Saturday, December 8, 2007

Tips for Buying a Healthy Puppy

(This blog originally posted on 8/4/2006).

The good thing is this list is really just common sense. Plus a few elaborations to help you understand why common sense is good.

First things first.

Things that do NOT affect the health of the pup:
1) Registries
2) Breed Clubs
3) Forms of advertisement

So you want a puppy? Here are the tips.

ONE Pick out your breed. This is step one because a lot of the information you're going to review will be best learned with a breed specific filter. Review the breed's history. Keep in mind what the breed was bred to do, versus what it does today.

TWO Learn what your breed should look like, and what a healthy structure should be. Read the book by R. Smythe, "The Dog Structure and Movement" and the breed standard(s) There are usually many different standards for a breed, each registering organization has one, and often there are historical ones as well. Read as many as you can find.

THREE Learn a little about the ailments that can affect dogs, and the ones most common in your choice of breed. This one is admittedly hard. It's hard to find information about non-genetically linked diseases, and many reported incidences of disease can be skewed by statistcs and alarmists. Learn what you can. Take what you learn with several grains of salt, and make sure you get a good guarantee (more on guarantees in a minute).

FOUR Nutrition of the parents is as important as what the pups are fed. Raw diets can provide optimal nutrition through generations, but they can go horribly wrong if the breeder doesn't know what she is doing. If you are interested in raw diets, read "Grow Your Pups With Bones" by Ian Billinghurst before you talk to breeders. For more information on how nutrition affects health and development through generations, read about Pottenger's Cats.

Ask the breeder what they feed their dogs. - Not what they recommend! But what they ACTUALLY feed. If they are feeding a wheat free, or corn free, or chicken or any sort fo specialty food, ask why. It might be a sign that their dogs have allergies, sensitive stomachs, history of bloat ect.

Puppies should be weaned onto puppy food, or adult food if large breeds, if they are not weaned onto BARF. Some breeders wean puppies onto baby cereals, like cream of rice. This practice is coming under scrutiny in humans as contributing to a rise in diabetes - a disease that also afflicts dogs - and obesity.

FIVE Meet the parents. Of all the things I can do when buying a puppy, missing this one is a sure deal breaker. Not only will you learn a lot about temperment of the dogs and the breeder when you see how she interacts with the male and female dogs, but you can visually look at appearant health. Ask the breeder to show you their teeth, ask about dental issues, abcesses, fast tarter buildup, lost teeth, extractions etc. (especially important in small breeds). Is there any fur loss on the parents? Untreated thyroid problems, mange and more can result in fur loss. Are they in good condition? Grossly fat or super skinny? Give the bitch a little leniency here, weight fluctuations (both high and low) are common as a result of pregnancy and nursing, just like humans. But the breeder should be able to tell you if weight anomilies are due to the puppies.

If the parents are sniffing and sneezing, that is a warning sign.

SIX Ask if the parents are on any medications or supplements or have ever been. It's fair to ask about every vet treatment, but realize you may not get a forthright answer.

SEVEN Vaccinations and worming. There are almost as many vaccination schedules as there are breeders. None are particularly right or wrong. In general, the bigger the breeders kennel, the more vaccinations the puppy will have had, while a holistic breeder may not have vaccinated at all. Be aware that an unvaccinated pup is more at risk of contracting some particularly nasty diseases and it may result in high vet bills or even the loss of the pup. Most breeders worm puppies at about 4 weeks, but worms are definitely something your vet will test for when you take the pup for it's first checkup.

EIGHT Inbreeding? One word. Run. A LOT of breeders inbreed, and they will tell you it is okay because they know their lines and there are no bad genes. Even if this were possibly true, inbreeding always doubles up the genes in the part of the body that controls the immune system. This doubling up weakens the immune system.

NINE Testing for genetic disease. There is a reason this is number 9. The most common screened for "genetic disease" is hip dysplasia. HD is only 30-40% genetic. Remember that just because both the sire and dam receive favorable ratings means nothing to the puppies. If you are considering a breed where HD is a serious problem, insist on seeing the screening results of all the sire's and dam's siblings, parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents, great aunts and great uncles. You want to see a overwhelming majority of good results in ALL those to gain any comfort that your puppy will be free of HD.

If all a breeder can offer is screening results for the parents and a few relations, that is virtually irrelevent. Make your decision to buy on other factors, and make sure you get a good contract.

Consider other genetic screening results in relation to the frequency of the disease in the breed, and it's treatability.

THIS LAST ITEM I'm not going to number because even if you throw everything else out the window, pay attention to this.

HEALTH GUARANTEE No matter who or where you buy your puppy, get in writing that
1) you can bring the puppy back with in at least 72 hours for a full refund if it does not pass YOUR vet of choice's evaluation.
2) you can get a replacement pup, or a refund, if your dog develops a true genetic defect within 2 years. Note that Hip Dysplasia is not a true genetic defect, and often won't be covered by the breeder. This is because the conditions the dog is raised in play as much or greater a part in whether the dog develops HD than the genetics. However, you may want to insist on HD coverage too if you are buying a breed with high incidence.

Also, beware of signing a contract that will make you return the dog to realize the genetic refund or replacement pup.

If you decide to buy a dog without a contract, recognize up front that you stand to lose the dog, the purchase price and any funds spent on vet bills.

A book could probably be written on buying a healthy puppy, but this will get you started. A little common sense goes a long way.

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