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Choosing a Puppy or Kitten
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Choosing a Puppy or Kitten

Choosing a Puppy or Kitten

So you’ve decided you want a new puppy or a new kitten, but where do you start looking for a new pet ……?

Below is a rather long set of recommendations and list of advice, but choosing a new puppy or kitten is also a really big decision. So please take a few minutes to read through the whole of this article. Reading it could save you a great deal of money, not to mention heartache, in the years to come.

First of all, take a little time to ponder the following important considerations:

Do you have a natural preferred breed? 

  • Is that breed appropriate to your circumstances?
    • What about its size relative to both you and your house and garden?
    • What does everyone else in the family think about this breed?
    • How much exercise will they need?
    • How much time are you able to spend each day with them if you go out to work?
    • Can you afford this breed both at the outset (purchase cost) and also to look after them properly for the whole of their lives?
    • Not just feeding costs but their general healthcare (worming, vaccinations etc), plus routine and emergency veterinary bills (neutering and when they are sick or injured)
  • What are your future plans?
    • If you have or are planning to have children, will this work for your new pet?
    • What if you become ill?
    • What if you have to change jobs?
    • What if you have to move house?
    • Are your personal circumstances likely to change significantly during the lifetime of your new pet?
  • Pedigree or pure-bred dogs are generally more expensive than cross bred pets
    • Many of the currently popular so-called “designer dogs” are simply first generation cross bred pets which seem to command sometimes ridiculously high prices!
    • Cross bred pets are generally cheaper to buy initially.
    • Pedigree pets generally have an increased likelihood that they will suffer from medical or surgical problems during their lives.
    • “Hybrid vigour” associated with cross bred pets are generally healthier over their lifetimes but they can still inherit good and bad characteristics from each parent.
    • Pedigree dogs often have more consistent traits in both appearance and behaviour (but not always!)

So, now that you’ve considered all this and worked out exactly what type of pet is going to be best for you both now and in the foreseeable future, where do you go to try and find one?

If you’ve decided on a pedigree pet, then it is important to go to a reputable breeder.

  • Do your homework and find out as much about any breeder that you can.
  • If you know someone else with the breed you want, ask their advice. Going through the Kennel Club (for dogs - the Assured Breeder Scheme  isn’t perfect, but breeders using it are at least required to satisfy certain standards and they have to be inspected) or the General Council or Cat Fancy or GCCF  (for cats) can be useful, but still does not guarantee that the breeders advertising there will provide you with the pet you want.
  • It is also worth contacting the breed club for your chosen breed. Again, it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t end up with a disreputable breeder, but it is rare for truly disreputable breeders to join these groups.
  • There is a vast range of swish and attractive websites online now advertising pets for sale. Don’t take these at face value. It is all too easy these days to produce a very fancy website which is actually fronting a much less attractive real life breeding situation behind it.
  • Online advertising media such as Friday Ads and PreLoved can put you in touch with genuine breeders, but they are also used by much less reputable people and organisations.
  • Check out this video from the Dogs Trust
  • Also check out Dog Breed Health. This website is aimed at dog and puppy buyers who are choosing which breed (or cross-breed) to have as a pet.

Our strong advice is that you should feel free to use all these possible sources to introduce you to pet breeders, but always be on your guard against a scam or a con and PLEASE follow the checklist advice below if you want to avoid a lot of heartache in the future.

