Puppy Mills: Millions of Dogs Suffer Needlessly to Create Pets

what are puppy mills

You’ve probably heard about puppy mills. You might even know about the inhumane conditions these dogs face. Nevertheless, millions of puppies are sold from these mass breeding operations every year.

Puppy mills exist because there’s sufficient demand for these operations to continue running. Many people prefer purebred dogs over mutts, so they’re willing to pay extraordinary prices for dogs whom they view as more valuable.

The problem is that buying dogs from puppy mills exacerbates a decades-long business model that’s rooted in animal abuse and cruelty.

If you’re thinking about buying a puppy — maybe for your kids for Christmas this year, for instance — educating yourself on puppy mills and their alternatives will help you find a pet who doesn’t come from a legacy of terror.

What Is a Puppy Mill?

what is a puppy mill

Image via WeAnimals

A puppy mill is an operation that breeds dogs not for health or vitality, but for profit. Puppy mill operations can have just a few dogs or many thousands. Either way, they care less about the dogs’ welfare than about the dollar signs they see in every new litter.

Because puppy mills are run entirely for profit, the owners have no incentive to create safe, clean housing for the dogs, to seek veterinary care, or to provide nutritious food. Many of these animals live in deplorable conditions from birth and die young because of exhaustion, disease, or neglect.

They sit in their own urine and feces, develop heinous infections of their hair follicles due to lack of grooming, and get kicked or hit when they “misbehave.”

In fact, animal abuse runs rampant in puppy mills.

Animals are sometimes beaten by people who simply unleash their anger on the unsuspecting dogs. These smart, playful, curious, loving creatures are malnourished, neglected, and mistreated for no reason at all other than dollars and cents.

Who Buys Dogs From Puppy Mills?

Puppy mills would not exist if it weren’t for the demand. There are puppy mills and other mass breeding operations are licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but even those businesses can skirt the few laws that exist to protect dogs from abuse and neglect.

There’s a huge demand for puppy smuggling. Puppies get shipped to Canada, Mexico, and even overseas. Dogs shipped to the UK, for instance, often endure 12 or more hours without food or water, cramped conditions, and even death. They aren’t old enough to regulate their body temperatures or endure extreme stress.

But puppy smuggling is just one of the ways in which puppy mills profit from the litters they produce.

Pet Stores

Many pet stores, such as PetSmart and PetCo, have refused to sell dogs and cats at all anymore. They regularly host adoption days for local animal shelters, but they don’t buy puppies from breeders because they recognize the horrendous nature of mass breeding operations.

Other pet stores make no such promises. They buy purebred or “designer” puppies from these mills, house them in tight cages with other puppies, and sell to the public. Pet stores generate between $500 and $3,000 per puppy.

While puppies are in pet stores, they’re often shown to buyers even when they’re lethargic and sick and marketed as “calm, family-friendly” dogs. Employees put small amounts of bleach into water dishes so they don’t have to clean them out, and the puppies spread diseases between one another.

Compare that to a rescue dog you take in from a local animal shelter. Most of these organizations charge adoption fees ranging from $50 to $150, which includes initial vaccinations, spaying or neutering, and the care of the dog before you adopted him or her.

Internet Sales

The Internet created a new way for puppy mills to generate profits. In fact, they can make more money because they’re cutting out the pet store “middlemen” and selling the puppies for pure profit.

A puppy mill might portray itself as a farm-style dog breeder with irregular litters for sale. However, one puppy mill can operate as many websites as it wants as well as post on aggregate websites that tell consumers where they can buy dogs.

Buying a puppy from the Internet is extremely dangerous, especially since you have no idea where the puppy is actually coming from. If you can’t visit the breeder, meet the puppy’s parents, and get a good idea of what the operation is all about, don’t fork over your hard-earned money.

Flea Markets

Many puppy mills also take their dogs to flea markets and similar open marketplaces. They pay for a booth or stall and use their adorable merchandise to lure in prospective buyers.

Unlike pet stores, the Internet and flea markets allow mass breeders to sell puppies without any oversight whatsoever. They don’t have to present a USDA license in most cases because flea market operators don’t know to ask for such credentials.

Worse, when you pick up a puppy at a pet store or flea market, you don’t have much time to interact with the dog. You certainly don’t have a veterinarian on hand to examine the puppy.

Roadside Sales

Some puppy mills even sell their “wares” on roadsides. They pretend they had an “accidental” litter after their own dogs mated and want to give the puppies good homes. They might even bring two adult dogs and claim they’re the parents of the litter.

