Animal Welfare Act


Actual USDA licensed and inspected puppy mill here in Iowa



So many people have questions about USDA licensed breeders, the people who inspect them, and why certain licensed breeders are allowed to get away with many violations without any consequence- not to mention the many problems we have with small town zoos.   The Animal Welfare Act can be difficult to interpret, and it is subjective to each inspector. Thanks to the Best Friends Network, I was able to come across this explanation and then expand on it.

 This explanation regarding USDA inspections and the federal Animal Welfare Act (the laws that the USDA licensed dog breeders must adhere to).

“It’s important to note exactly what inspectors are looking for when they arrive at a USDA licensed kennel. Their job is to make sure breeders are adhering to the minimum standards set forth by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). They can look at a facility with hundreds of dogs in small cages, desperate for human attention, and note no violations.

That’s because the AWA does nothing to ensure dogs are happy, or live a quality life. It’s not written into the regulations, and therefore is not something the USDA enforces. Here are some quick facts about the minimum standards set forth by the USDA:

-Inspections are “Risk-based,” meaning that facilities that meet a certain criteria are inspected “as seldom as once every 2 to 3 years.”
-Cage size: must be 6 inches larger than the size of the dog, on all sides
-Up to 12 dogs can be housed in one cage
-Dogs never have to be let out of their cages. Breeders only need to have an exercise plan
-There is no limit to the number dogs a breeder can have—many have over 1,000
-There is no age limit for breeding dogs. If a dog is able to produce puppies for ten years, that’s how long they could be in the facility.

Animals covered under this act are: Dogs, Cats, Monkeys (other nonhuman primate mammals), guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, and other warm-blooded animals that is intended for use in research, testing, or exhibition. 

Not all animals are covered by this act. Excluded animals include: Birds, Cold Blooded Animals, Fish, Rats and Mice, Amphibians, and livestock (cows, horses, pigs). 

Certain facilities are covered by the AWA, which means that these types of facilities must be USDA licensed. These include facilities that: Breed animals for commercial sale (such as puppy mills), Use animals used in research, Transport animals commercially, or Publically exhibit animals (such as zoos, aquariums)

Facilities not covered by the AWA include pet stores, farms and hobby breeders. 


Actual measurements of USDA cage standards

As noted above, the AWA does nothing to address boredom, emotional well- being or quality of life. A dog spinning in circles in a tiny cage 24-7 would not trigger a USDA violation as long as that dog appears outwardly healthy and the cage is at least 6 inches taller that the dogs’ head and 6 inches wider and longer than the dog measures from nosetip to tail BASE. This is an example of why the AWA needs to be rewritten. Emotional torture is every bit as damaging as physical torture for these dogs. The AWA requires that basic standards of care and  treatment be provided for certain animals bred and sold  for use as pets, used in biomedical research, transported  commercially, or exhibited to the public. Individuals  who operate facilities in these categories must provide  their animals with adequate care and treatment in the  areas of housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water,  veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather  and temperatures. Sadly, the word adequate doesn’t meet many of OUR standards.

Most commercial breeders use wire flooring on their cages so the feces and urine are able to fall through the openings. This set up is another cruel part of the industry. When people started getting smart and complaining that the wire flooring was causing further injury and deformity to the dogs, the breeders asked that the USDA refer to it as “mesh”. After many people spoke up, the USDA required the wire to be coated, as opposed to making the wire thicker. Any attempts at making changes to these regulations has been met with much resistance.  

Although Federal requirements  establish basic standards, regulated businesses are encouraged to exceed these standards. (AWA website.Most do not. 


For more information or concerns about the Animal Welfare Act, contact:
Animal Care, APHIS-USDA
4700 River Road, Unit 84
Riverdale, MD 20737-1234
Telephone: (301) 851-3751
Fax: (301) 734-4978
Web page:

And AS ALWAYS… If you don’t think these laws are strict enough, please contact your legislators on the federal level!  Let them know that these laws need to be updated big time.

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If you want to learn more about Iowa Animal Abuse laws, click here 

Sources are the AWA website , Best Friends Network

4 thoughts on “Animal Welfare Act

  1. Thanks for all of your work Mindi. The Animal welfare Act is national. My assumption is that individual states can have higher standards, if they choose. Is this correct? If so, maybe a group needs to focus on Iowa legislators. If the group is successful, other states may follow suit.

    Again, thank you. the people that keep these wonderful creatures in circumstances that are devoid of any love, attention, or any stimuli whatsoever are probably hopeless. It becomes the job of people who care to take action. Can you post the link to the Iowa House and Senate?

    Have you discussed with others the best way to publicize this?

  2. This truly sickens me. 😦 Thanks for sharing! I hope more people realize what goes into making those furry balls in store windows. Maybe I am extremist when it comes to this subject, but they really need to regulate breeding and if you ask me, I think there should be a limit to how many breeders are allowed PER breed in this country. I would make sterilizing pets THE LAW and not an option. There are way too many homeless animals to go around and even more euthanized daily.

  3. This is truly sickening… I wholeheartedly agree that we need to regulate breeding. I recently moved my animal with TLC Pet Transport and they did a very good job… They are people who really care about animals.

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