What is a Puppy Mill: Understanding the Harsh Reality of Dog Mills

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Puppy with owner

You may know which breed of dog you want, but do you know where to find them? Pet owners have many choices when it comes to finding their sweet pup, but there’s one place that shouldn’t be an option: a puppy mill. 

What is a puppy mill? While reputable breeders put dogs’ health and happiness first, puppy mills are all about money. Researchers at Purdue University define them as breeding facilities “where profit is clearly given priority over the well-being of the dogs.” Unlike an animal shelter that finds homes for stray or surrendered dogs, a puppy mill breeds dogs for money. Puppy mills may advertise purebred dogs for low prices, but these dogs are often mistreated and have a myriad of health issues. 

Before you welcome your new puppy home, it’s important to do your research about their breeder. Understanding the difference between shelters, reputable breeders, and puppy mills, which prioritize profit over animal welfare, is key to making an ethical choice. This guide will equip you with the knowledge to identify and avoid puppy mills, ensuring your furry friend comes from a loving and responsible environment.  

What is a Puppy Mill: The Reality 

There’s a long-standing myth that the best family dogs don’t come from breeders. People buy into this misconception because they are worried about a shelter dog’s history or want to make sure they are getting exactly the dog they expect. They may have heard that small dogs from breeders make the best apartment dogs or that only breeders can produce quality working dogs for a farm. While good breeders can have amazing pups, there are also a plethora of wonderful dogs out there, waiting in shelters.  

Some families want to purchase dogs from breeders because they have allergies, health concerns, or other needs. Whatever the reason may be, verifying the legitimacy of the breeder is a must before purchasing a puppy. Some breeders do a fantastic job of caring for their dogs. These reputable breeders provide clean and loving homes for their animals. 

On the other hand, many dog breeders use unethical means to breed their dogs, and it can be difficult for the average person to recognize when this is the case. Animals from breeders are often neglected and abused. It’s not unusual for them to live in deplorable conditions as their breeders are concerned with producing as many animals as possible for as little money as they can. 

Some pet owners assume that any business with a history of selling dogs is automatically reputable, but this is simply not the case. With over 10,000 puppy mills operating in the United States, it’s vital to know the difference between good and bad breeders. Accidentally purchasing your dog from a puppy mill gives money to an unscrupulous breeder, incentivizing them to stay in operation. 

Owners of puppy mills use many tactics to increase their profits. They may breed dogs from parents who have severe health problems that can be passed on to their puppies. These breeders may also breed dogs from a very small genetic pool, further increasing the likelihood that its puppies will have certain diseases. 

Hydrocephalus (a neurological disorder) and epilepsy are just two examples of health problems pets from puppy mills can have. Overcrowding and neglect can also lead to ringworm, mange, parvovirus, and distemper. Puppy mill owners typically don’t address these issues, and the dogs don’t receive the medical care they need. 

After a family purchases a dog from a puppy mill, they often spend less time playing with their pet and more time solving their health issues. This can range from figuring out how to help a dog with diarrhea from a genetic gastrointestinal condition to a lifetime of dealing with hip dysplasia.  

Puppy mill puppy

How Puppy Mills Operate 

Puppy mill owners want to keep their costs as low as possible. That’s why they often cram as many dogs as possible into small spaces. Some mills have relatively few dogs, but other operations have hundreds of dogs. While federal regulations and minimum standards for breeders do exist, there are simply too few inspectors to keep up with the large number of puppy mills. Unfortunately, this means it’s up to the pet owner to determine whether a breeder is ethical or not. 

The USDA’s official requirements state a kennel can have just six inches of space above the dog’s head. This lax requirement means puppy mills can keep several animals in tight quarters. Because there are few inspectors available to monitor breeding facilities, these operations go widely unchecked. Dogs born in these facilities can spend a lifetime in unsanitary conditions. They may not have access to adequate food and water. Surrounded by so many other dogs, these puppies can become stressed and nervous. They may be at risk for injuries from larger dogs or picking up diseases from their siblings. 

Identifying Puppy Mills and Their Sales Channels 

So how can a responsible pet owner determine what’s a puppy mill and what’s a legitimate operation? First and foremost, don’t purchase your dog from a pet store. While you may assume pet stores are places that are safe for animals, many of their puppies come from dog mills. 