Puppy Mills Statistics You Won’t Believe

shocking statistics of puppy mills

Image via WeAnimals

Nearly 170,000 breeding dogs are currently living in the United States. That number might be much higher since puppy mills don’t report on their breeding stock. Experts estimate that there are around 10,000 puppy mills in the United States alone and that those operations produce more than 2 million puppies every year.

Each female in a breeding operation produces an average of 9.4 puppies every year. Those are huge litters, especially when you consider that some of the most popular “designer” dogs weigh less than 30 pounds.

Some of the puppies that are born in puppy mills die within days. Their mothers, who are exhausted and malnourished, don’t produce sufficient milk to nourish all their young. Worse, these puppies are ripped from their mothers far before the natural weaning process, resulting in desperation, depression, and poor socialization.

But here’s the real tragedy.

About 3 million dogs and cats are euthanized every year because animal shelters have too many animals to care for. Upwards of 25 percent of the animals in shelters are purebred.

puppy mills euthanasia

Image via WeAnimals

There’s no reason to buy a designer dog from a puppy mill operation. You can adopt a purebred dog, if that’s what you wish, by contacting breed-specific shelters in your area.

Why Are Mass Breeding Operations Inhumane?

Ethical dog breeders do exist. They often breed primarily for genetic purity. However, these “family” breeders also contribute to the problem. Too many dogs don’t have homes.

Mass breeding operations are even worse. They often deny their breeder dogs affection, nutrition, and veterinary care. They house them in cramped quarters, whether outside or in poorly ventilated shelters, and continuously breed them for maximum profits.

What Types of Dogs Are Bred in Puppy Mills?

A single puppy mill might breed dozens of different types of dogs, from Labrador and Golden retrievers to Yorkies, American bulldog terriers, and malteses.

The breeds of dogs kept in puppy mills are often centered around popularity. For instance, when a movie and book like “Marley and Me” becomes popular, a run on yellow Labrador retrievers can occur. Puppy mill breeders are businessmen and women. They go where the demand lies.

Worse, puppy mills are often responsible for the designer dogs bred for size. So-called toy breeds are often not genetically stable. Their hearts and other organs might be too large or too small for their bodies, and they suffer from a wide range of congenital defects.

Life in a Puppy Mill

what is life like in a puppy mill

Image via WeAnimals

So, what does life in a puppy mill look like? And what happens to the puppies once they’re born?

It’s not pretty.

Tiny Cages for Breeder Dogs

Space is always at a premium when it comes to puppy mills. The more breeder dogs the operation can cram into one space, the more puppies they can produce. Consequently, breeder dogs are often caged so they can’t get up or turn around.

Furthermore, these cages typically have metal bases, which can cause paw and flank damage due to pressure sores and other injuries. Paws slip through the holes. They aren’t allowed to socialize, which impacts their temperament, and they get no exercise.

Since high-quality food costs significantly more than low-quality kibble, breeder dogs aren’t given adequate nutrition. This is especially true for the bitches while they’re carrying their litters. They need even more nutrients and calories to properly nourish their developing young, but they’re denied those necessities.

Little to No Veterinary Care

Veterinarians would charge thousands of dollars to care for animals in even a small breeding operation, so many puppy mills do without. Ear and eye infections, kennel cough, intestinal parasites, and other health problems run rampant in mass breeding operations because the animals are kept in such close quarters.

When these animals don’t receive veterinary care, they can become so sick they can’t procreate. Many die, either from the health problems or because their inhumanely euthanized.

The breeder dogs spread these diseases and infections to their puppies. Many conditions, despite popular myth, can transmit from an animal like a dog or a cat to a human. Rabies, ringworm, and roundworm are just a few examples.

Consequently, the people who buy puppy mill dogs can find themselves not only with sick pets, but also with sick human family members.

No Consideration for Genetic Mutations

You might have heard that mutts — dogs that result from the breeding of two different breeds — are healthier than purebreds. While it’s a little more nuanced than that, there’s some truth to the rumor.

Purebred dogs have certain genetic tendencies toward diseases and other health conditions. When they’re bred with the same breed, they can intensify or magnify those conditions so that they’re more likely to present in their young.

Reputable breeders use genetic testing to identify marketers and mutations in their breeding stock. They selectively breed to give the puppies the best possible chance at a healthy life, free of pain and discomfort.

Puppy mills don’t take those precautions. Therefore, if one breeder dog is a carrier of a genetic mutation that’s potentially dangerous to a litter, the mill continues to breed that dog.