  1. Select a breeder with only one (or at most, two) breeds.
    • Sellers offering multiple breeds for sale should be viewed with suspicion. It is well known that there are puppy and kitten dealers who buy in multiple breeds from elsewhere in the country and try to pass these off as home-bred animals.
  2. Before you go to look at the litter, make sure you have done your research on the breed. 
    • Then you can ask the breeder for the results of any tests the they should have had carried out on the mother or father - such as hip scoring, heart  checks, blood tests for heritable diseases, eye tests etc.
      • Make sure you get the results of these tests and know what they mean. You can always ask your vet what they mean and what scores you should be looking for. Generally, they should be better than the average for that breed.
      • If the breeder hasn’t done these tests, be suspicious of what type of breeder they are
      • These tests have been developed to try to make the breeds healthier. If they haven’t been carried out, you will be less sure that your puppy or kitten is going to be healthy
  3. Is the breeder offering Puppy Contracts?
  4. Check if the mother is up to date with her vaccinations (ie had a vaccination within the last 12-15 months).
    • If this cannot be confirmed, then the puppies or kittens may have poor immunity themselves which could cause problems later on
    • If the breeder suggests that they do not think that vaccinations are necessary for breeding animals, be very suspicious as to what sort of breeder you are dealing with.
  5. Always go to see the puppy or kitten at its home with the mother (and preferably also the father).
    • If the seller makes any excuses as to why this may not be possible, be very suspicious. Any reputable breeder will understand why you would want to see mum (and dad) with their puppies or kittens and so any attempt to prevent you from doing so, no matter how plausible the excuse might seem, is likely to indicate something is amiss. In these circumstances, our strong advice would be to walk away and select another breeder.
    • The main exception to this rule is rescue centres where the mother may not be available for a variety of genuine reasons.
  6. Watch the behaviour of mum with her offspring and make sure it is appropriate - i.e. they should be interacting with each other as a mother and her offspring should.
    • Again, it is not unknown for sellers to buy in puppies or kittens and place them with older female animals and try to pretend they are a mother with her siblings.
    • Particularly for dogs, watch the temperament of the mother. This can be a significant factor in the temperament of the pups. If mum is nervous, aloof or reserved, she may pass these characters onto her pups and this could cause problems later on.
    • At this age, puppies and kittens should be bright and curious, not nervous or worried when you approach. Avoid shy or nervous puppies or kittens and those that are reluctant to interact. Conversely, the most boisterous and bouncy puppy or kitten may not be the best choice for a domestic household, especially in the high energy working dog breeds.
  7. Never agree to meet and/or buy a puppy or kitten at any location other than the breeder’s home unless you have already been there and seen the animals in their home environment.
    • Recently, in the West Sussex area, we have seen several clients who have responded to adverts in Friday Ads and elected to purchase puppies for cash from the back of a 4x4 vehicle in a lay-by! These puppies had actually been driven down from puppy farms in Wales and several of them became very sick a few days after purchase and needed extensive veterinary care to get them back to health.
  8. Never buy a puppy or kitten displaying any sort of health problems without getting them checked by a vet first.
    • If you want to buy such an animal, then simply make the purchase subject to an examination by your own vet.
    • Ideally all puppies and kittens in a litter should be fairly even in size, have no dirty eyes, no sneezing, no mucky bottoms etc. If a number of them look unhealthy, our advice would be to walk away.
  9. Avoid selecting the smallest or weakest puppy or kitten in a litter. 
    • We are all naturally drawn to these sort of animals, because we feel sorry for them, but there is often a reason why they are the smallest and weakest and that may become an expensive decision that could be regretted later on.
  10. Be encouraged if the breeder tells you that the puppies and kittens have already been checked over by a vet - but it still isn’t a guarantee. 
    • Many congenital problems are not easily detectable until at least 7 weeks of age so animals that have been examined younger than this may still have problems.
    • First puppy and kitten vaccinations are usually carried out at 8-9 weeks, so if a valid vaccination certificate is supplied, then this should give you more confidence that the puppy or kitten is free from health issues.
    • However, be aware that if your puppy or kitten has already had their first vaccination, different vets may use different vaccines which may not always be compatible with each other, so there are advantages to having all the vaccinations carried out by your own vet. It also means that you won’t miss out on the first consultation with your own vet at which they can give you vital independent advice about your new puppy or kitten
  11. Check very carefully any documents that the breeder may provide. 
    • All puppies must legally be microchipped before they are sold. If they are not being sold with a microchip already implanted, be very suspicious of the type of breeder you are dealing with.
    • It is child’s play to create very impressive looking pedigree “certificates” on computers these days which may or may not have any relation to the pet you are purchasing. Particularly check any vaccination certificates that the breeder supplies for your puppy or kitten. Check that:
    • It is a certificate of vaccination (rather than a “record of vaccination”) and that it is signed by a veterinary surgeon.
    • That the vaccination certificate has been issued by a veterinary surgeon close to where the breeder lives. So many times, we have seen vaccination certificates issues from vets in Wales being presented with puppies or kittens that have been purchased from “breeders” in the South or East of England.
    • That the details on the vaccination certificate are correctly filled in:
      • The breeder’s name and address
      • The proper, full and complete description of the puppy or kitten you are looking at
  12. Be suspicious if the breeder only promises to send documents on to you
    • If the puppies or kittens have been vaccinated, the vets would have issued certificates of vaccination at the time, so why wouldn’t they be available at the time you are intending to purchase?
  13. If the breeder will only accept cash and will not provide a receipt, this should also raise your suspicions
    • What about any comebacks if you have a problem?
  14. Avoid taking a puppy or kitten away at your first visit to them.
    • Hard though it is, your emotions may get the better of your common sense and a snap purchase may be one that you end up regretting for a long time later on.
  15. A good breeder should be interested in where their puppy or kitten is going
    • They would normally ask you questions about you and the type of household you will be taking them to and would be wanting to be assured that you can provide them with a home for life.
    • If a breeder doesn’t ask these sort of questions, then it may be that the puppy or kitten is regarded as a commodity rather than the result of much love and care and it may indicate that the breeder has taken shortcuts elsewhere also.
  16. Puppies and kittens should generally be sold at around 7-8 weeks old so that they have a chance to have developed properly behaviourally.
    • If a breeder is suggesting that you take a puppy or a kitten at a much younger age (eg 4-6 weeks), often citing the fact that the mother doesn’t have any milk or that she has started rejecting them, be suspicious and ask further questions.
    • If a breeder is offering you a puppy or kitten that is considerably older than 7-8 weeks, again be suspicious. It may be a puppy or kitten that has or has had a problem or that had been returned to the breeder. Again, you need to ask more questions here, even if you are given plausible assurances that everything is OK.
    • Ideally, you should avoid buying puppies or kittens over 12 weeks of age unless you are certain that they have been appropriately socialised (acclimatised to a range of people and noises), otherwise they may develop behavioural issues with you later on.
    • eg if the breeder is an elderly lady living on her own then the puppy or kitten may not settle well with children or men.

