Making a Decision
Welcoming a dog or cat into your life can be an exciting period. From making the decision, to finding the right breeder or rescue centre and bringing your new addition home, the details to consider, calculate and remember are exhaustive. Whilst the decision to own an animal is a happy one, it is also life-changing, and should therefore not be taken lightly, or entered into without due consideration. By equipping yourself with all necessary knowledge and the advice of family, friends and professionals, you are not only ensuring a smooth transition for your dog or cat, puppy or kitten, but you are helping to safeguard its future in a stable and informed environment. Purchasing your pet from an assured breeder that has experience and that places animal welfare at the heart of its practices, will take more time in finding and will likely prove more expensive, but in the long-run, should mean fewer problems for you and your pet.
Here at VioVet, we have constructed the ultimate guide in pet selection and purchase, which we hope you will find useful. The guide focuses mainly on the process of choosing a dog – everything from recognising your suitability in owning a dog, to considering breed, size and coat type that best suits your lifestyle, and advice on what to ask a breeder. The guide also contains important things to bear in mind in the selection process, the first being to avoid purchasing your dog from a pet shop, as most puppies found at pet shops have been bought from puppy mills – establishments that indiscriminately breed for profit, churning out puppies that are unscreened for any sinister medical conditions or diseases, and enter the world in a state of dismal health, only to be purchased by you, the unsuspecting, first-time puppy owner.
Information on purchasing a cat can be found towards the end of this guide.
First of all, before you even go about finding a breeder, there are some important questions to ask yourself to assess your suitability in owning a dog. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, you might want to think again before doing so.
- Can I realistically afford a dog? – Consider your financial situation now, and how you would manage were your circumstances to change. It is estimated that the combined, annual costs of keeping a dog are in the region of £1,100 (research conducted by Sainsbury’s pet insurance). Quality food cannot be substituted and accounts for at least some of this annual figure. The largest expense to consider – an expense that will sting some of us more than others, is that of veterinary bills and medication costs. If your dog became ill and needed life-saving treatment/surgery, would you have the funds to support its recovery?
- Am I able to make a lifelong commitment? – The average lifespan of a dog is 13 years, although it is not uncommon for either a pedigree or a crossbreed to outlive this expectancy. That means over a decade of your life will be committed to the care of your canine companion, grooming, exercising, feeding and planning your life around it, taking into account holidays and hobbies that may have to be reviewed in light of your dog’s needs and best interests. If you annually holiday abroad, you might want to re-think getting a dog, unless you are happy to leave it with family or at the kennels while you are away.
- Can I find the time to exercise a dog? – Initially, the novelty of owning a dog will prompt us to take it out on the lead, although as the seasons change, with mornings being darker and days closing in earlier, the prospect of a hearty walk will grow less appealing, and having to exercise a dog after a long day at work can become a bit of a chore. The popular saying, ‘a puppy is for life, not just for Christmas’ applies here, as a dog will always need to be exercised, not just in the first few exciting weeks of its arrival but in the whole 13 (if not more) years of its life. Families that can share the responsibility are a dog’s best bet, as even if you do not fancy a bracing stroll on a winter’s evening, there will be someone else to step in.
- Is my house big enough for a dog? – Depending on the size and exercise needs of your chosen dog breed, indoor space is an important factor to consider. Whilst toy breeds are content to live in a small house or apartment, larger dogs will require more room to navigate and wander, so a high-rise flat will not be suitable. Providing there is ample outdoor space for your dog to exercise and play, most homes will offer a sufficient space for indoor living, although this is always important to keep in mind. Providing a comfy corner for your dog to retreat to for sleep, relaxation and in times of fear (such as on Firework’s Night) will benefit your dog enormously by offering a familiar place of sanctuary and reassurance.
- Will my dog be supervised throughout the day? – In an ideal world, dog owners would never have to go to work and would dedicate every waking hour to their dog’s company. Most of the time leaving our dogs home alone cannot be avoided, and as long as a routine is established, there is usually no reason to worry. Leaving your dog alone for short periods is a good way of conditioning it to times of separation. Separation anxiety can occur with puppies that are new to routine, and whose loneliness and upset can often translate through crying and domestic sabotage.
