Buying a pet
Protection for pet owners
When you buy a pet, you are protected by the same consumer laws that apply to most purchases. If something is not right with your pet, you have rights that extend beyond the point of sale. Contact the breeder or seller immediately to discuss the issue and seek a solution – see Advice when contacting a pet seller. If this effort fails, contact Consumer Protection on 1300 30 40 54 to discuss your options.
Before you buy a pet
Do your research to choose the animal that best suits your family and lifestyle. The consumer guide to buying a pet or RSPCA’s What do I need to know before I get a new pet page are great places to start.
The best way to buy a pet
We recommend buying from a registered breeder or pet shop. Visit the seller before choosing your pet and ask for:
- proof (certification) your pet has had the right vaccinations and veterinary checks. If a seller can’t provide this proof, consider going elsewhere
- the pet’s breeding history and documents if required
- caring tips, such as grooming and feeding habits - type and cost of food
- a clear timeframe for when the pet will be supplied if being ordered.
Often a seller will ask potential buyers a range of questions to give them peace of mind the animal is going to a good home. Reputable sellers may also welcome or even insist you visit their premises.
It is recommended you obtain all contracts/agreements in writing, including deposit, cancellation and refund terms, and keep your receipts. Any changes to the contract need to be agreed by both parties, otherwise the original contract stands.
Buying from a pet shelter
When buying or adopting from a shelter or rescue, consumer guarantees are limited due to the often unknown history of the pet.
Under Australian Consumer Law (ACL), pet buyers have the same rights and protections that apply to most other purchases.
Your pet should:
- be free of any significant health issues and live a healthy lifespan relevant to the breed
- match descriptions advertised by the seller
- do everything you would normally expect the animal
- be of acceptable quality.
Sellers must also meet any additional promises about the pedigree, condition, performance or characteristics of the animal they make.
If something goes wrong
If your pet doesn’t meet the above requirements, under ACL options you can discuss with the seller include:
- meeting the costs of veterinary treatment and/or medication required
- exchanging your pet for another one
- financial compensation for the loss of a pet, or costs such as vet bills
- partial or total refund.
Owners often bond with their new pet immediately. Under ACL, if something is not right with your pet (such as a health condition) but you don’t want a replacement, you may still be eligible for a full or partial refund.
Case study: Maria and her chihuahua
Maria purchased a pedigree Chihuahua for $3,000. As the dog grew, it looked more like a Jack Russell, so Maria paid for a DNA test. The dog featured a large mix of breeds with only 10 per cent Chihuahua. Maria did not want to return the dog as she was attached to it. She negotiated a refund of $2,500 through Consumer Protection conciliation with the breeder.
Not everything is protected
You are not covered by ACL if:
- you simply change your mind about wanting the pet
- the purchase is from a one off private seller, shelter or adoption centre
- the pet suffers an injury as a result of your actions or an accident
- illness is caused by factors outside of the breeder’s control, such as contracting a disease after the pet has left the breeder
Negotiating with the pet seller
Contacting the seller or breeder immediately to discuss your issue privately, and putting your concerns in writing is strongly recommended. See Advice when contacting a pet seller .
If you are unable to reach a solution, contact Consumer Protection on 1300 30 40 54.
If a reasonable outcome cannot be reached through Consumer Protection conciliation, you can lodge a claim with the Magistrates’ Court.
Contract terms changed without agreement
If a buyer or seller wishes to make changes to the original contract, these changes must be agreed to by both parties.
Steven is selling Russian Blue kittens and agrees to deliver one to Jessica within 12 months for $1,500, including a $500 deposit. A year later, the kitten has not been supplied. Steven tells Jessica that a kitten will be available in another six months and the cost has increased to $2,000.
Jessica reminded Steven of his obligations under Australian Consumer Law and was able to negotiate a solution privately. Jessica agreed to wait the further six months and Steven agreed to honour the original $1,500 price.
Pet is sick or dying
Your pet should be free of significant health issues and live for a reasonable length of time after purchase.
Helen is a breeder of French Bulldogs and sold a puppy to Allan for $5,000. A few days after purchase, the puppy became extremely unwell. Allan spent $2,500 on veterinary expenses, however the puppy could not be saved
Allan and Helen were unable to agree on a reasonable outcome through private or Consumer Protection conciliation. Allan took the matter to the Magistrates’ Court and was awarded $5,000 compensation for the loss of the dog and $2,500 for vet expenses.
Buying online and scams
Be careful about buying a pet online. You could be purchasing from a puppy farm, an establishment with poor breeding practices, or fall victim to a scam.
Online scammers are known to offer ‘pedigree pets’ below market price and to transport the pet to you, only for the pet to not arrive.
Scammers may ask you to pay using a bank transfer, which could be impossible to trace. Along with the disappointment of not receiving your pet, you will be out of pocket.
Avoiding pet scams
Check you are dealing with a reputable pet seller by:
- buying from a pet shop, rescue shelter or a registered local breeder with a genuine physical address, landline or mobile number and Australian Business Number
- meeting the seller, and the animal, before paying any money
- avoiding impulse buying after seeing a ‘bargain’
- checking for valid industry recognised accreditation (e.g. via Dogs West) and making direct contact
- looking for pixelated photos, spelling errors and anything that appears like a copycat of real online businesses
- searching reviews or warnings about the seller from shoppers or checking if the seller has been identified as fraudulent consumer protection agencies
- confirming seller information and contacting them through registered contact details
- using a credit card or PayPal (which have avenues to dispute the transaction) rather than insecure bank or wire transfers.
If in any doubt, contact Consumer Protection on 1300 30 40 54 or visit WA ScamNet’s Pet scams.
If you are concerned about an animal being bred and/or kept in unacceptable conditions or suffering in any way, contact your local council via Local Government Directory or the RSPCA on 1300 278 358 or via Report Cruelty.
Guardianship contracts are not a sale contract, rather an agreement between a breeder and a consumer for the care of an animal.
In these agreements, you become a full-time caretaker not an owner - taking the animal home for a price that is generally much less than the purchase cost. In return, the breeder maintains the right to re-claim the animal at any time to breed.
Buyers should be cautious before signing guardianship contracts, as they often contain unfair terms that benefit the breeder, such as:
- being able to visit or collect the animal at any time
- the right to keep the animal for long periods of time
- the right to take the dog and dissolve the contract at any time.
Anyone interested in guardianship agreements is strongly recommended to seek independent legal advice before signing a contract.
Tips for buying a 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.
Download the new pet buyers – know your rights poster - you can also order a free printed copy of the poster and magnets.
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