Laws that protect dogs in puppy mills

State Regulation of Puppy Mills

Overall, more than half of U.S. states regulate commercial breeders in some way. Unfortunately, 22 states have no laws on the books regulating commercial dog breeders.  States have taken different approaches to regulating commercial breeders.  Some have programs that require breeders to be licensed and inspected and meet basic standards of care for for their dogs, but most of those standards fall far short of what most people would consider humane. Among the states that do regulate, each government defines various terms (such as “pet store,” “breeder,” “kennel” and “dealer”) differently, which has a strong impact on exactly who is covered by the law. 

In addition to states that set standards of care and require breeders to be licensed and inspected, four states (Louisiana, Virginia, Oregon and Washington) have laws that limit the number of breeding dogs a breeder can keep. Approximately 20 states have laws dictating how old a puppy must be before he or she may be offered for sale or adoption. To learn how your state stacks up, click on your state in the map above, or see our in depth guide to state laws regulating commercial breeders.

While there has been a dramatic increase in the number of states considering and enacting bills to regulate the commercial breeding industry, it is important to remember that these laws hinge on enforcement. Strong standards of care are meaningless if inspections are never conducted and violations go unpunished. Therefore, in addition to pushing for stronger state laws, it is important to work with enforcing agencies to make sure laws are being enforced.

To stay up to date about pending legislation to regulate commercial breeders in your state, please visit the ASPCA’s Advocacy Center today!

Federal Regulation of Puppy Mills

The Animal Welfare Act

In addition to the patchwork of state laws, most commercial breeders are regulated federally under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), a federal law passed in 1966, that regulates certain animal activities, including commercial dog and cat breeding. The AWA requires that certain commercial breeders be licensed and inspected by the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), and sets some minimum standards of care for dogs . However, the standards are far from what most people would consider to be humane. They are merely survival standards for dogs. For example, dogs in federally licensed breeding facilities can legally be kept in tiny, wire-floored cages that are only six inches longer than the dog in each direction for their entire lives. Female dogs can be bred at every opportunity, churning out litter after litter of puppies with no opportunity for their bodies to recover between litters.  


Even if the Animal Welfare Act standards amounted to humane treatment, violations of the law often go unpunished. Lack of enforcement by the USDA overall means thousands of dogs are left to suffer in inadequate and inhumane conditions year after year, even in federally licensed facilities. Check out this scathing report issued by the Office of the Inspector General in 2010 documenting seriously lax enforcement by the USDA. 


Progress in improving the federal system is slow, but the tide is turning: Until recently, only animal-breeding businesses considered "wholesale" operations—those that sell animals to brokers or pet stores for resale—were subject to oversight by the USDA. Thanks to pressure from organizations like the ASPCA and the public, in September 2013, the USDA issued a change to AWA regulations to close this loophole once and for all—for the first time, so-called “internet puppy mills” are now subject to USDA inspections! 

Momentum continued in the right direction in August of the following year, when the USDA issued a new federal rule regulating the importation of puppies from overseas, taking significant steps towards ensuring the United States is not importing sick puppies and supporting animal cruelty in puppy mills abroad. Instead, the new law will now require non-U.S. breeders to provide certification that each dog is in good health, has received all necessary vaccinations and is at least six months of age.