So, you have read our article on Thinking Before You Get A Pet and have decided that you can afford a pet, you have the time and space and now is the right time to do it. Congratulations! But where do you start?
Spend time with adults and youngsters of the breed you want
I strongly urge you to get to know and spend time with adult and youngsters of the breed/type of pet you are interested in if possible, so that you know exactly what you are letting yourself in for! For dogs in particular, meeting juveniles between 6 and 18 months old is also a really sensible idea because some breeds can be an absolute training nightmare in their ‘terrible teens’ stage. A good breeder / rescue centre can usually arrange this for you, but if it is a dog you are looking for, you can arrange to meet up and chat with dog owners in the local park or ask a breed club (I had to spend 6 hours walking and working with adult dogs of the breed I wanted, before I was allowed to even view the litter of puppies I had gone to look at!) Obviously this may not be possible if you are looking for cross breeds, but if you know you are looking for a collie or labrador cross, you can certainly get to know a few adults.
Great places to see adult animals are at the annual Discover Dogs show, Crufts dog show or the London Pet Show which also has plenty of cats and rabbits to look at too .
Think about potential hereditary problems
Some breeds of animals have inherited genetic problems (e.g. hip dysplasia, heart disease, respiratory problems, eye problems and even dental problems) and this should be thoroughly researched before you get a pet as these problems can cost a lot of money to treat. If you are buying from a breeder you should always ask if the parents have been tested for disease and problems associated with the breed. For common genetic problems and their tests in dogs visit The Kennel Club Breed Pages and for cats visit the Governing Council of Cat Fancy (GCCF) ; these pages list any hereditary and common health problems and give advice on what tests (if any) should be carried out on the parents.
Looking for and choosing your new pet
Before you get a new pet I recommend that you take your time to find and get to know a good breeder or if you are getting a pet from a rescue centre, try to get as much background information as you can from the staff about your potential new pet.
Many animals are being bred purely for profit (‘farmed’) without care for their welfare, health or temperament and are usually passed on to a seller or dealer before being sold. They may even be taken from their mother at 5 weeks old (far too young) and/or imported illegally from outside the UK with no papers, vaccinations or parasite control before being passed on to a seller or dealer and sold on to the public!
Avoid buying pets from pet stores or indeed anywhere that has many pets or litters for sale (this even applies to birds, reptiles, rabbits and other small mammals); it is worth waiting and paying a little extra to obtain an animal from someone who has put a lot of time and effort into ensuring the health and wellbeing of the parents and offspring. Remember that no responsible and caring breeder would ever sell their babies through a pet shop or other third party.
Avoid buying puppies and dogs from field trial, sheep herding and working lines unless you are actually going to be working your dog yourself. Dogs that do a ‘job’ such as working gun dogs, sheepdogs and even agility dogs have a very high drive to be doing things and to be on the go for most of the time. Active parents = active puppies! Generally the nature of field trial and working lines means that they have been bred for many generations to work hard all day and have a high capacity to learn, meaning that they will be a much more active and demanding dog than your average show line or pet bred dog, which are intelligent and active without being overly demanding in their desire to be on the go quite so much.
Make sure you see the mother with her babies – see her interacting with them (cleaning & playing with them) and see them suckling. Check that she has been regularly vaccinated and that she has had regular health checks with the vet. Cases of poor health and diseases such as Parvovirus in puppies and Flu in kittens obtained from unscrupulous breeders, are often seen in veterinary practices and very young animals have tragically died, leaving new owners distraught and heartbroken.
Never Ever buy a pet on impulse and certainly never on your first visit. Leave and think about things overnight, or preferably for a few days.
Don’t feel guilty about viewing other litters if you want to take on a new pet, you should definitely be looking around until you find the right one.
Adopting an unwanted animal is a wonderful thing to do and these places have lots of pets in need of new homes. They are not just full of adult and old age pets that people don’t want anymore, they will also have very young pets in need of new homes.
