USDA Continues to Implement & Enforce New Pet Breeder Requirements


USDA Continues to Implement & Enforce New Pet  Breeder Requirements

Sheila Goffe, Director, Government Relations

It’s been more than six months since the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) began implementing new federal regulations that narrow the definition of “retail pet store”. Prior to this rule change, most small/hobby breeders were considered by the USDA to be retail pet stores and thus exempt from licensing and regulation under the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

Although clarifications to some aspects of the regulation are still pending, breeders should be aware that the USDA is enforcing new regulations that require some previously exempt breeders to now become licensed by USDA as pet dealers.

The American Kennel Club expects responsible breeders to know, understand and obey the laws to which they are subject, and recommends that anyone who has questions about whether they are subject to the licensing contact USDA APHIS directly at (301) 851-3751.


The USDA’s purpose in creating the regulatory change was to license and regulate internet-based pet breeders and sellers under the federal AWA. The regulations also expanded USDA oversight of pet breeders to include people who maintain more than four “breeding females” of any species AND sell one pet “sight unseen.”

The American Kennel Club (AKC) shares the USDA’s concerns about substandard or unscrupulous pet dealers –including some that disguise themselves as rescue organizations—who mislead the public about the pets they sell.  However, the AKC has also been concerned that the changes in the rule would unfairly subject many small-scale hobby breeders to the same requirements as large scale commercial breeding facilities. Although the rule provided exemptions for animals not sold as pets, it also potentially characterized and regulated many small breeders/hobbyists as commercial pet dealers because they breed an occasional litter and transfer even a single pet sight unseen to an approved home or participate in rescue activities.

To address these concerns, AKC worked with Congress to direct the USDA to clarify two key issues. The first is that a “breeding female” is one that is both capable of breeding and actively being used in a breeding program. The second is to exempt those that maintain more than four breeding females but do not transfer more than a “de minimis” (minimal) number of pets sight unseen. USDA has been directed to prepare new regulatory language that further address these specifics. The new language, which is expected within a year, will provide regulatory relief for some small hobby breeders but not change regulatory requirements for those who sell significant numbers of dogs online or sight unseen.

In the meantime, the USDA is enforcing the new regulations and expects breeders who are subject to licensing to contact the USDA and seek a licensing application packet.  A general outline of whether you may be subject to licensing under the new rules is available from AKC Government Relations. For questions about your own particular situation, contact USDA directly.


If you believe you may be subject to USDA licensing and regulation, here are a few important updates/items to consider.

  • The USDA pre-licensing process allows for breeders to meet with inspectors and learn what they need to do—if anything—to bring their facility or those parts of their residence that house breeding animals into compliance. Click here to view a webinar on the pre-licensing process.
  • Last week, the USDA released information regarding a new process for USDA inspected kennels who wish to appeal an item cited on their inspections report.  The goal of the process is “to bring about quicker appeals resolutions, maintain consistency in the appeal process and ensure that subject matter experts are involved in reviewing each appeal”.  For more information view a new USDA Fact Sheet on the appeals process or AKC’s legislative update.
  • Facilities that are currently subject to licensing by the USDA must identify themselves and seek a pre-license inspection. Those who do so may continue to operate until their first pre-license inspection. However, they cannot continue to conduct a regulated activity if they are not in compliance after the first pre-license inspection. 
  • Breeders/Dealers who do not self-identify or seek a license but are found to be non-compliant will be subject to penalties without the benefit of pre-license inspection. 
  • USDA is continuing to identify breeders who may be subject to licensing through online resources, past USDA licensing records, the public complaint process and other venues.  The first contact from USDA to a breeder will be via mail, email or phone call.
  • Breeders may use their mailing address as their official address on their licensing records.  The official address is the address that would be published. For its own records, USDA also requires an accurate address where the facility is located.

AKC Government Relations will continue to provide you updated information as more information becomes available.  For more information, visit AKC’s Regulatory Resource Center or contact USDA APHIS directly.