How to Identify a Puppy Mill 

3 min read Jan 27, 2022

The American Kennel Club currently recognizes nearly 200 dog breeds. If you’re looking for a breed in particular you have a few options. You can check shelters, find a breeder, or buy from a local pet store.

Unfortunately, many stores can get their dogs from puppy mills.  To avoid supporting one of these places, it’s important you do some research before buying a puppy from a pet store or anyone who’s selling puppies.


The first question you can ask is whether or not you can visit the home of the person selling the animal. Puppy mills will nearly always say no whereas responsible breeders will be more than happy to let you come and see their facility.

If possible, get a complete tour and ask to meet the parents, siblings, and any other relatives of your puppy.

Keep in mind that some responsible breeders won’t have the father on site, but they should still be able to provide you with his information and can connect you with his breeder or owner.


Most responsible dog breeders will be registered with an outside organization. Because registration is voluntary and can be expensive, it proves responsible breeders are not just in it for the money and that they’re willing to go the extra mile to ensure they are the best dog breeder they can be.

Puppy mills may have a kennel license, but this is given out by the local government and only provides permission to own more dogs than what is allowed in that city or area. Don’t take these too seriously if this’s the only proof offered of legitimacy.


The puppies should also be certified by a veterinarian. If someone can’t provide proof that their animals have already received routine veterinary care, this is a huge red flag. Puppies can get their first round of vaccines at 6 weeks of age and should already have those when you bring them home.

You’ll often find that with puppy mills and irresponsible backyard breeders, the dogs haven’t been to see a veterinarian at all. This increases the chances that they will come with various health problems and shows the breeder doesn’t care about the animal’s health.


A responsible breeder takes the time to learn everything they can about a breed before they start producing puppies. Find some basic and more advanced questions to ask someone to find out how much they know about the breed.

Here are some examples of things a breeder should know about their dogs:

  • Personality traits
  • Energy level
  • Intelligence
  • Expected lifespan
  • Common genetic problems in the breed
  • Average height and weight of adult animals

If you feel like someone doesn’t know much about the breed, consider this a red flag and keep going through the other items on this list to determine if they’re a responsible breeder or a puppy mill.

Number of Breeds

One question you should always ask that can quickly determine if you’re talking with a puppy mill or a responsible breeder is “How many dog breeds do you have?”

Because of the amount of time and care that responsible breeders put into each breed, it’s rare to find a breeder that is breeding more than one or two types of dogs at once. The vast majority only have one breed they choose to focus on.

If someone is breeding multiple dog breeds or has a number of “designer dogs” available, this is a huge red flag. Few responsible breeders will offer hybrid dogs and even fewer will have multiple breeds to choose from.


Something else you’ll can ask about and look for when visiting a location is the level of care the dogs are receiving. They should be getting high-quality dog food and regular grooming, and should all appear to be healthy.

Look for dogs with matted coats and those that appear to be depressed as this can be a sign of someone who is not taking good care of their pets. You’ll also want to consider how much space each animal has and whether or not they have full access to the backyard and house.


The final thing you can ask for is references. A responsible breeder should be able to provide you with a list of owners they’ve sold dogs to in the past, the veterinarian they take their animals to, and other dog breeders that can vouch for them.

If you still have any doubts about the reputability of a breeder at this point, don’t be afraid to contact any references given to ask them about the individual you’re considering buying a puppy from.

What to do Next with Your New Puppy 

Now you know seven ways to determine if the puppy you’re looking at is coming from a puppy mill or a responsible breeder. It doesn’t take long to ask a few questions to determine where a puppy is coming from so you can avoid supporting animal cruelty.

Once you’ve found a responsible breeder, you can bring your new puppy home. Or, you can always look to adopt a furry friend awaiting a new home from a local animal shelter. 

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Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances. 

1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.