ownership is a big responsibility.
As a pet owner, you will provide for all of your pet’s requirements for its lifetime, including food, exercise, housing, socialisation, companionship, grooming and veterinary care. The RSPCA recommends careful planning, consideration and thorough research on the basics of pet care before buying any new pet. This will give you a clear understanding of your responsibilities as a pet owner and will also help you decide which type of pet will be suitable for your family and your lifestyle. The RSPCA’s guide, What do I need to know before I get a new pet?, asks some important questions that can help during this important planning stage.
If you decide to go ahead with purchasing a pet, it is important to know your legal rights as a consumer and be informed to make the right purchase.
Your legal rights when buying a pet
Generally, pets are purchased from pet shops, professional breeders or private sellers, or adopted from animal shelters or rescues.
Under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), buying a pet from a retailer is the same as buying any other product. You’re protected by a basic set of consumer guarantees to ensure you get what you paid for.
When you buy a pet from a pet shop or professional breeder, it automatically comes with the following ‘consumer guarantees’ to make sure you get what you paid for:
Acceptable quality – your pet should be healthy and have no undisclosed injuries or diseases that may reduce the length of its life, other than those commonly associated with some breeds.
Fit for any specified purpose – the seller guarantees that your pet will be suitable for any purpose they told you about, or which you discussed with the seller. In other words, you relied on the seller’s knowledge when deciding whether a certain pet would be suitable. For example, if you asked for a dog that was good with children but ended up with one that was aggressive and intolerant of children, it would not be ‘fit for purpose.’
Accurate description – any description of the pet, such as in a brochure, website or on a sales card, must be accurate. For example, if you bought a cat advertised as a purebred Persian that turned out to be a mixed breed, you would be entitled to a remedy.
Matching a description given or shown – when a consumer buys a pet based on a description, the pet purchased will match it (within reason). For example, if you bought a puppy advertised as a small breed but its rapid growth made you realise it’s a larger breed, you would be entitled to remedy. In some cases, differences between an animal and the description may not be within a seller’s control.
You have rights, and a seller may be required to offer a remedy, if your pet purchase does not meet the guarantees. Sellers cannot limit or exclude guarantees from applying, for example in a contract or a set of terms and conditions.
When adopting a pet from an animal shelter or rescue, some consumer guarantees may apply but only in very limited circumstances due to the often unknown history of the pet. You may be asked for a donation in exchange for adopting the pet. A true donation is voluntary and would not affect the adoption process. If the ‘donation’ is mandatory, meaning you cannot adopt the pet without paying the amount, it is actually a fee and therefore subject to the ACL.
Consumer guarantees do not apply to one-off purchases from private sellers. A professional breeder would be considered a private seller if they normally breed dogs or cats to show, not to sell, but undertake the occasional sale of puppies or kittens from a litter.
If you are unsure whether your pet purchase is covered by the ACL, contact Consumer Protection.
Shopping for a pet
A good pet shop, rescue group or registered breeder should have no difficulty with requests or answering any questions you may have. In fact, they will likely have questions for you to ensure the pet is going to the right home.
If possible, visit the pet in the place where it was born and meet its mother and father. This is the only way to be sure that your new companion has been well cared for and housed in good conditions. You can also get an idea of how big the pet will grow and what its temperament might be like. A responsible breeder breeds healthy, happy and well-socialised animals and will welcome your visit to the premises where breeding animals are kept.
Get in touch with your local veterinarian for further advice on healthcare needs for the type of pet you’re considering. Be sure to ask about vaccinations, worming, nutrition, desexing, microchipping, training, socialisation and any likely health risks for your chosen type or breed of pet.
Dogs and cats
Before purchasing a dog or cat, ensure that it is more than eight weeks old and has been completely weaned from its mother. Ask the seller to provide proof (certification) that your new companion has received:
- its first vaccination;
- a worming treatment;
- a complete veterinary examination; and
- a microchip.
Cats must be sterilised by a seller before the pet is transferred to you. Alternatively, a seller must give you a voucher to enable the cat to be sterilised at a later date by a veterinarian at no cost to you.
If a seller can’t provide proof or give you copies of the certification, you should shop elsewhere. Don’t accept excuses such as “I’ve left the papers behind” or “I’ll post them to you later.”
Sellers of dogs and cats must ensure these pets (regardless of age) are microchipped before ownership is transferred to you. Within seven days, a seller must notify the microchip database company and your local government where the pet will be registered.
Dogs over three months of age and cats over six months of age must be registered with your local government.
Rabbits should be purchased from a reputable seller. Visit the place the rabbit was born to be sure it has been well cared for and housed in good conditions. Rabbits need to have a first vaccination to protect against calicivirus before 12 weeks of age. Before purchasing a rabbit, ask for proof (documentation) that it has been given a complete veterinary examination and its first vaccination.
Birds can hide signs of illness up to the point of being severely ill and it can be difficult to assess their health just by looking at them. Birds should be purchased from a reputable seller. The only way to be sure a bird has been well cared for and housed in good conditions is to visit the place it was born. It is recommended that birds are vet checked, especially if you are introducing a new bird to an existing aviary, or if the bird will be kept in close contact with the family.
