Buying a puppy responsibly –  ten things you need to know

There has been an exponential rise in the demand for puppies during 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with two thirds of puppy owners who purchased during this years’ crisis stating that their new puppy was a ‘lifeline in lockdown’ according to research undertaken by The Kennel Club. 41% of those surveyed said they bought a ‘pandemic puppy’ because they wanted a companion, with 38% stating that they made the purchase because they were spending more time at home.*

Sadly, it is feared that because many of these purchases were ‘impulse buys’ without pre-planning or undertaking enough research in advance, that as many as one in four puppies purchased during lockdown could be from a puppy farm.

With this in mind, Charter Vet Harriet Jarvis BVSc MRCVS outlines the essential precautions you must take if you are planning to add to your family responsibly with a puppy in the coming months.

Search the breeder’s contact name, phone number, email address and puppy description word for word (use the copy and paste function) in Google.  It is also possible to right click on the photos used in ads and search in google for the image. If the breeder has sold multiple litters of puppies using those details then you will find previous and current advertisements.

Expect to have your questions answered but also expect to have questions asked about your home and lifestyle in return.
Ask about the environment in which the puppies have been reared and ideally choose a puppy from a litter reared in a similar environment to your own.
Ask about the health of the litter since birth, and also any ongoing health concerns of the parents or other relatives.  Have they undergone any corrective procedures, such as eyelid or upper respiratory surgery?  Health tests are available for a variety of inherited conditions in many breeds.  Visit the Kennel Club website or for information on which health tests are available for your chosen breed. Breeders stating they haven’t had appropriate health tests performed as the parents are entirely healthy have misunderstood the benefits of testing.  Please do feel free to contact your veterinary surgeon to discuss any health testing results or concerns about the litter.
When you have decided you are happy with the responses and feel both the breed, health and rearing environment of the litter are suitable, arrange to visit.  Ensure that you will be seeing the puppies in the environment in which they were born and ensure that their mother will be available for you to see (and the father if possible), and that you will be able to see the puppy interacting with litter mates and the mother.
When you have visited the litter, arrange to go back again before making a final decision.  If you feel pressurised into buying immediately, walk away.

Get an address and landline telephone number before visiting as dishonest breeders or puppy dealers may rent properties for puppy viewings to give the impression the puppies have been home reared in a clean and safe environment.  During the visit look out for signs such as dog food bowls, toys, dog beds, a whelping box to suggest the dogs actually live there. When you arrive stand back and watch the puppies interacting with each other and their mother, are they comfortable in their environment?
Ensure that the mother looks as if she has given birth recently, she should have enlarged mammary glands.  If the bitch is not interested in the puppies then she may not be their mother.  If the breeder is not prepared to allow them to interact, no matter what the excuse, walk away. If the mother is out on a walk, or at the vets when you arrive ask to wait until she is back or arrange to visit another time when she will be available.

A thriving litter of puppies should be active, have clean eyes, ears and bottoms and a good shiny coat.  The ribs and backbone should be covered. If your puppy is unwell when you are due to collect arrange to collect on another occasion, and if he is still unwell then cancel the purchase.  If you have any concerns about the health or situation of the puppies or the mother then do not purchase, contact the RSPCA, Trading Standards, the local authority or the police, and walk away.

Bitches should not be bred before the age of one year and not on her first season. She should not have had more than one litter in any 12-month period and not have bred more than six litters in a lifetime.  A bitch should not be bred from if she has already had two caesarian sections.  A puppy born by caesarian section is more likely to require a caesarian section should she have a litter in the future.
The temperament of the mother is important as can be inherited.  Hopefully she will be calm and friendly towards you, but it is acceptable for her to be defensive of her puppies, especially if they are very young.  If this is the case, ensure that she is calm and comfortable with her owner. She should have been wormed regularly in the past and during pregnancy as roundworm can reach the placenta and mammary glands and infest the puppy both before they are born and during suckling. A vaccinated mother passes immunity versus potentially lethal diseases onto the puppies until they can be vaccinated themselves. She should be microchipped to comply with the law.

Puppies should be eight weeks of age when they go to their new homes.  Puppies are fully weaned by the age of seven weeks, and if they are not then they may be younger than advertised.

Puppies should be wormed with a product recommended by a veterinary surgeon every two weeks from the age of two or three weeks.  Request the date of worming and the product name.

The first vaccination and veterinary health check may be performed between the ages of six and eight weeks.  If performed a vaccination record must be provided and should be stamped with the practice details and signed by a veterinary surgeon.

It is a legal requirement for all puppies to be microchipped by the breeder before the age of eight weeks.  The microchip must be registered to the breeder and then transferred into your ownership to ensure full traceability.

If your puppy is pedigree and advertised as being registered with the Kennel Club the registration papers and pedigree should be given to you.

Always collect the puppy from the breeder’s home yourself.  Decline if anyone offers to meet you “half way” or even deliver to your home. Take your new puppy to your vet for a health check within a few days of purchase.  Ensure you have in writing that you can return the puppy to the breeder if there are health concerns or your circumstances change in the future.