Too Much or Too Little Outdoor Exposure

Puppy mills typically choose one of two housing options. They either keep the dogs outside all the time, usually in small metal pens with no shelter from the elements, or indoors where there’s no fresh air and where crates are stacked one atop the other.

Both circumstances are dangerous for the dogs and for the puppies they birth. Dogs are often rescued from puppy mills that involve soggy wet ground, no grooming or bathing, and lots of fleas and ticks.

Continuous Breeding

Breeder dogs are only of value to a puppy mill if the animals can continually get pregnant. Once a female can no longer carry a litter to term, she’s typically killed.

The continuous breeding — one litter every year — takes a toll on the females’ bodies. They often have stretched-out nipples, severe exhaustion, infections of the breast tissue, and other serious health concerns. Some die during the birthing process because of hemorrhaging or simple exhaustion.

Early Deaths for Parents

Puppy mills exist for one reason: People want puppies. Consequently, the breeder dogs aren’t of any value beyond their ability to reproduce, so puppy mill operators don’t attempt to give away or sell the breeder dogs. Instead, they euthanize them.

Emotional and Psychological Illness

If you watched the video above, you witnessed peculiar behavior from the animals in the puppy mills. They often weave, spin, or run in circles out of boredom and despair. It’s the only way they can keep their minds occupied.

Dogs need mental stimulation to remain healthy. They also require socialization, both with each other and with their human companions. Breeder facilities deny them those necessities.

What Happens to the Puppies That Come from Puppy Mills?

Believe it or not, puppy mill dogs often die before they can enjoy a life with their intended families. They’re killed because of genetic defects or die during long transit to pet stores or overseas. Many develop terminal illnesses and must be euthanized by vets after they find their “forever” homes.

Many people believe that, by purchasing a puppy from a pet store, they’re rescuing that animal. In reality, though, a purchased dog creates more room for other mill puppies. The cycle continues.

Rescuing a dog from an animal shelter is a far more effective way to create healthy relationships between humans and animals. These dogs truly need homes, and many will never find them.

The problems found in puppy mills carry the same conditions and diseases into the pet stores and into people’s homes. They often don’t live as long as animals who come from reputable breeders or from animal shelters because of genetic predispositions.

How Are Puppy Mill Dogs Killed?

When dogs are killed in puppy mills, they aren’t sent out of this world by a licensed veterinarian who delivers a shot to calm the animal and then another to stop his or her heart. Instead, these animals are bashed in the skull, shot, drowned, or otherwise given a painful and brutal death.

Are Puppy Mills Legal?

Many states have laws against puppy mills. However, at the federal level, there are no laws against running puppy mills as long as those operations follow the USDA’s lax guidelines. Unfortunately, many puppy mills operate under the radar, meaning that they have no oversight whatsoever.

Overburdened federal, state, and local agencies don’t have to staff or resources to properly vet commercial dog breeding operations. This means that many puppy mills get away with even poorer standards for dogs and puppies than the USDA permits. The laws are mostly based on the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, which is outdated.

Certain animal rights groups investigate and call attention to puppy mills. Those investigations often lead to the rescue of underfed, dehydrated, and ill animals. The problem is that the people who run these mills can simply set up shop elsewhere and begin again.

How to Stop Mass Breeding Operations

stopping puppy mill cruelty

Image via WeAnimals

Mass breeding operations, including puppy mills, are often only stopped when someone witnesses the operation and calls the authorities. Many jurisdictions have laws against such operations. This is because abuse and neglection are almost always present.

The only other way to stop puppy mills is to stop people from buying puppies. If nobody purchases animals that come from puppy mills, those operations will go out of business. They operate based on supply and demand. If the demand dries up, they have no incentive to create more supply.

Spread the word about puppy mills via conversations with friends and family members, posts on social media, and other avenues. Stand up for dogs everywhere by adopting them from licensed animal shelters that care about saving unwanted dogs.


Puppy mills are nefarious organizations that care nothing about the animals, but are instead concerned solely with profits. When you buy a puppy that comes from a mill, you put cash into those people’s pockets.

You can help end puppy mills, kitten mills, and other mass breeding operations by spreading awareness and by rescuing your pets from shelters. Don’t give your money to people who make their living by abusing dogs and puppies.

There’s no reason for dogs and puppies to suffer at human hands. We need to treat pets as members of the family, and to do so, we have to stop puppy mill operations from proliferating.

Do you adopt your pets from animal shelters? What do you think about purebred dogs versus mixed breeds?