Many of you have your hearts set on a particular breed of dog or cat. Sometimes it’s one you had when you were a kid, or one you were never allowed to have when you were a kid. Maybe it’s one you’ve chosen through weeks of internet research. Where will you go now to find that special new member of the family? Well, it’s largely a matter of deciding where not to go.


I’ve heard many accounts in my exam room, good and bad, about pet breeders. “Breeders” seem to fall into two categories: those who don this title to legitimize the quick production of pets for money, and those who grow into it over a lifetime of doing something that they truly love. Sadly, purebred pets are already quite prone to health problems, and those problems are magnified by pet merchants who are out for a quick buck. You’ll get a healthier, more social pet from someone who is devoted to improving the breed. How can you identify this person? It’s a good idea to seek advice from an animal expert that you trust, but there’s no substitute for your own firsthand observations.


If you are not invited to visit the premises where the pets are living right now, consider it a warning sign. If you are not allowed to meet at least one of the parents and the rest of the litter, there’s likely to be something wrong. Ask about the breed’s characteristics and any associated health problems. A good breeder will be able to recite these in her sleep. Testing has been developed for some of the most common health problems that run in the breed. Have these tests been performed on the parents, and is there documentation? Ask to see the papers. Does the breeder show interest in your household and how the pet will fit in, or does she seem more eager to unload the animal? Many careful breeders will feel the need to interview you—and perhaps your whole family—to ensure that a suitable match is being made. Don’t feel insulted; it’s just their way of protecting the little individual who is being adopted into your home. Most breeders send a packet of papers and resources home with new owners. Ask for a copy so that you can review this before making your decision. Will they provide a list of previous clients for you to call as references? That’s probably be the most valuable tool of all.


I guess all purebred pets begin their lives at the home of a purebred pet breeder. Sometimes their path will take some twists and turns: about 25% of pets in the animal shelter are actually purebreds. Consider checking there on a routine basis; you may be able to rescue someone special from an unpleasant fate. Breed rescue organizations are also devoted to saving these animals and can often be found easily online. They’ll try to connect you with a dog or cat who needs your help.


Dr. M.S. Regan