When selecting a bird, ensure that it has a full set of feathers and is able to feed itself. If you decide to have a bird vet checked, the examination should look for signs of illness or medical conditions such as mite infections, worm infestation, and avian gastric yeast/megabacteria.
Native species of birds, reptiles and amphibians as pets
Keeping native animals is prohibited under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and Biodiversity Conservation Regulations 2018, unless authorised. However, some native species of birds, amphibians and reptiles can be lawfully kept and are available through the pet industry. Visit the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions’ Licences and Authorities webpage to learn which species of birds, reptiles and amphibians can be kept as pets and whether a licence is required.
Buying from a pet shop
The welfare of pets in pet shops is very important. An animal’s long term health can be compromised if health, desexing and vaccinations are not handled correctly. To determine whether a pet shop is taking the necessary steps to ensure optimal care and welfare of its animals, look out for the following:
- The animals should have suitable housing and the pet shop must be clean and hygienic at all times. Waste should be removed throughout the day and cages and pens holding animals must be cleaned out daily.
- Fresh, cool water should be available to the animals at all times. Puppies and kittens should be fed a minimum of two to three times daily, depending on their age.
- The area where the animals are kept should be monitored to ensure adequate ventilation and non-extreme temperatures.
- Ask where the animals were sourced and undertake research to check this information is accurate.
Animal welfare concerns
If you encounter animals being bred or kept in unacceptable circumstances, the best way you can help them, and stop animals suffering, is to report your concerns to the RSPCA immediately. This includes if you see sick, injured or diseased animals at pet shops, animal shelters, registered breeders or private sellers.
Report animal cruelty or neglect to RSPCA cruelty hotline on 1300 CRUELTY (1300 278 3589).
Cautionary tales for online sales
The internet can provide a wealth of information when looking for your new pet. While you’re conducting research, remember the RSPCA’s golden rule: never buy an animal without first meeting them in person.
By buying a pet online without meeting them first, you could be unintentionally supporting puppy farms or poor breeding practices. You may also fall victim to a scam (see online pet scams below).
Check out the RSPCA’s What are some ‘red flags’ when looking for a pet online? and Is there a safe way to look for a new pet online? for helpful tips when researching your new pet online.
Online pet scams
Pet scams are common on classifieds websites. The adverts often claim to have pedigree puppies for sale at a price well below market value (or for free) and offer to ship the puppy to your door from interstate or overseas. These scams usually require you to make payment through a bank transfer. In the end, no puppy is supplied and the payment is virtually impossible to trace. If in doubt, contact Consumer Protection or visit WA ScamNet.
Your rights if something goes wrong
If you have purchased a pet that fails to meet any of the consumer guarantees, you may have consumer rights. Generally you are not entitled to a remedy if you change your mind about a pet or if the problem is due to something beyond the seller’s control. However, if the seller provided an additional warranty or promise about the quality, condition, performance or characteristics of the pet, they must uphold that guarantee.
The remedy you’re entitled to will depend on whether the problem is major or minor. A major problem is one that would have stopped you from buying the pet if you’d known about it, such as a serious or terminal health issue. In this case, you have the right to choose which remedy the seller will provide.
This will either be to:
- have the problem fixed, such as veterinary treatment and/or medication;
- exchange your pet for another one; or
- return your pet for a refund.
For minor problems, the seller can choose which remedy they will provide. You should attempt to negotiate an outcome that you both agree to, but if a disagreement continues, Consumer Protection can provide advice and assistance.
For purchases from animal shelters or rescue organisations, there may be some consumer rights that apply if something goes wrong. This is in limited circumstances as problems with the pet may be beyond the control of the not-for-profit organisation because of the unknown history of the pet.
While most consumers would be satisfied with a refund or a replacement for a problem product, pets can be different as they are often regarded as part of the family. For this reason, you can decide that you will live with issues that become apparent after purchase and forego seeking a remedy under the law.
Thorough research and due diligence when purchasing your pet is important because it can minimise the chances of something going wrong.
For more information
Contact Consumer Protection 1300 304 054 for help with your rights under the Australian Consumer Law.
Contact the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries 1800 199 090 for information about laws regarding cats and dogs.
Contact the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions’ Licences and Authorities to learn which species of birds, reptiles and amphibians can be kept as pets and whether a licence is required.
Contact your local council to report stray, lost or nuisance animals.
Contact the RSPCA for information about all aspects of pet ownership, from choosing a pet to its care and training.
Contact your local veterinarian for advice on healthcare needs for various pets.
Report animal cruelty or neglect to the RSPCA cruelty hotline on 1300 CRUELTY (1300 278 3589).
The Animal Welfare Act 2002, the Cat Act 2011 and the Dog Act 1976, govern the welfare of animals and birds and provide for registration, ownership and control of dogs and cats in Western Australia.
Read before you buy!
There are many things to consider when bringing a new pet into your home. This publication has been produced to help explain your consumer rights and remedies when buying a pet and the questions to ask a seller before making a purchase. This will help ensure that you are prepared and well informed before purchasing a pet.
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