A registered Rescue centre is a good place to start whether you are looking for a crossbreed, mongrel or pure breed – did you know that at least 25-30% of pets in rescue centres are pure breeds? A staff member may visit your home and ask lots of questions to make sure you can provide a suitable home for your new pet and that you understand how to care for it correctly. There may be an adoption fee, but this usually includes the costs of vaccinations, parasite control and often neutering.
If possible, ask what history (if any) is known about the animal that you are interested in. Many rescue centres also do thorough assessments on the animals before they go up for adoption, so that they have a good idea of the animal’s personality.
Some places to try are
Pedigree, Purebreed, Crossbreed, Mongrel or Moggy?
The words pedigree and pure-breed can confuse some people so, for the purpose of this article, when we talk about a ‘pedigree’ animal we mean one that comes with a registration certificate – usually from the Kennel Club or The Governing Council Of The cat Fancy (GCCF) . For more information on the definitions of these terms please see our article on Thinking before you get a pet.
Pedigree or pure-breed dog/cat breeders
These are ideal if you are looking for a specific breed of pet. A good breeder may or may not do a home check, but they will always ask lots of questions to make sure you can provide a suitable home for your new pet. Do your research regarding the average cost of the breed you are interested in and any genetic/hereditary problems they may have. Expect to pay quite a lot for rarer breeds. The Kennel Club has a list of breed clubs and breeders for puppies and is a good place to start looking. They also have what is called the Assured Breeder Scheme, which sets standards for breeders to adhere to. When buying you must always see the mother interacting with and feeding her litter.
True pedigree dogs will come with a pedigree certificate which usually expresses a standard of breeding and contains 5 or more generations and means that the animal could be shown and bred from, assuming the breeder has not put any restrictions in place.
Remember that having a pedigree certificate does not necessarily mean that the breeder is a good or responsible one, or that the animal is guaranteed to be healthy and well bred, so be sure to follow our guides on choosing your pet.
Hobby and Accidental Breeders
These may be owners who have decided to breed a one-off litter from their pet or their pet has had an accidental mating. Pure breeds (remember pedigrees come with a registration certificate) or crossbreds may be obtained from these breeders. If the pets are crossbreeds you should try and find out what breeds the parents are so you will have an idea about how big your new pet may grow. You must always see the mother interacting with her litter.
Guidelines for visiting and choosing your pet
- Always see the mother interacting with her litter – do not accept any excuses for the mother not being there. If you cannot see mum then walk away. I cannot stress enough how important this is and if you want to know more about this please visit Pup Aid , #wheresmum on twitter or C.A.R.I.A.D (The only acceptable time that this is not an option is when you are getting an older pet or a youngster from a rescue centre)
- Always visit the ‘breeder’s’ home to meet the litter – expect to have 2-3 visits as the animals get older before you take one home. (even with a rescue centre you should visit a few times and get to know your potential new pet before he or she comes home).
- Handle the litter and mum (wash your hands before and after).
- Check that the litter and mother are looking healthy and happy – no dirty bottoms, weepy eyes, coughing or sneezing.
- In the case of puppies and kittens, are they happy to come over and interact with you? If they are all really shy and/or nervous of strangers, it may be an indication that they have not been well socialised or handled.
- Ask about the type of food the youngsters will be weaned onto and what mum has been fed. If you are looking at large-breed dogs, check they are on a diet suitable for their size and growth rate to avoid problems of malnutrition.
- Make sure the parents have been routinely vaccinated, flea treated and wormed. Ask to see the vaccination certificate. Check if the puppies or kittens have had regular worming (this can start from 1 week old). If the breeder does not regularly vaccinate (they may be worried about over-vaccination) ask to see a titre test certificate that proves they have immunity to distemper, parvo, hepatitis (dogs) or enteritis (cats)
- Expect lots of probing questions from a breeder that cares about where the pets are going to and how you will look after them. Expect questions about your breed/pet-owning knowledge, about your home life, the size of your house, your activity levels and how you will afford to look after your pet.
- Ask what will happen if your new pet is found to have a problem when you take it home. Will the breeder take the pet back?
