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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.

Know More Cats does not endorse any article, author, or recommendation of attached on-line articles here-in. We are a hobby breeder simply trying to help people stay safe & know their rights & options for taking action on Bad Breeders. . 



When You Buy a Sick Pet: Is the Seller Liable? 

Learn about pet "lemon laws" and other ways you may be able to get a refund, exchange, or payment for some vet bills if you buy an unhealthy companion animal.

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor

Updated: Jul 23rd, 2020

You’ve just bought home a dog or cat from a pet store or breeder, and you’ve already fallen in love. But soon your new pet seems lethargic or stumbles when it walks. You take the animal to the vet and find out that it’s sick or infested with parasites. Or maybe further down the road, you learn that your dog has a congenital defect that will require expensive treatment. Is the seller legally responsible? The answer depends on the circumstances, including the laws in your state, what the seller told you about the animal, how soon you discovered the problem, and what you did about it.

Do Pets Come With Warranties?

It may seem strange to most Americans, who think of their pets as family members, but problems related to a pet purchase generally boil down to a contract dispute. Companion animals are considered “goods” under state versions of the Uniform Commercial Code, the law that governs sales by a merchant and gives dissatisfied buyers certain rights. When it comes to pets, merchants include breeders, pet stores, and anyone who routinely sells companion animals.

When you buy something from a merchant, the sale comes with an implied warranty of “merchantability”—meaning that the goods are fit for their ordinary purpose. In the case of companion animals, this generally means that they’re healthy. And if the seller has advertised or recommended the animal for a particular purpose—like a guard dog or hunting dog—there’s an implied warranty that it can perform in that context. You may also have an express warranty if the merchant explicitly promised you something about the animal you were buying—for instance, that it was a particular breed or was trained to compete in field trials.

If you believe that a pet dealer or breeder has violated either an implied or express warranty, you may sue to get a refund or replacement for the animal. Small claims court could be a good way to go, as long as you aren't seeking more money than your state's dollar limit for small claims.

“Lemon Laws” for Pets

More than 20 states have recognized the special status of companion animals by passing laws that give extra protection to people who’ve bought unhealthy dogs. Under these laws, a buyer must promptly give the seller written notice of the problem, along with a certification from a licensed veterinarian that the animal has an illness or disease that existed before the purchase. The owner may then return the pet for a refund or another similar animal. Many states offer a third option: keep the pet and get reimbursement for some the costs of veterinary treatment to deal with the preexisting illness or disease. Usually, reimbursement is limited to the amount of the purchase price, but California’s cap is 150 percent of that amount.

Beyond these general outlines, the laws vary considerably from state to state. These differences include:

  • Most of the pet lemon laws apply to cats as well as dogs, while a few cover other animals (such as ferrets in New Hampshire, or all domestic animals in Virginia).

  • The time for notifying the seller varies, usually from 10 to 14 days. Owners may have longer to give this notice (from a few weeks to a year) if they discover that their pets have congenital or hereditary conditions that will affect their health.

  • Several states allow buyers to recoup some expenses related to the vet’s certification and/or emergency treatment, even when they’ve returned the animals.

  • Some lemon laws (like Pennsylvania’s) don’t apply if the animal had parasites when it was purchased, while others (such as Florida’s) specifically include parasites other than fleas or ticks.

  • The laws usually apply to animal breeders as well as pet dealers, but “hobby breeders” who sell only a few puppies a year are often excluded.

It should be easier to get some satisfaction under a pet lemon law than suing under contract law. Still, these laws have serious limits. You may not discover the problem with your new pet in time to meet the deadline for notifying the seller. Even if you find out in time, you may be put off by the idea of returning your new companion animal as if it were a faulty appliance. (You may also worry about what will happen to the pet after you’ve returned it, since dealers and breeders are likely to euthanize sick animals.) But if you want to keep your new pet—and your state allows that option—vet bills can easily climb beyond the maximum reimbursement amount.

Special Caution for Internet Sales

When you buy a pet online, you should know that you may have trouble suing the seller or getting any kind of compensation if the animal turns out to be unhealthy. There are many unscrupulous pet dealers on the Internet—especially those who sell exotic reptiles—and courts have a difficult time deciding the proper jurisdiction (meaning where the lawsuit should take place) when the buyer and seller are in different states or even different countries.

How to Protect Yourself and Your New Pet

There are several steps that you should take to protect your rights when you buy a dog or other companion animal.

  • Get a written sales agreement that includes a guarantee of the animal’s health (or discloses any health problems), a list of vaccinations it has had, its history, training, pedigree (if that’s relevant), and any special training.

  • Take your new pet to the vet for a check-up within a week, even if it seems healthy.

  • If the animal becomes ill, take it to a vet immediately. If it dies, take the body to a vet to determine if the death came from some condition that the seller should have known about. Either way, keep all of your records from the vet.

  • Notify the seller as soon as a vet has diagnosed the problem. Reputable dealers or breeders will often offer a refund or exchange without any legal action on your part.

Speaking With a Lawyer

If you haven’t received satisfaction from the dealer or breeder who sold you a sick animal, it may be time to speak with a lawyer. An attorney experienced in animal law or consumer law can explain whether your state has a pet lemon law, and whether you have other legal options like suing the seller for fraud or violation of an implied or express warranty.

Related Articles

Grey Cat

Which states have pet lemon laws?

As of 2020, the following states had some sort of pet purchase protection act:

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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.

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.

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.

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