Please also consider this fact.

The purchase of puppies and kittens is, in English law, treated under the Sale of Goods Act. Puppies and kittens are usually sold by breeders “as seen” and most do not come with any guarantee of long term good health.

So, if you have a problem with a puppy or a kitten you have purchased, you have a right to take them back to the vendor (the breeder). If the problem is serious (eg heart murmur, hernia or disease), the breeder can offer to take the puppy or kitten back and refund your money or they could exchange them for another puppy or kitten. They do not have any legal obligation to pay to put the problem right in the puppy or kitten you have purchased. And often by the time you realise that there is a problem, you will already have become very attached to your new puppy or kitten and emotionally unable to even consider parting with them in exchange for a “healthy version” (as applies under the Sale of Goods Act).

This is why we strongly recommend that all puppies and kittens are checked by a veterinary surgeon within 24 hours of purchase - so if there is a serious problem, you are not already so emotionally attached that you cannot consider parting with your new puppy or kitten.

Once you have decided to purchase a particular puppy or kitten, before you take them home, remember to ask

  • When were they wormed, how often and what with?
  • Have they been treated for fleas and if so, then what with?
  • If they have been vaccinated, that you have the certificate with you.
  • What have they been fed? 
    • Most breeders will send you home with some of this food so they can continue with it for a few days until you decide on what puppy or kitten food you want to use. We recommend Hills Vet Essentials.
  • For kittens, what sort of litter have they been used to? 
    • You should try to use the same litter at home for at least a few days also.
  • Set up a lifetime insurance policy for them
    • …. if the breeder has not supplied temporary insurance (AlphaPet recommends Vetsure insurance). This can be set up before you actually collect your puppy or kitten so they are fully covered as soon as you get them.

Make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible (within 24 hours ideally) with your own vet (AlphaPet is open 7 days a week) to have them checked over to make sure there are no unexpected surprised that you should know about.

Finally …… sit back and enjoy! Your life will be changed forever, but hopefully in a very, very positive way!