26 Secrets Your Pet Store Won’t Tell You (But You Should Know)

Before you restock your dog food supply, adopt a puppy, or buy that cute miniature gerbil, you'd best read this.

You will spend a lot

number-one/ShutterstockYes, that guinea pig or hamster is relatively inexpensive, but if you buy a $20 animal, we know you will probably spend another $100 on the cage or tank, grooming tools, food, bed, toys, and treats—plus you’ll be back every month to restock. Also, be aware of these secrets your pets aren't telling you.

Tell us when your animal goes to the bathroom

hedgehog94/ShutterstockAnimals pee and poop in our store all the time—that’s why all the products on our lower shelves are sealed in plastic! We don’t mind—as long as you tell us. You wouldn’t believe how many people let their pets make a mess and just keep walking.

Don't get scared by a high price

LADO/ShutterstockIt’s true: You may find lower prices for pet food in big-box stores or online (though beware of shipping fees that hike up the price). But most of us have great sales and loyalty programs, and many stores (including PetSmart) will match prices for identical products. This is how you can help your pet maintain a healthy weight.

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Don't get the same cages as us

Iakov-Filimonov/ShutterstockDo as we say, not as we do. Many cages and tanks in stores are overcrowded or smaller than what we recommend. We justify this because the animals are small when we get them and don’t stay with us for long. This is what animals in shelters wish you knew.

Don't focus on the food label

Jiri-Hera/ShutterstockUnless your dog or cat has allergies or a medical condition, it probably doesn’t need a premium, higher-priced pet food. If you truly want to ensure your pet’s long-term health, focus more on how much you feed it (and keeping it at a healthy weight) and less on the label.

Give animals time to adjust

Jakkaphan-Romyen/ShutterstockDon’t handle your small animal (hamster, bird, etc.) for a few days after you get it home. Give it time to adjust to its new environment. Try out this music to calm dogs.

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We get our puppies from mills

runzelkorn/ShutterstockIf we sell puppies, chances are they came from a puppy mill, even if we say our animals come from “USDA-certified” breeders. (USDA standards are minimal, and the department rarely cites violations, according to a 2010 review by its Office of Inspector General.) About half of the 2 million puppies bred in mills are sold in pet stores, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Accidents happen

bluedog-studio/ShutterstockAnimals do escape. When our juvenile ball python got out, it took us five hours to find it and coax it back into its cage­—while the store was open. Of course, we didn’t announce that over a loudspeaker to our customers.

Go to the vet right away

gpointstudio/ShutterstockDon’t be surprised if the pet we sold you has parasites, a respiratory infection, or a more serious disease. Animals often won’t show symptoms until you get them home. Many states have “lemon laws” to protect owners, and some stores have warranties or return policies. So it’s a good idea to get your animal checked out by a vet right away.

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Don't use our vets

gpointstudio/ShutterstockMany vets who are contracted to work with pet stores may be hesitant to point out health issues because they don’t want to lose business from the store. They agree to work with pet stores because they know it guarantees them a stream of business. Be wary of stores' “preferred vet” or offers for free vet visits.

We have to meet sales goals

Florin-Patrunjel/ShutterstockOur employees might tell you that this animal is the sweetest or that one is the most playful, but keep in mind there’s a lot of turnover and most stores have weekly or monthly sales goals. Take what the staff says with a grain of salt, and interact with the animal yourself.

Buy in bulk

Tyler-Olson/ShutterstockWant to save money on food or bedding? Ask us for a bulk discount. Some of us will give you a deal, especially if you’re a regular.

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Rats are friendly

Africa-Studio/ShutterstockPlease don’t look at the rats with disgust. They have great attitudes, love interaction, and really bond with their owners. They’re one of the best small pets we carry.

We sometimes work with unethical dealers

Ittai/ShutterstockMany of us get our hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, and other small animals from large-scale dealers that house animals in massive warehouses, and undercover investigations have revealed abuses at some of them. Last year, a dealer with ties to several large pet-store chains was charged with animal cruelty after PETA released video of animals being frozen alive, denied water for days, and living in crowded, unsanitary conditions. (The chains severed their relationship with the dealer after the report came out.)

Don't forget to brush your puppies teeth

Igor-Chus/ShutterstockHere’s one thing that a lot of new dog owners forget to buy: a toothbrush. Researchers have found that taking good care of a pet’s teeth boosts his long-term health and extends his life span by as much as two years. If you start brushing daily when your pooch is just a puppy, he may start to look forward to that poultry-flavored toothpaste every night.

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Steer clear of fish bowls

dien/ShutterstockEven though we sell fish bowls, you shouldn’t keep your fish in one. Even Betta fish need a 1-gallon tank to thrive and prosper. And a goldfish should have, at minimum, a 2-gallon aquarium with a filter.

You don't have to bath your pup that often

Easy-Morning/ShutterstockOf course we want you to buy our bath products, but you actually don’t need to bathe your dog very often. Unless your furball has an offensive odor or actually rolls in the mud, all he or she really needs is a bath about every three months. Regular grooming with a brush or comb is much more important.

We don't support all the products we sell

Jitlada-Panwiset/ShutterstockWe sell some products that we personally would never recommend to our friends, like choke collars and muzzles. Even rawhide, which many pet owners buy regularly, makes us cringe because dogs can choke on it and it gives them diarrhea.

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Watch out for small dogs

Kichigin/ShutterstockThe smaller the dog, the more likely it is to be aggressive. Sorry, small pet owners, but we’ve seen it firsthand. We’ve also seen plenty of sweet-tempered pit bulls.

We're animal lovers

Dev_Maryna/ShutterstockWhile store employees aren’t “experts,” most of them truly love animals and can’t stand to see them mistreated. That’s why so many of us have homes full of unwanted hamsters, bearded dragons, and guinea pigs. Believe it!

Sales aren't always good

chinahbzyg/ShutterstockDon’t get too excited when an animal is on sale. Chances are, it’s discounted because the store needs to move it out. Either the animal getting too old, it’s crazy, it’s sick or it’s been returned.

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Don't let your kid take care of the pet

SAHAN-SVITLANA/ShutterstockRemember, the pet you bring home is your responsibility—not your child’s. We’ve seen many parents hand over all responsibility to young children who simply aren’t up to the task. If your child doesn’t walk the dog or feed the hamster, you need to step up and make sure it’s done.

Little hamsters are aggressive

AtiwatPhotography/ShutterstockDwarf hamsters may look adorable because they’re so tiny, but they tend to be more aggressive than other types of hamsters—and they’re quick to bite. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Hermit crabs and kids don't mix

Manamana/ShutterstockSorry, but I don’t think a hermit crab would be a good pet for your young child. They aren’t cuddly. They die easily. And they pinch.

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Pets reflect their owners

Branislav-Nenin/ShutterstockPets really can reflect their owners. Women who talk a lot tend to have excitable dogs who like to yip. It seems the body builder types always have big macho pit bulls. People who like lap cats, tend to raise their kittens to be lap cats.

Signs point to good care

Other-images/ShutterstockIf a pet store has a signing saying, “I’m brand new. I can’t come out to play” or “I’m taking a nap. Please do not disturb,” that’s a good sign. It shows the store has the pet’s best interests in mind.
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