Image Courtesy of Pegi Webster/VIN
People seek out purebred dogs and cats for a number of reasons. Previous experience with the breed; predictability of temperament or health; use in hunting, agility, obedience, or other work are just a few.
Many purebred animals are found in animal shelters and rescue organizations. Breed-specific rescues only take in a specific breed, or mixes of that one breed. Once in a while they have puppies and kittens available for adoption, but not usually.
If these avenues are not turning up any animals of your preferred breed, you might then choose to look for a breeder. Not all breeders are alike, so look for specific criteria to satisfy yourself that the breeder is responsible.
Primarily, avoid any commercial breeder that displays the hallmarks of being a puppy mill. They are large-scale commercial breeding operations, usually for dogs (although the term can also be applied for large-scale catteries), where profit is the only thought. The temperament and health of any one animal or their parents is of no concern. The hundreds of animals are bred too often and in substandard, sometimes filthy, accommodations. Most pet store animals are sourced from operations that can be classified as puppy mills.
Generally speaking, these operations are where you will find the least expensive animals because they are merely a commodity to the breeder. When buying puppies or kittens, it's usually true that you get what you pay for. Puppy mill dogs tend to be timid, fearful, and unhealthy throughout their lives, costing you a lot in emotional terms and at the veterinary hospital. You will likely spend less in veterinary bills over the pet's life by purchasing from a responsible breeder.
A good, responsible breeder is one who cares about their animals-and you as their potential family-more than their own profit. A good breeder wants their animals to be placed in the best possible homes. The cost may seem high, but there is a significant investment by breeders in breeding responsible litters. This may include participating in conformation shows (which is where “champions” come from), testing for medical certifications, selectively planning litters that will improve the breed, keeping up with veterinary care needed during breeding and pregnancy, and finding good homes for their animals. Good breeders make little, if any, profit and do it for love of the breed.
While many breeders look like they do the right thing on paper, that may not always true. Be wary of buying from people who only want to breed a litter because they know a friend has a purebred male for their female, or who want to have a litter so that their children can see "the magic of birth just once". They may produce good offspring, and they may not.
Understand that being registered only means the pet has a purebred pedigree from the presiding organization for that animal. Being registered means nothing in terms of their health or temperament.
Do your research before you look at a litter. It is impossible to make rational decisions while surrounded by adorable puppies or kittens!
- Word of mouth is a great resource.
- Ask your veterinarian if they know a responsible breeder for your chosen breed.
- If your friend has a pet that you love and know to be healthy, find out who their breeder is.
- Go to dog or cat shows sponsored by the presiding organization, such as the American Kennel Club, The Cat Fanciers' Association, United Kennel Club, The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, Canadian Kennel Club, Australian National Kennel Council, and so on. Speak to people showing the breed(s) you're interested in. Ask them for the names of breeders they recommend.
- Look online at the sites of the above-mentioned organizations for breeders who are members.
- Talk to rescue organizations that work specifically with your chosen breed. They are going to know the medical and behavioral downside of their particular breed. Does this breed require extensive training or exercise? Are they prone to genetic or other chronic diseases? Do they need frequent grooming and coat care? This information is vital to have as you hone your search. An added bonus is that they may already have your future purebred companion under their care!
- Welcome you into their home/breeding facility.
- Let you meet the animal's parents (or at least the mother).
- Answer questions about the specific health issues seen in the breed and in their own lines in particular.
- Provide written proof of the medical certifications of their breeding animals.
- Birth, raise, and socialize the animals in their homes and with their families.
- Have a good working relationship with a veterinarian.
- Provide complete age-appropriate vaccines and parasite deworming.
- Provide documentation for the puppy or kitten with your name on it and fully transfer all ownership and registration to you.
Purchasing a pet through a reputable breeder takes time. Most reputable breeders have fewer than one to two litters per year. Good breeders also have waiting lists of potential buyers because experienced buyers know that a well-bred pet is worth the wait and cost. You are not likely to decide to buy a purebred animal one week and be able to pick one up the next without resorting to a pet store or puppy mill.
One important hallmark of a good breeder is that if at any time during the pet's life you discover you cannot keep the animal, the breeder will take them back. This willingness means they care deeply about what happens to the animals they decide to bring into the world. A good breeder also tries to determine if you are the right kind of person to live with that breed. Don't be surprised when breeders ask you as many questions as you are asking them.
Once the purchase of a pet is complete, no breeder has the right to micro-manage your pet's diet or health care unless you co-own the animal. Be wary of breeders who seem opposed to you seeking your own veterinary care or have an antagonistic attitude towards veterinarians in general. A breeder may require you to sign a contract stating that you will feed a specific diet or give specific supplements. Some may stipulate which vaccines or parasite prevention to give (or not give) and when. Some may dictate the time frame in which to spay or neuter your pet, or even require/forbid specific anesthetic or drug protocols for the surgery. Some contracts require you to agree to intermittent in-home welfare checks, or to seek the breeder's permission before euthanizing your pet for any reason.
Signing contracts like these is a bad idea, even if they may not be legally enforceable. The pet, and all the decisions related to their care, is legally yours. Your pet is an individual, and their medical decisions should be resolved between you and your veterinarian. Obviously, your breeder will be a good resource for health recommendations for their particular breed; however, insisting that you do something their way rather than what you and your veterinarian think best is inappropriate.
When you are looking for a purebred puppy or kitten, for your own protection, don't buy from anyone who:
- Won't let you see the animal's parent(s) or where the parents live.
- Breeds more than three breeds in their operation or has multiple litters born every year.
- Sells animals out of a temporary facility like a trailer, tent, or vehicle.
- Claims they have had the parents tested for specific medical certifications but are unable to provide proof (i.e., “all my dogs' hips have been fine”),
- Wants to complete the transaction over the internet, or even sight unseen with the breeder shipping the animal to you. These animals may be from a puppy mill (or a puppy broker working on behalf of a puppy mill to sell puppies to pet stores and the like), or may even be a scam in which an online pet is sold even though no litter actually exists.
You will be living with this pet for many years, and you want the most appropriate animal for that place in your heart: the best temperament, the best health, the best chances, and the least risk. Just because an animal is registered as a purebred does not mean it's a great pet: it's the breeder who makes the difference. Start by buying that puppy or kitten from a breeder who only wants what is best for the animals they're sharing with you.
Phyllis DeGioia, Veterinary Partner and VetzInsight contributed to this article.