Retail pet stores

Region: Ontario Answer # 4048

Along with pet food and supplies many retail pet stores also sell animals to people looking for a domestic pet. This includes kittens, puppies, fish, birds, rabbits, reptiles, and small pet rodents such as hamsters, mice and gerbals.

However, kittens and puppies, and sometimes other animals, that are sold at retail stores often come from mass-breeding facilities called puppy mills. Puppy and kitten mills breed their pets for the sole purpose of maximizing profit, which often means the animals are mistreated and neglected. The care and wellbeing of the animal is an expense not considered necessary.

In some cases, the conditions animals are kept in at pet stores are not always the best. For instance:

  • Puppies may be kept in wire-bottomed cages;
  • Kittens are taken from their mother at too young an age;
  • Fish tanks can be dirty and overcrowded;
  • Small animals such as hamsters and birds are kept in very crowded, dirty cages; and
  • Animals sold in retail stores are often unsterilized or do not receive proper medical care

Animals sold in pet stores don’t always get the human contact, exercise and veterinary care they require to be good pets and that can lead them to be difficult to socialize and train once they are brought to their new home.

For these reasons, many breeders will not sell animals to pet stores.

Is it legal to sell domestic animals in pet stores?

While there is no federal law prohibiting the sale of dogs and/or cats in pet stores, some cities have enacted by-laws that ban the practice. This includes:

  • Toronto, the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores was banned in 2011 (unless for specific purposes as outlined below)
  • Richmond, BC banned the sale of dogs in pet stores in 2010
  • Vancouver, BC banned pet shop sales of cats, dogs and rabbits in 2017
  • Montreal, Quebec banned the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores in 2020
  • Saskatchewan banned the sale and transfer of restricted species in pet retailers in 2021. Complete lists of restricted species can be found on the Saskatchewan Captive Wildlife website

Some pet stores will not sell dogs or cats, regardless of whether it is legal or not, and encourage people to adopt pets from animal shelters.

Municipal By-laws

The City of Toronto Licensing By-law establishes strict regulations for pet shops. The bylaw defines pet shops to mean “a shop or place where animals or birds for use as pets are sold or kept for sale.”  This bylaw requires pet shops to obtain cats and dogs from only the following sources:

  • Municipal animal shelters
  • Registered humane societies
  • Registered shelters
  • Rescue groups

If an individual is found guilty of contravening any provision under this chapter of the Licensing By-law, an individual could be liable upon conviction to a fine of not more than $25,000. If a corporation is found guilty, it would be liable upon conviction to a fine of not more than $50,000.

Animal cruelty and standards of care legislation

There is both federal and provincial legislation dealing with animal welfare and standards of care that may address the conditions animals are kept in and the care they receive in pet stores. View other sections of Animals and the Law for more information on these laws.

More info

To find out more about existing laws regarding the sale of animals in retail stores where you live, contact your provincial or municipal government, local SPCA, or humane society.

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