Posted 20th March
Buying a new puppy can require a large investment of time, money and research to ensure you are buying a healthy and viable breed that is a good fit for you and your family
Rachel Mulheron, the director of pet insurance at helpucover, discusses ways in which buyers can avoid using a disreputable breeder, and instead purchase a happy and healthy pet from a reliable source.
The rise of the 'puppy farm franchise'
The RSPCA has responded to over 10,000 calls over the past five years, concerning the illegal dog trade. An estimated 430,000 young dogs will come from unlicensed UK breeders each year, and will usually be accompanied by false or forged documentation. This can result in buyers believing they have been imported legally or bred in the UK.
Puppies in these situations have been smuggled into the country, and have often being vaccinated against rabies when they are too young, thus rendering it ineffective and in breach of importation legislation. If they are found to be illegally imported, the puppy will be taken into quarantine, while the fees (which can reach up to £1,000) will need to be paid by the owners.
How to spot the warning signs
These puppies will generally be sold via adverts on the internet or in the newspaper, while they are generally a lot cheaper than their UK equivalents. In these instances, they tend to offer 'multiple breeds' for sale, which is especially unusual as experienced breeders will typically only focus on one breed, or two at a push. You should also never agree to have the puppy delivered to your home address, meet the seller to collect the puppy or pay for the puppy in advance - if any of these are mentioned, they should serve as a warning sign.
If the seller informs you that the puppy has been brought in from another country, it will need to have a pet passport or veterinary certificate, and be over 15 weeks old. You will also need to check to see if the animal has been health-checked before it was imported, along with if their passport has been stamped. You should ask for the details of micro-chipping, which is necessary if the animal has been imported into the country.
Believe it when you see it
The breeder should give you the chance to see the puppy with its mother, the rest of its litter, and maybe even its father. This will allow you to get an idea of its future characteristics and also the size of the puppy.
It's well worth having a vet of your choosing examine the puppy prior to signing a sale contract too - this could potentially flag up any problems. If your breeder is professional or semi-professional instead of breeding one litter for their own enjoyment, they should also be willing to offer references from previous buyers of their puppies. If this is something your seller cannot accommodate, you should consider ending the transaction there and then.
Health factors to keep an eye out for
Puppies from puppy farms can appear to be fine at first, but will gradually being to show signs of typically fatal illnesses. The HSUS, summarising the complaints from puppy buyers that have been received over a five-year period (2007-2011), indicated 40 per cent of these puppies had contracted diseases such as pneumonia and parovirus, while 34 per cent had congenital defects, which suggested many had not been properly bred.
When you see your puppy for the first time you should check their eyes. They should be bright and shiny, and the pink lining of their eyelids should not be inflamed or swollen. A small amount of mucus and watery tears is normal, but any yellow-green pus, a lot of watery eye discharge, or a sticky eye can all indicate a problem.
A healthy coat, whether short or long, should be glossy and pliable, without and dandruff, bald spots, or excessive greasiness. There should also be no redness or swelling within the ears, and your should not be scratching its ears of shaking its head frequently. Healthy gums should be firm and pink, while their teeth should be shiny and white. They also should not have smelly breath. If any of these traits are noticed, you should reconsider buying the animal, as its an indicator that it has not been properly looked after.
Responsible breeders will be following the recommended breeding guidelines and making use of health screening schemes, helping owners to predict the future health of their puppy. Your breeder should be able to paint a clear picture of exactly what this involves and what they want to achieve with their dogs.
Common behavioural problems
Dr John Bradshaw, director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol, reported on puppy farm breeding practices and how it causes a rise in aggressive and dangerous dogs. If you notice behavioural problems including problems such as trembling, food aggression, erratic sleeping patterns and lack of height or depth perception, it is increasingly likely that you have been duped into buying from a puppy farm.
A responsible breeder will offer background on socialisation they have already provided to your puppy along with advice on continuing work in this area when they get home. If your puppy has come from a breeder who follows the Puppy Socialisation Plan, you already know it has had a good start in life, and will be well on its way to making a perfect addition to your family.
Other factors to consider
There are ways of ensuring you source your puppy from an eligible breeder. For instance, start by looking at the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme. The Kennel Club will provide comprehensive and up-to-date lists of breeders, and Kennel Club Assured Breeders with pedigree puppies are also available.
Ask the seller for details of a Contract of Sale before you purchase your puppy, which should detail the breeders' and your responsibility to the puppy, along with making you aware of any caveats in the contract. If your puppy is a pedigree, you will also need to be aware of their ancestry and any health issues.
If you are currently looking at sourcing a puppy and think you have discovered one which could be from a puppy farm or unethical breeder, you should contact the RSPCA or local police station and report the behaviour immediately. You should also inform Trading Standards, so the premises can be investigated from a business perspective too.