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Experts recommend top questions puppy buyers should ask breeders to avoid heartache

12 April 2019, at 9:00am

The BVA, Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) and RSPCA are jointly encouraging anyone thinking of buying a puppy to use The Puppy Contract and ask several important questions of the breeder first

New statistics from BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey show that most of the puppy problems vets saw last year as a result of poor purchasing decisions were often related to owners choosing a breed without sufficient understanding of its needs or its suitability to their household or lifestyle.

When asked about poor purchasing decisions relating specifically to dogs, one in ten vets said they commonly saw dogs last year with health issues linked to where they were purchased from, such as puppy farms or irresponsible breeders selling puppies online. Almost one-third of vets (32 percent) noted seeing puppies with congenital and conformation problems, such as trouble breathing due to flat faces, and more than one in five (22 percent) saw dogs that were not suited to their environment, which often led to behavioural issues.

BVA Junior Vice President and AWF Trustee Daniella Dos Santos said:

“The vast majority of vets agree that using The Puppy Contract benefits and informs prospective owners. Vets frequently see puppies bred in poor conditions or bought without a proper understanding of their welfare needs, leading to health or behavioural issues, so it is important to always consider how the puppies have been reared and cared for in their first few weeks.

“We’d encourage anyone thinking of getting a new puppy to speak to their local veterinary practice for advice on the right dog for them and use The Puppy Contract to ensure they are buying a healthy, happy and well-socialised puppy. If a seller is not willing to provide answers to your questions, then you should walk away to avoid getting a puppy that might have a poor quality of life and perpetuating irresponsible dog breeding.”

The Puppy Contract is a free, one-stop guide developed and supported by leading UK animal welfare charities and professional bodies. It gives prospective puppy owners all the information they need at their fingertips, including all the right questions to ask the breeder about important aspects of the puppy’s care, such as socialisation, vaccination, microchipping and health tests.

Key questions to ask a breeder include:

  1. Did you breed the puppies? If the answer is "no", walk away regardless of the answers to the other questions. A seller who hasn’t bred or reared the puppy won’t be able to give an accurate picture of the puppy’s medical and socialisation history. More importantly, puppies from puppy farms are often sold via third-party sellers. Always buy a puppy directly from the breeder.
  2. Where are the puppies kept? Have you started to house train and socialise the puppy? It’s important to know if the puppy has had lots of human interaction or only at particular times, such as during playtime and feeding. If puppies are not kept in a home environment, they will have reduced human contact and they may have socialisation issues or trouble adjusting to life in a home. Ask to see it socialise with its mother and littermates. It is also a good idea to visit the puppy more than once to help you identify potential problems more easily.
  3. Were both the puppy’s parents screened for inherited diseases that can be tested in that breed? All dogs, whether pedigree or crossbred, can suffer from inherited diseases which are passed on from parent to puppy. Health testing and screening, such as the BVA/The Kennel Club Canine Health Schemes, allow breeders to screen for inherited diseases, and the results can then be used to help ensure that only healthy dogs are bred from. Ask for health screening certificates and run the results past a vet to make sure the breeder has interpreted the results correctly.
  4. Will the puppy be microchipped and given its first vaccinations prior to homing? Puppies must be microchipped by the time they are eight weeks old, and before they go to their new home. The breeder should supply you with microchip paperwork which includes your puppy’s individual identification number and database they are registered with. Vaccination records should be stamped by a veterinary practice and signed by a veterinary surgeon
  5. Has the puppy or its parents had any health problems? It’s important to be aware of any health problems the puppy or its parents have had as they could have been passed on to your puppy. Many puppies don’t need to see a vet before they leave their breeder. If your puppy has been checked or received any treatment, the breeder should provide details of anything abnormal that the vet noted. Talk to your vet if you are unsure about any of the information provided.
  6. Has the breeder used any routine veterinary treatments for the puppies, such as wormers? Regular worming is important for the health of puppies and humans. Ask your vet about the products mentioned and avoid buying from breeders who have not treated their dogs for worms at all.

AWF Chair of Trustees Chris Laurence said:

“Bringing a puppy into your life is a huge commitment, so asking all the right questions at the outset will help avoid any heartbreak as a result of poor breeding. A responsible breeder will not only be happy to answer your questions but will want to ask you questions about your lifestyle, home environment and experience with dogs to ensure that their puppies are going to a good home.

“The Puppy Contract helps guide you through the process of finding a puppy which has been bred with the best chance of living a healthy and happy life. We urge anyone looking for a new dog to take their time and do plenty of research and always use The Puppy Contract.”

RSPCA dog welfare expert Lisa Hens said:

"A large number of the puppies bought and sold every year sadly originate from irresponsible breeders here in the UK or abroad. Buying a puppy who becomes ill or has behaviour problems is heart-breaking for unsuspecting owners. While the RSPCA is working tirelessly to tackle those breeders and sellers who trade in puppies in order to make a quick buck and with no regard for their health and welfare, we'd also urge the public to play a role in stamping out this unscrupulous trade.

"We'd encourage anyone of thinking of adding a puppy to their family to use the Puppy Contract. At a time when buying a happy, health puppy from a responsible breeder has never been more difficult, it's crucial that all buyers - whether first time buyers or experienced dog owners - arm themselves with the right questions to ask. The Puppy Contract can help families trying to navigate this minefield find a happy, healthy companion, and hopefully, better protect dog welfare here in England & Wales."

For more information and to download the Puppy Contract, click here.