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Synopsis of New USDA APHIS Rules

by Margaret Byrd


Confused about all the different APHIS regulations? Check for any 2019 changes! This flowchart of APHIS information is how the Retail Pet Rule affects you as a dog breeder.



1st: If you do not ship you are exempt. Period.

The animals must be sold Face to Face. You can’t have them transported (shipped in any form) but the buyer may be able to send a representative to buy and pick the dog up. The buyer or their representative must see the animal prior to purchase.  Further you may deliver an animal directly to the buyer as long as they see the animal prior to a sale you do not need a USDA license. You can deliver at a trial or at Costco parking lot.


“The AWA does not require retail pet sellers to allow customers to enter their property. A seller exempted as a retail pet store can indicate a place of business separate from his or her premises at which to sell pet animals at retail.”


2nd: If you ship and have 4 or fewer intact females, you are exempt. Period.

Under this exemption you may not sell any animal not bred on your premises by you. You may not sell a puppy back, or a bitch/dog you got from another breeder when you retire them.  They may count any age intact female as one of your four. This will be at the discretion of each individual APHIS inspector. If you are running a pup on to see if you want to keep her or because she didn’t sell, she counts. If a bitch is returned, she counts.


They don’t care how many bitches you co-own. If animal isn’t on your premises then it doesn’t count. If the bitch is on your premises but belongs to one of your family members, or friends “on paper” it still counts. So a bitch there to be bred would be counted.


“A breeding female is considered to be maintained at their premises if it resides at that premises, even if temporarily.”


”APHIS inspectors rely on a variety of means to determine whether a female has been spayed. One means is visual inspection. Other options include reviewing veterinary records or other documentary evidence, such as sales receipts.”


If you ship, and you have one intact rabbit whose offspring are sold as pets (or gerbil, guinea pig, ferret, rat, etc) and 3 intact bitches whose offspring are sold as pets, you have your maximum four intact females to remain unregulated under this exemption. It isn’t four bitches, four rabbits, four rats, etc.

“The exemption refers to the aggregate number of female dogs, cats, and/or small exotic or wild mammals on the premises who are bred and whose offspring are sold as pets.”


3rd: If you have more than 4 intact bitches and ship one animal you must be USDA licensed. Period.

USDA regulations are extensive and you’ll have to read the rules to decide if that’s for you or not.


4th: If you breed hunting dogs, security dogs, or dogs sold for breeding purposes you are exempt.

It says it only affects only breeders that sell dogs as pets.  Chances are you’ll be investigated if you seek that manner of exemption but (in writing) you are exempt. They intend to surf the web seeking breeders not in compliance.


5th: Rescue dogs have the same rules for animals sold as breeders. Animals shipped as pets require a USDA license.


“We consider private rescues and shelters that perform any of the activities listed in the definition of dealer, including transporting or offering animals for compensation, to be dealers. We consider acts of compensation to include any remuneration for the animal, regardless of whether it is for profit or not for profit. Remuneration thus includes, but is not limited to, sales, adoption fees, and donations."


We note, however, that dealers are only required to be licensed if they do not meet any of the exemptions in the regulations. Many private rescues and shelters operate under a business model in which representatives for the rescue or shelter and the animals available for sale or adoption are physically present at a location where the public is encouraged to personally observe the animals; this business model is consistent with our definition of retail pet store. As a result, private rescues and shelters with this business model have historically been exempted under the retail pet store exemption in ? 2.1(a)(3)(i) and will continue to be exempted.”


6th Farm animals sold for pets, medical research, or other non-agricultural uses (such as petting zoos) are covered under this new rule just like dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, rats, etc.


Sold as pets is the key word. If they are sold for fur, fiber, breeding, or meat they are not covered. (for now)


7th Enforcement “We will identify newly regulated entities using our current methods, which include reviewing marketing or promotional material in the public domain, self-identification, and complaints.”


“….. Factors we would consider when determining when and how frequently such inspections would take place include, but are not limited to: 1) whether an entity has applied for a USDA license; 2) whether an entity is already subject to some degree of State, county, or local oversight, and the nature of that oversight; and 3) whether an entity is the subject of a legitimate complaint and the nature or severity of that complaint. We will conduct periodic compliance inspections based on a risk-based inspection system that calculates the level of risk of noncompliance. Because of this phased implementation, we do not consider it necessary to amend the definition of inspector to allow APHIS to use non-APHIS employees to serve as inspectors.”


Their Synopsis:

“However, this rule will only affect those dog breeders who sell dogs as pets, not for hunting, security, breeding, or other purposes; who maintain more than four breeding females on their property; and whose buyers are not all physically present to observe the animals prior to purchase and/or to take custody of the animals after purchase”


the following is from



A USDA License is required for a Dealer, defined as any person who buys, or sells, or negotiates the purchase or sale of animals for pets for one of the following 6 uses: Research, teaching, testing, experimentation, exhibition (to the public for compensation), use as a pet. A Dealer is also anyone who buys or sells dogs at the wholesale level for hunting, security, or breeding purposes. All breeders who sell animals SIGHT UNSEEN and who maintain more than 4 breeding females must be licensed by the USDA. This includes the following list of pets: Dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, gophers, chinchilla, domestic ferrets.


In general, APHIS says this rule is driven by purpose of breeding and method of delivery for the sale; and the stated goal is to end sight unseen sales. Since most breeding programs do not fall into neat categories, this creates many gray areas of uncertainty. APHIS maintains that because of the varied situations, they will need to make case-by-case decisions regarding licensure. Of major concern is the interpretive definition of a breeding female. APHIS also states it must be assumed that any intact female or any female capable of breeding may be bred. Determination of whether or not a female on your property counts as a breeding female is solely at the discretion of APHIS inspectors. If you are trying to remain under 4 breeding females for the purpose of being able to ship, any intact females maintained on your premise for any length of time, such as for training or breeding, count toward the total number of females.


Anyone who maintains four or less breeding females of the same species and sells only the offspring of those females may sell pets either at retail or wholesale and may either ship or sell face-to-face without a license. Rescue groups that participate in face-to-face transactions such as off-site adoptions are subject to public oversight and therefore do not need to be licensed.


Instant!!! Contact Information for ii YOUR Governor, Senators, and Congressional Representatives


See related articles: APHIS Injunction by Frank Losey and the PDF of APHIS retail pet store rules factsheet EST 1998 © 1401s192



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