22/11/2017 7:39 AM AEDT | Updated 22/11/2017 7:50 AM AEDT

Online Pet Shopping: Here's Why You Should Avoid It At All Cost

A pet is not a lipstick.

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When it comes to online pet shopping, your animal could come from anywhere.

Pets can be a great addition to any household, and with more than 25 million pets owned across Australia, it's clear we are a nation of animal lovers.

But sadly, in contrast to this, 230,000 pets remain unclaimed in Australia's pounds and shelters every year, with around 40 percent of these eventually being killed if attempts to find a home are unsuccessful.

It's a sobering statistic, and one that needs to be taken into account before we head into the Christmas season, during which companion animal sales tend to spike.

Even more disturbingly, many Australians are heading online to make their purchases, without knowing much about the breeder and whether their practices are ethical.

"The majority of companion animals [in Australia] are sold and bought online. It's a really big industry," animal welfare campaigner and Country Director at FOUR PAWS Australia, Jeroen van Kernebeek, told HuffPost Australia.

"But the main thing to keep in mind when you buy something online is you don't know where it comes from. The animal can come from anywhere. And our major concern when talking about animals, is that we know there are a lot of breeders who aren't doing the right thing.They are in it to make a profit and are cutting corners with the welfare of the animals."

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Approximately 230,000 pets remain unclaimed in Australia's pounds and shelters every year.

The situation van Kernebeek paints is a dark one, particularly in regard to backyard breeders who are no doubt looking forward to Christmas as a peak sale period.

"We have seen backyard breeders that keep dogs in the garage in terrible conditions. To give an analogy, they are similar to a factory farm in a way," he said.

"Animals are kept in cages or small barren concrete cells. There is often no hygiene. The animals are living among their own faeces. They aren't given proper veterinary treatment.

"Purchasing animals from such breeders comes with many risks for the health of the puppy and the parent animals."

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Puppies are cute, but are you prepared to look after them when they're older?

Furthermore, if you were to buy a pet online only to later discover it had serious health or social problems, van Kernebeek said it can be near impossible to track down the original seller.

"You can very easily make an account on any of these platforms with all kind of fake details, and they can never be traced back to the source," he said.

While van Kernebeek discourages the very notion of pets as presents, if you are considering adding a furry companion to your family this Christmas, there are a couple of things he wants you to keep in mind.

Firstly, make sure the pet is wanted.

"You should never buy pets as presents because you don't know if the person you buy it for really wants it," he said. "Everyone loves animals of course -- if you talk about puppies or kittens with people, of course they will be excited. But that is a different thing to having the commitment to own one.

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Adopt, don't shop.

"Impulse buying is part of what keeps the industry alive. Not just online, but just generally the high turnover of dogs and cats [we are seeing in shelters]."

Once you establish if a person or family are committed to pet ownership, van Kernebeek is firmly of the opinion you should at least consider adopting one from a pound or shelter.

"That's the first thing we would always recommend to people. These are not castaways, they are not animals have been dumped because have behavioural problems or because they're ugly or anything like that. Often they are pets people couldn't look after anymore or the result of a impulse decision," he said.

There are thousands of unwanted animals available across Australia.

"There are lots of reasons people give up their dogs, but often these are really good animals to take in as a pet, as they have already been socialised and hopefully re-socialised if they are in a good shelter.

"If you take one of these animals from a shelter, you're pretty much guaranteed that they will be happy to be re-homed and they will be good companion for your family. You will also most likely be saving that animal from being put down, and potentially saving a second animal which can now get that place in shelter."

Finally, if you are looking at breeders, van Kernebeek advises to search locally.

"We always recommend people search a reputable breeder in their local area and definitely visit the breeder themselves," he said. "You want to be assured certain policies and systems in place, and you want quality and welfare assured to some degree."

If you are thinking of adopting a pet, check out RSPCA's Adopt a Pet service and/or Pet Rescue.