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Ask Sid

When Your New Pet Has Health Problems

Who pays for veterinary care?

Q. Shortly after I bought a puppy from a reputable breeder, it became sick. Who should pay for the veterinary care, the breeder or I?

A. It depends where you both live. Twenty states now have “pet lemon laws” that require sellers to provide a replacement or refund for a sick or injured animal within a designated period, or reimburse the buyer for veterinary costs. Other states have pending legislation.

The laws vary somewhat, so the American Veterinary Medical Association has listed each state’s key points. All pet lemon laws cover dogs—and most include cats—that were purchased from breeders and retail pet stores. Typically those adopted from rescue shelters are not covered, says Adrian Hochstadt of the AVMA.

Your first step: Determine whether there’s a pet lemon law in your home state or in the state where the breeder operates. If so, politely inform the breeder of that fact and ask for compensation for the vet’s costs (if that is allowed in the law). If that fails, contact your state attorney general.

If there’s no pet lemon law in your state, check your sales contract for any guarantee. But even without that, a pet dealer “may be willing to compensate the buyer to protect his or her reputation,” notes Hochstadt. In some states, buyers can sue sellers of sick animals in small claims court.

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.

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