The internet has dramatically changed the way people find their new pets; but what are the dangers of buying a pet online?

“We don’t know exactly how many pets are sold online in Australia, but recent research into the numbers of dogs and cats advertised for sale online indicate that tens of thousands of pets are advertised every year.

“It’s not uncommon to come across misleading ads or outright scams online. There have been many cases of people receiving a sick or diseased animal, or a breed unlike the description in the online ad. The truth is, it’s difficult for members of the public to differentiate between good and bad ads,”  said Dr Susan Hazel from the University of Adelaide.

Another concern with the online sale of pets is that animals traded online can often arrive with a blank medical history. Dr Hazel says that while responsible pet owners will advise potential new owners of a health or behavioural problem, not all owners are responsible.

“Even people who want to do the right thing might mislead a potential owner. If a seller is desperate to find their pet a new home, they may not disclose the real reasons for giving it up,” Dr Hazel said.

Fortunately, not all websites that advertise pets for sale are bad.

“There are also some highly reputable websites like PetRescue that help to find homes for surrendered pets in shelters or pounds,” Dr Hazel said.

AVA President, Dr Paula Parker said that it’s important for websites or online trading platforms that advertise dogs and cats for sale to follow standards that support animal welfare and protect potential buyers.

“Traditionally, companion animals have been advertised for sale in printed media such as newspapers or magazines. More recently there has been a move to the internet and social media as the primary place to source pets, and this trend is growing rapidly.

“There are concerns that internet sites may be used for puppy farm sales and that the animal welfare standards of the sellers are not regulated. Some online sales may also breach legislation, for example, selling banned breeds or animals that are not microchipped,” Dr Parker said.

The AVA has developed some guidelines around the sale of pets online:

  • Animals advertised for sale must be weaned and independent of the mother and their age or date of birth must be included in the advertisement.
  • A unique microchip number must be made available to the purchaser, and a recent picture of the animal should be included.
  • Ideally, the medical history, including vaccination status, and pictures of the parents should be available to view on reBuyquest.
  • Where a permit or licence is required to keep or breed an animal, a copy of the permit (with personal identifiers removed for public viewing if necessary) should be displayed. The full permit should be available on request.
  • Pregnant and lactating animals must not be offered for sale.
  • Banned breeds must not be offered for sale.
  • The advertisement should state whether the sale is from a private seller, commercial establishment or a re-homing centre or shelter.
  • Sales of pets should be from a legitimate fixed address and not at markets or temporary locations.
  • The website should include prominent information for buyers about how to avoid puppy farms, and recommend meeting the seller, the parent animals, and inspecting the breeding facility before purchase.
  • The website host should ensure that no pets are advertised for swapping with other pets, goods or services.
  • The website should be monitored and there should be a mechanism for the public to report non-compliant advertisements to the website host.

“The key is for people who are considering buying a pet online to first speak to a veterinarian who can provide some guidance and practical tips on where and how to find the right pet,” Dr Parker said.

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