How to Avoid Online Puppy Mills

When you buy a new pet, the last thing you want to bring home is an adorable puppy with a not-so-adorable case of pneumonia.

Getting slapped with a hefty vet bill hurts, but watching your puppy suffer hits even harder.

In most states where puppy lemon laws don't exist, the law is such that you have little recourse as a buyer who unknowingly purchases a "lemon" puppy that came from a cramped and dangerous puppy mill.

Many times, these defective pups have lived their entire lives in small wire cages without proper medical treatment, experiencing little, if any, gentle human contact.

ABC News consulted with Nebraska breeder Clem Disterhaupt, a 38-year veteran, and California veterinarian Helen Hamilton to give you tips for smart puppy purchasing, online and off.

Tips for Smart Puppy Purchasing

How to Avoid Buying Lemon Puppies

1. Contact the breeder and visit the premises.

If at all possible, visit the breeder before you buy a puppy! This is the best way to see how your puppy has been treated.

2. Make sure the pet store or online breeder offers a written health guarantee.

Disterhaupt says that a puppy seller should give you at least 10 days of coverage for contagious sickness and a one year hereditary and congenital replacement health guarantee. Make sure you get the guarantee in writing! Watch out for sellers on the Internet that guarantee that your furry friend will be free from infectious disease for only a few days after the purchase is made, or that will ship your puppy only on certain days or only after the payment is made in full. Chances are that a reputable breeder would never make these provisions.

3. Contact puppy references!

If you speak with pet owners who have bought dogs from the breeder or the pet store in question and they seem happy with their puppy, there's a much better chance that you'll make a healthy puppy purchase, too. Avoid relying on advertisements that boast about selling puppies to the "stars". Celebrities get duped into buying lemon puppies too.

4. Be careful about buying imported puppies.

While a multilingual pup may be a good conversation piece, when puppies are imported from overseas, they undergo an often stressful, cold and uncomfortable trip. To find out whether the puppy is imported, ask the breeder or owner of the pet store. Be particularly skeptical about rare breeds that often are born outside the United States.

5. When buying a puppy off the Internet, look at how many different breeds a site advertises, and how many litters it says it is breeding at a given time.

While plenty of reputable breeders breed several different kinds and offer a wide selection of puppies, this might indicate that your puppy is just not getting the medical and personal attention it deserves. The best way to figure out whether these larger breeders are conscientious of your potential dog's well-being is to visit the breeding site.

6. Is the breeder approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture?

This is a tricky tip! On the one hand, a USDA-approved seal could mean that an inspector checked the facility out and decided the mill met its standards. On the other hand, veterinary experts say that USDA program inspection programs are often understaffed and underfunded, which means that many USDA-licensed breeders stay in business even with repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act