To Click or Not to Click: What to consider before buying a pet online

What to consider before buying a pet online

In a digital world where we can acquire just about anything online, the question is, just because we can, does it really mean we should?

Decades of advocacy efforts have helped generate awareness about the connection between pet stores and puppy mills, but many are still unaware of the cruelty that lies behind a newer trend: online kitten and puppy sales. The Internet has become a perfect environment for large-scale and backyard breeders, as well as kitten and puppy brokers, to scam unsuspecting new pet owners. Online sources like Kijiji or Craigslist, currently have policies in place allowing venders to turn tidy profits by selling pets born into these same dog or cat mills and other unsanitary, mass-production facilities.

Research on 2,400 new pet owners carried out by the UK Kennel Club in 2018, revealed that 1 in 5 puppies bought online died before reaching 6 months of age, and 1 in 3 had either died or became severely ill within their first year of life. Though pets bought online may appear healthy when first picked up, it is unfortunately all too common for them to drastically decline within a few days of being at their new home.


This issue arises due to unreliable dealers breeding and selling of cats and dogs that are ill, injured, and poorly socialized – and often taken away from their mothers far too young. Further into the Kennel Clubs survey, they found 1 in 4 people who bought online had undergone emotional and financial trauma as a result of having done so.

How to avoid being scammed?

If you’re searching online for a new furry family member, chances are you’ll come across scams or fake advertisements pretty early on! The following are a few tell-tale signs to consider before picking out a new four legged friend online.

Warning Signs:

  • The “breeder” is selling the pet for a much lower rate than you have seen elsewhere.
  • The “breeder”/ seller is only accepting cash or money transfer.
  • The “breeder” has multiple breeds or species also listed.
  • The “breeder” puts pressure on you to put a deposit on the pet before you have seen it.
  • The “breeder” doesn’t let you view or collect the pet in its home or offers to ‘drop it’ at your house instead.
  • Messages between yourself and the “breeder” have poor language, spelling or grammar.
  • If the “breeder” asks for money for pet food, veterinary care, or other expenses before you have collected the pet this is a sign they are illegitimate.

Red Flags When Viewing Your Pet:

Always make sure you view your pet in person, at least once in their home before buying.

When you are there, consider these red flags:

  • One big red flag to indicate a breeder isn’t legit is if the pet’s parents are unavailable to be seen. Puppies should be with their mother until they are at least 8 weeks old, and kittens should be between 10-14 weeks, ideally. If the father is not present, most reputable breeders should also be able to provide a picture of the father as well as detailed information about his health, background and body condition. In the event of the mother dying, the littermates should always remain together until the for mentioned ages to avoid the ​​risk of developmental, social, and health issues. If the breeder makes up an excuse for the mother not being around, this is a huge red flag.
  • Illegitimate breeders are become more adept at deceit, some have been know to rent properties to create a homely facade. If you are buying from a family, look around for pictures in frames, or signs that a pet really lives there.
  • When you visit, check how healthy the pet looks. Be sure to check for clean ears and eyes. If the pet is unwell when you go to collect them, ask to come back for them another day. If the breeder refuses, walk away!
  • Most importantly, do not be afraid to ask questions! Be ready to ask any questions about what you’re seeing — and the seller should be able to answer them. “Why are his eyes leaking?” “Why are the folds in his face dried out like that?” If the person you are buying from can’t answer them or gets annoyed, be wary! Most reputable sellers will also want to ask you lots of questions to know about the environment the pet will be raised in. If the seller isn’t asking questions, be cautious.
  • Get the Paperwork! Be sure the pet has been seen by a licensed veterinarian at least once and make sure you are provided with all of the relevant information and paperwork from the breeder. This should include information about the pets family history, age, and vaccinations; sellers should be able to provide you with health certificates and records of veterinary visits. If they tell you they don’t know the name of their clinic, regular doctor, can’t find it right now or will send it to you later, consider walking away! The breeder should ALWAYS know the name of their veterinarian/ clinic.
  • If you’re buying a purebred dog or cat, the breeder should provide you with a certificate showing the animal’s bloodlines, health history and veterinary records under the breeders name. Ideally, the pet will also be microchipped with the Breeders information (to be changed to your information after adoption) 

Find a reputable breeder

First and foremost, the best thing you can do for yourself is look for a pet that complements your lifestyle rather than choosing one for how they look!