Pet stores may even stress the fact their breeders have licenses from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) or are registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC). However, this paperwork can’t definitively prove that the puppies were raised ethically. The USDA licensing requirements have been criticized for being minimal. In other words, many breeders who are licensed probably shouldn’t be. 

Pet owners should also make sure not to buy a dog online as breeders can hide neglectful and abusive conditions from buyers. You should never buy a dog from someone who doesn’t show you the facility. Similarly, don’t visit the classifieds in search of a new pet. No reputable breeder will use the classifieds to sell dogs! 

Perhaps there’s a breeder that you’re interested in visiting, but you’re not sure if they’re a trustworthy one. Here are some red flags that point to a breeder running a puppy mill: 

  • Animals are living in overcrowded conditions without enough space to move. 

  • Dogs appear very thin, frightened, and unhealthy. 

  • Dogs don’t have access to food and water. 

  • The breeder offers no vaccination records or health certificates. 

  • The breeder pressures you to buy a dog immediately. 

Remember, the whole reason people run puppy mills is to get quick money. A mill will try to get anyone to purchase a dog with as few questions as possible. They’ll cut corners to get money soon. This often results in the breeder trying to sell a puppy that’s eight weeks old or less. A puppy this young still needs to be with its mother, so be wary of anyone that offers very young dogs. 

If you suspect a breeder of neglecting or abusing animals, report them to your local authorities. Specific laws vary by state to determine what constitutes a crime, but all dogs should receive medical care and adequate food. 

Puppy in cage

Taking Action Against Puppy Mills 

The good news is that there are ways you can fight back against puppy mills. First and foremost, you can make a pledge to only adopt your dog from an animal shelter, rescue or a reputable breeder that you’ve personally verified. These adoption facilities are typically nonprofits that prioritize the health of the dogs, and reputable breeders will welcome visits. 

You can also take action against puppy mills by voting for legislation that protects animals. Support initiatives that work to eliminate puppy mills. Even the smallest steps can lead to big changes for animals. By making informed choices, supporting good causes, and raising awareness in your community, you can play a crucial role in ending puppy mills. Together, we can create a world where all dogs experience the love and care they deserve. 

Spread the word. When your friends and family members mention wanting to get a dog, inform them about the prevalence of puppy mills. Help them identify warning signs and direct them to a reputable breeder, local shelter, or animal rescue. If you or someone you know decides to buy a dog from a breeder, visit the business in person to ensure your puppy is coming from a safe location. 

A good breeder won’t sell a dog to just anyone. They’ll conduct their own form of an “interview” to make sure their dogs are going to safe homes. Reputable breeders will also ask that you bring the dog back to them if you ever surrender the dog. 

Alternatives to Puppy Mills 

The existence of puppy mills comes down to one thing: people keep buying dogs from them. You can help break this cycle by refusing to support unethical breeding. Only purchase pets from trustworthy breeders with high reviews. 

Keep in mind that there are many dogs in shelters and rescues that need homes. Rather than visiting a breeder, you can help a dog in need. They may not be a puppy, but they’ll adore you all the same. You can be the special someone to give them a safe and happy environment. 

Adopting a dog is a lifelong commitment, and just like humans, our canine companions can face unexpected illness or injury. While shelters and responsible breeders provide excellent care, ensuring your dog's long-term health and well-being can bring unexpected financial burdens. Here's where Puppy health insurance steps in, offering peace of mind knowing you can provide the best possible care without worrying about the cost. 

While how long dogs live depends on their specific breed, many dogs go on to live for a decade or longer. Planning ahead with a pet insurance policy and wellness plan can help you manage these costs effectively, allowing you to focus on the joy of pet ownership rather than financial stress. Starting early allows you to avoid pre-existing condition exclusions and ensures your furry friend is protected throughout their life. 

Fortunately, your dog is much less likely to have a severe genetic health issue if they don’t come from a puppy mill. Keep in mind that every dog, however, needs to have regular checkups and should stay up to date on all their vaccinations. This way, you and your new pup can enjoy a long and happy life together!