- Puppies, kittens and rabbits should not be younger than 8 weeks old before leaving mum.
- If a puppy is over 8 weeks old or kitten is over 9 weeks old it should have already been vaccinated – ask to see the certificate. This must clearly state the veterinary practice and where this was carried out. Be suspicious if the address of the veterinary practice is outside the UK
- It is now a legal requirement for puppies in England to be microchipped before they leave the breeders home at 8 weeks old, so make sure you have all of these details and that you know how to change the paperwork to your name as the new owner. (In some cases working dogs are exempt from this, but they must have a vet certificate to prove this and provide you with a copy)
- If you are getting an older animal (over 4 months old) remember to ask why he or she is being rehomed. Ask about previous socialisation with people, children and animals as well as any history of fearful or aggressive behaviour.
- Don’t be overwhelmed by the cuteness of the animals in the first litter or rescue centre you visit! If things don’t feel 100% right to you walk away and look somewhere else, the right pet is worth waiting for.
Gentle handling is important from a very early age. Youngsters should be comfortable being handled by you when you visit
Cat specific checks
- Handle the mother so you can get an idea of her temperament (it is not always possible but if you get the opportunity, meet the father too)
- Ask if the parents have been regularly vaccinated and if they have been tested for Feline immunodeficiency virus and Feline Leukaemia before mating.
- Have they been raised indoors or outside? Indoor raised animals are much happier with the day to day sounds of a busy household and the coming and going of people and other pets.
Dog specific checks
- Spend some time handling and interacting with the mother so you can get an idea of her temperament (it is not always possible but if you get the opportunity, meet the father too).
- Ask about how the puppies will be and have been socialised and what experiences they will have had before they come home to you (will they have seen lots of people, travelled in a car, experienced household noises such as the washing machine and vacuum cleaner?).
- Have they been raised indoors or outside? Indoor raised animals are much happier with the day to day sounds of a busy household and the coming and going of people and other pets.
Rabbit and small pets specific checks
- Handle the mother so you can get an idea of her temperament.
- Ask how much handling has been done to get the babies accustomed to it.
- Ask if there has been any history of ill health in the parents/grandparents (particularly with dental disease in rabbits)
Pedigree Pet specific checks
- Ask about any genetic/hereditary problems in the breed and what tests have been done to ensure that the parents don’t have these. A good breeder will have no problems discussing these issues with you and will have had the appropriate tests done on the parents. Ask to see the certificates.
- Ask how old mum is and what age the last few generations lived to – it sound like an odd question, but it is good to know that your new pet will live a long life. Deaths at a young age could indicate health problems in the family.
- You will need to obtain a registration certificate and a contract of sale when you take your new pet home with you. This may also include restrictions on breeding and showing your new pet. Remember that unless the animal comes with a pedigree registration certificate it is not classed as a pedigree – so don’t get duped. Ensure that you receive the Registration Information Document for your puppy from the breeder when you collect your puppy (which should look something like this), if the breeder tells you it is in the post you will probably never see it!
- Check if there have been any restrictions placed on your new pet via their pedigree registrations. For example some breeders will place endorsements on certificates that may prevent you showing your new pet or breeding from and registering any subsequent litters. If you want this animal purely as a pet you need not worry about these, but if you plan to show or breed from your pet in the future this is not something you want. Dog registration endorsements / Cat registration endorsements
- It is now a legal requirement for puppies in the UK to be microchipped before they leave the breeders home (with the exception of some working dogs), so make sure you have all of these details and that you know how to change the paperwork to your name as the new owner.
- A good dog breeder will ask you to spend time with adult dogs and cats of the same breed and chat to other owners so that you know exactly what you are letting yourself in for! This is particularly important if you have chosen one of the less commonly seen breeds.