If you decide a purebred is right for you, research the health issues that breed tends to face — for example, Dachshunds are known to develop problems with their spines, Irish wolfhounds and Great Danes can suffer from bone issues. If you know the most common problems of your chosen breed, you will have a better idea of the symptoms to watch for and questions to ask. 

Now, it’s time to find a breeder.

Rather than seeking out breeders online, consider reaching out to organizations like the Canadian Kennel Club. They have access to names and contact information for many reputable breeders; its members must also adhere to its policies and code of ethics.

Be extremely cautious if you do choose to go with a breeder found on the internet — many animals bought from websites like Kijiji arrive with varying degrees of health issues; and accompanying expenses! Be sure to speak with the breeder over the phone and arranging a visit; if possible a series of visits before picking up your pet.

 Considering adopting from a shelter or rescue

Unless your heart is truly set on getting a specific breed, consider instead, adoption. 

One major advantages of adopting from the humane society, an animal shelter or reputable rescue is that they often have their own or an affiliation with a veterinarian who will perform a complete physical checkup, administer all necessary vaccines, and fully disclose any illnesses the pet may have. They will provide you with an up to date medical history, and be completely up front should the pet require continued, additional, or long term care. Your new pet will also come to you spayed/ neutered, absorbing a very large expense often encountered when buying a new pet. 

Expect unexpected expenses

While buying a pet online might seem like a more affordable option when compared to breeders or some rescues, there are often a lot of secondary expenses. The OVMA (Ontario Veterinary Medical Association) who governs the veterinary medical field produces a fee guide each year to help clinics stay within reasonable rates of one another. Using their guidelines and suggested prices, an example of the potential cost of a new puppy and a new kitten for standard care, beginning with vaccines and ending with their spay or neuter would be as follows:


Male Puppy (10-20kg) needing 3 sets of vaccines, preanesthetic blood work, deworming, and Neuter at 6 months of age

Visit 1

  • complete examination and vaccination $196.90
  • fecal floatation 60.20
  • deworming 27.50

Visit 2

  • complete examination and vaccination 196.90
  • fecal floatation 60.20

Visit 3

  • complete examination and vaccination 196.90

Visit 4

Neuter Surgery and blood work

  • preanesthetic panel (up to 6 tests with partial CBC) 136.30
  • orchidectomy (medium 10-20 kg) – with IV fluids 761.00

Total $1,635.90+hst


Female Kitten needing 3 sets of vaccines, preanesthetic blood work, deworming, and spay at 6 months of age

Visit 1

  • complete examination and vaccination $196.90
  • fecal floatation 60.20
  • deworming 27.50

Visit 2

  • complete examination and vaccination 196.90
  • fecal floatation 60.20

Visit 3

  • complete examination and vaccination 196.90

Spay Surgery and Blood work:

  • blood collection $54.40
  • preanesthetic panel (up to 6 tests with partial CBC) 136.30
  • ovariohysterectomy (includes IV fluids and all pre-
  • peri and post-operative analgesia) Elizabethan collar I.C. – 719.00

 Total $1648.3+hst


In comparison:

The 2023 cost for adopting a pet at the Toronto Humane Society, including all of the treatments listed above, is as follows:

Adult Dogs (local) $300
Adult Dogs (transfer) $450
Puppies (local and transfer) $500
Cats $120
Kittens $150


It’s OK to walk away

It’s ok if you don’t have a lot of knowledge or experience when first deciding to get a pet, the key to finding the perfect four legged companion is to do your research, educate yourself beforehand and ask LOTS of questions when you find one you like.  And remember, it IS okay to walk away. Sometimes the best thing you can do is say “no”, there are countless pets out there looking for a forever home that won’t leave you with heart ache and financial strife.