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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.

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You will spend a lot

Yes, 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 to a pet superstore every month to restock. Also, be aware of these 50 secrets your pets wish they could tell you.

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Tell us when your animal goes to the bathroom

Animals 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.

3 / 26

Don’t get scared by a high price

It’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 the pet superstore PetSmart) will match prices for identical products. Check out these awesome dog powers that prove the canines are cooler than humans!

4 / 26

Don’t get the same cages as us

Do 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.

5 / 26

Don’t focus on the food label

Unless 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. Find out what vets say are the best dry foods for cats.

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Give animals time to adjust

Don’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. Save some money with these clever pet products you can easily make at home.

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We get our puppies from mills

If 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. Make sure you avoid buying these 8 surprisingly illegal pets.

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Accidents happen

Even in a pet superstore, animals 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.

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Go to the vet right away

Don’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

Many 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 pet superstore. 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.

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We have to meet sales goals

Our 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.

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Buy in bulk

Want to save money on food or bedding? Ask your pet superstore 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

Please 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. Rats are one of the best low-maintenance pets you can buy.

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We sometimes work with unethical dealers

Many 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.) Before you buy that pet, make sure you know which pet combinations will never get along.

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Don’t forget to brush your puppy’s teeth

Here’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. Here’s more about how often you should be brushing your dog’s teeth.

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Steer clear of fish bowls

Even 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. Here’s how your pet’s food bowl could be making you sick.

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You don’t have to bath your pup that often

Of 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.

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We don’t support all the products we sell

We 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. And keep these 11 household items that are hazardous to your pet out of your home.

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Watch out for small dogs

The 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. Here are some more dog myths about pit bulls that you should stop believing.

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We’re animal lovers

While pet superstore 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! As if you needed more reasons to love animals, check out these 9 fun ways pets make you smarter, stronger, and more relaxed.

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Sales aren’t always good

Don’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

Remember, 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. Watch out for these 11 signs of dog arthritis.

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Little hamsters are aggressive

Dwarf 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.

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Hermit crabs and kids don’t mix

Sorry, 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

Pets really can reflect their owners. Women who talk a lot tend to have excitable dogs who like to yip. It seems the bodybuilder types always have big macho pit bulls. People who like lap cats, tend to raise their kittens to be lap cats. Don’t miss these 13 astounding secrets your dog knows about you.

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Signs point to good care

If 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. Make sure you know these 50 things your veterinarian will never, ever tell you.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest