Pets at Home - Do their pets really come first?

When buying a new pet you want to be sure it’s happy and healthy when leaving the shop. Pets at Home say its animals are all bred in comfortable and caring surroundings and that their pets are then looked after by staff dedicated to their welfare. It’s all very reassuring but in reality do they live up to their promises?

Published 19 September 2012:

Christina Sage bought guinea pigs Batman and Robin from Pets at Home in the Cardiff Ty Glas store as a present for her 4 year old son Dylan. But within three days, Robin fell ill, losing all the hair on the side of his face. A vet later confirmed that both he and Batman were infected with the painful fungal infection, ringworm. As a result, Dylan is forbidden from playing with them whilst they undergo treatment and Christina can only handle them if she wears plastic gloves.

Ringworm is highly infectious and can spread easily between animals. But as 12 year old Chloe Cameron discovered, it can also be passed to humans too. She bought two guinea pigs from the Pets at Home store in Carlisle. They too fell ill, and shortly after their diagnosis with ringworm, Chloe noticed a circle up on her neck.

This circle spread, leaving her with painful sores all over her body. Unfortunately, Chloe already suffers from a condition that affects her immune system, so she collapsed and ended up in hospital, where she was treated for several days. To make matters worse, her dad then caught ringworm too. Thankfully Chloe, her dad and her pets made a full recovery, but the experience was a very distressing one for all concerned.

Unfortunately, some animals don’t recover. Caroline Parkes bought rabbits Frank and Wonky from the Pets at Home store in West Drayton. Both animals sadly died within 11 days and Caroline believes that they should not have been sold the way that they were.

After talking to unhappy customers, we decided to test out Pets at Home for ourselves. Vet Mike Jessop, former president of the Small Animal Veterinary Association, joined a team of Watchdog secret shoppers on visits to eight of Pets at Home’s stores across Britain.

In every store, our team came across fish that appeared to be suffering from disease. In four of the stores, we found fish with ‘white spot’, a parasitic and infectious disease of the skin that could have affected all of the other fish sharing the tank. In seven of the eight stores tanks contained dead fish – we counted over 50 in total. Some of the worst conditions were in New Malden and Stockport, stores that proudly advertise themselves as specialist ‘aquatic centres’.

In the West Drayton store, Mike Jessop was so concerned about the welfare of two of the rabbits for sale that we decided to buy them so they could be taken away for treatment. Later examination confirmed that one was underweight, while another had an obvious skin condition. We also bought a Guinea Pig in Cardiff Ty Glas store that later turned out to be suffering from scurvy.

Throughout our mystery shopping trips we found evidence of some Pets at Home staff members failing to follow their own welfare advice. A sign in the Carlisle store clearly states that you shouldn’t keep an Aquatic Dwarf Frog with small fish, yet we found one in a tank along with, you’ve guessed it, small fish. We also found a sign in the Durham store that says Syrian hamsters must live alone or else they’ll fight. So why did we spot three in one cage?

As well as the conditions of the animals, we’ve also had complaints about Pets At Home’s after-sales service. Before leaving the store with a new pet, staff are supposed to give customers all the care information they need, checking off everything they tell you on a tick list on your receipt. But, in half the stores we visited, the staff asked us to sign to say we’d received information that they simply hadn’t given us.

Sick and dead pets, hazardous conditions and staff failing to do their job. Not so reassuring afterall?

Company Response


Nick Wood, CEO of Pets at Home said;

Watchdog’s report is a huge concern to everyone at Pets at Home. We take pride in putting pets and their welfare at the heart of everything we do, and we always deeply regret any upset to our customers caused by a failure to meet our own exacting standards. If we become aware of standards not being met, we will take it very seriously.

However, we find ourselves disagreeing significantly with many of the points raised by your vet. As a result we have invited him to meet with our specialist vets to discuss his concerns.

Not only are all our colleagues trained to a very high standard, 92% are pet owners themselves and care passionately about the pets in our stores. The, more than anyone, will want tobe certain that we are providing the very best advice to ensure our pets’ welfare.

It is however an inevitable fact that a small number of pets may sadly become ill. We are confident that instances such as these remain rare.

What’s more, we are proud to count the RSPCA as our partners. They have expressed their confidence in our commitment to animal welfare and we will continue to work together to find ways to improve the lives of pets in the UK.

We strive to get better everyday. Based on the information we’ve received before the programme, we have immediately taken the following steps.

We are reviewing our health check training, and have increased the frequency of the checks on our fish tanks.

We have already replaced the two confusing signs in all stores and will continue to monitor and improve every aspect of our stores and our colleague training.

Our full response is on our website at

For any customers or colleagues with any concerns arising from tonight’s programme , our customer service line is open until 11pm tonight and can be reached on 0800 328 4204.

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