ALWAYS see mum interacting with her litter
Puppy and Kitten Farms, Pet Dealers and Pet Shops
Puppies and kittens are increasing being bred in commercial animal breeding facilities that are operated with an emphasis on profits above animal welfare and are often in substandard conditions regarding the well-being of animals in their care. The animals from these places are not looked after properly and will not have been bred for good health or good temperaments. Once the litter is ready, they are transported into (or around) England and may often come from Ireland or as far away as Eastern Europe. From here they may be sold on to pet shops or via a dealer who sell the pets out of their home to make it look like the pets were bred there in a ‘loving home environment’ .
- Every animal purchased from an irresponsible breeder leaves a space for another to take its place and feeds the system.
- The trade in pet farms, pet mills, pet dealers and pet shops is consumer led. If an animal is bought (even if the buyer is doing it to remove that youngster from a horrible place) it leaves a gap and the breeder will produce more.
- Many animals become ill soon after purchase, some even die.
- You are the consumer – make a wise choice – WALK AWAY and report it.
To Avoid Falling Into The Puppy/Kitten Farm Trap
Always see the mother with her babies – see them suckling and her playing with or looking after them – if you can’t see the mother interacting with her offspring walk away. Don’t accept excuses about the mother being out for a walk or sick – if you don’t see the mother how do you know that she has a good temperament or is in good health? BE WARNED – Now that the public are more aware than ever about puppy farming, some puppy farmers/dealers now use ‘stooge bitches’ to fool people into thinking it is a genuine home-bred litter. The real mother will interact fully with her pups suckling, cleaning, playing, chastising and tolerate being climbed all over, where as a stooge bitch will have little to no interest in the puppies.
Never let the breeder bring the animal to you – if they offer this how will you know anything about the environment they have grown up in or the temperament or health of the parents?
Don’t buy animals from pet shops or garden centres or anywhere that is offering more than 2 different breeds or litters for sale – these places are usually dealers for the pet farming industry, the animals are usually from puppy farms and kitten farms or from people that breed solely for profit. You will have no idea about their history, temperament or if their parents suffered from any genetic disease or ill health. The animals will likely have been taken away from mum far too early and will have had little or no socialisation or handling.
Do buy puppies and kittens that have been raised in a household environment rather than a kennel, shed or barn (these animals will not have been used to regular human contact or common household noises and events, which can make them fearful and nervous and can lead to behavioural problems)
Always make sure that the mother has had all of the necessary regular health checks and vaccinations; poor health and diseases such as Parvovirus in puppies and Flu in kittens obtained from unscrupulous breeders, are often seen in veterinary practices and very young animals have tragically died, leaving new owners distraught and heartbroken. Ask to see vaccination certificates or veterinary titre test certificates as proof that the mother is protected from disease.
If the puppy or kitten is over 8 weeks old it should have already been vaccinated- ask to see the certificate. This must clearly state the veterinary practice and where this was carried out. Be suspicious if the address of the veterinary practice is outside the UK.
If the seller informs you that the puppy has been brought in from another country it must have a pet passport, microchip, veterinary health certificate and be more than 15 weeks of age (the minimum age for the rabies vaccine to be given and taken effect).
Don’t buy from any breeder that has more than two bitches or queens with litters.
Be suspicious if the ‘pedigree or purebred’ animal costs less than the average price normally seen in the UK.
Never pay in advance for an animal. A small deposit to reserve the animal once you have been to see it is fine, but paying upfront or in advance is usually a requirement of someone breeding to order and the illegal import trade.
Please never buy an animal out of sympathy or because of the situation it is in. Any purchase of a ‘farmed’ animal will only encourage these horrible people to continue – the animal trade is definitely a consumer led supply and demand one. If you feel that the adults or youngsters are being neglected, have been illegally imported or have come from a puppy or kitten farm/mill contact the RSPCA.
It is not acceptable to obtain puppies (or kittens) from “Puppy Farms” or other establishments who sell them on for these unscrupulous breeders. A national campaign called PupAid has been set up to raise awareness and stamp out unacceptable breeding practices. You can also look for the #seethemsuckling campaign
For further advice you can always talk to a veterinary nurse, who will be happy to discuss breed types, personality traits of pets and where to look for a good breeder with you.