The Australian Veterinary Association estimates that there are 25 million animal companions living in 5 million homes in Australia, representing over 60 per cent of households.
These animals are important to their human guardians and are often considered members of the family. But the so-called “pet trade” is a huge threat to animal welfare.
Objects, Not Animals
Pet shops often present animals as commodities or fashion accessories, not as individuals with their own unique needs. The main thing these businesses demand of purchasers is not their compatibility with the animal or the suitability of their home but rather their credit card.
Conditions at pet shops are often inadequate. Dogs, cats, and rabbits are kept inside small cages with barely enough room to move and are often given no opportunity to socialise.
Smaller animals such as mice, hamsters, and birds are crammed into containers with masses of others and are sometimes forced to live in filthy conditions.
Fish – whose wild counterparts swim freely in oceans, lakes, or rivers – are reduced to circling the same few cubic centimetres of water in tanks that are often dirty and crowded.
Lack of Care Leads to Problem Behaviour
Without sufficient space or social stimulation, these animals can become hard to train. Most pet shops buy puppies from puppy factories, and there’s a serious risk that the traumatised individuals will exhibit problematic kinds of behaviour when they get home. As a result, many are surrendered to animal shelters, adding to the growing animal-homelessness problem.
Pet shops encourage people to buy living beings on impulse. They market the cute puppy in the window and the colourful birds or fish as the perfect accessories. These businesses have budgets to meet and often sell animals to people who are underprepared or unaware of the level of care they require. Then, as soon as the novelty wears off, they end up at an already severely crowded shelter.
Inbreeding and Health Issues
Dogs in pet shops are usually chosen for their breed purity, but this is often achieved through inbreeding, which can cause severe problems – including breathing difficulties, chronic hip pain and immobility, glaucoma, dementia, skin allergies, joint problems, seizures, vision loss, and heart, brain, or kidney conditions.
Animals Suffer as ‘Freight’
Some animals experience extreme pain and may even die on their journey to a pet store. Exotic species, mice, rats, guinea pigs, and hamsters often arrive starving, seriously ill, pregnant, or injured. Many are forced into tiny boxes or other containers for shipping and suffer for days before being unpacked.
How to Help
Not only do pet shops give vulnerable animals a bad start in life, they also contribute to the ever-escalating population crisis of companion animals, because there simply aren’t enough good homes for the number that are bred for profit. Every time one is purchased from a pet store, another in a shelter loses his or her chance of finding a loving, permanent home.