Having asked yourself these questions, you may have reached the conclusion that owning a dog is not compatible with your current lifestyle. If your circumstances happen to change in the future, revisit the questions again, and see if any of your answers are different. In the meantime, you might want to consider owning a cat. Cats, especially those that are allowed to roam outdoors, have far fewer needs compared to domestic dogs, and their low-maintenance routines are appealing to many with more hectic lifestyles. However, if you answered ‘yes’ on all five accounts, you may be ready to take the next step towards owning a dog!
What type of dog?
The next section of this guide focuses on what to consider when deciding on the type of dog that best compliments your lifestyle. Some factors you might have already decided upon, whilst others will take time to think through; it may be worth getting a second opinion from family, friends and/or professionals (experienced dog owners, those working in rescue centres, your prospective breeder and veterinary surgeon) so that you know the decision you are making is informed, and the right decision for you. Another thing to bear in mind in the selection process is that breeders advertising a selection of breeds are likely irresponsible, and should therefore be avoided when choosing a dog. There are exceptions to this but giving the breeder the benefit of the doubt can backfire, so it is never worth the risk when there are so many reputable breeders looking to find forever homes for their puppies.
Here is a list of things to consider when thinking about your new dog:
- Do I want a puppy or an adult dog? – Puppies are more desirable for the simple fact of cuteness, and because many people want to introduce a dog to their home at the start of its life. Choosing a puppy rather than an adult dog means you can control its training, influence the behaviours it adopts, and be selective about temperament when buying from a breeder. Fewer puppies are found at rescue shelters, especially fewer pedigree puppies, so it is better to opt for a breeder if you are uninterested in adopting an adult dog. If, on the other hand, you are hoping to find a mature dog, or a dog that is past the puppy stage but still in its early years, a rescue centre is the perfect place to pay a visit. While it may take decidedly longer training an older dog in obedience and manners, and a dog’s temperament may be unfavourable due to its upbringing or experiences, by adopting a rescue dog you are providing love, care and security to a dog that has otherwise been without.
(Rescue centres such as the RSPCA aim to have their dogs settled into their new homes within a week of being reserved. Questionnaires and home checks need to be completed before a dog can be taken home, and the process can take longer if the dog has special needs or requirements to cater to. A fee of up to £120 is usually requested by rescue centres, simply as a means to cover their costs, and it is common for dogs requiring long-term medical care to have their treatment funded by the centre, minimising any financial pressure on you.)
- Do I want a male or female dog? – When asking yourself this question, you will need to consider the cost of neutering, as well as how you respond to the prospect of your female dog having puppies.
- The size of the dog – Depending on where you live, your family setup, your car, exercise plans and general preferences, the size of your prospective dog is something well worth considering. If you have young children, large, boisterous breeds are a poor choice, although smaller dogs can be more impatient and snappy. If you live in a small apartment, a large working breed will become restless indoors, whilst a toy breed will adapt comfortably. If you work long hours and are unable to find time to adequately exercise your dog every day, then a dog that is content to play inside the home is a better option for your lifestyle. Larger dogs will generally require more training, earlier socialisation and firmer leadership in order to thrive, and this is important to bear in mind when choosing a dog.
- Do I want a pedigree or a cross-breed? – Pedigree dogs have long been thought of as superior to crossbreeds, being the offspring of two parents of the same breed. This makes them eligible for Kennel Club registration, and means that any questions of appearance, temperament and health can be more accurately answered. Pedigree dogs are usually more expensive, have a longer waiting list and come with some form of guarantee. However, be sure to remember that Kennel Club registration in no way guarantees the responsibility of the breeder, so it should not apply as the only indicator of a healthy dog. Surprisingly, whilst some people question the health of crossbreeds and whether or not they are physically sound, there is evidence to suggest that pedigrees have a lower life expectancy than crossbreeds, and suffer from more physical conditions. Many claim this to be a myth, despite the evidence of research, so one can see the potential for and against of owning either.
- Coat type and length – For those of us that think finding hairs around the house is only to be expected when living with a dog, there are others amongst us that would rather avoid dog hair in the home, choosing instead to own a non-shedding breed. Various Terriers, as well as the Schnauzer, Irish Water Spaniel, Poodle, Shih Tzu, Bichon Frise and Chinese Crested are amongst the list of non-shedding dog breeds available to us. Non-shedding breeds are also a better option for those with allergies. It does not remove the threat completely as most allergies are exacerbated by a dog’s dander (skin) rather than its hair. Besides taking into account the state of our homes, it is important to think about the grooming requirements of our chosen dog breed, and how much time we will realistically be able to dedicate to regular maintenance of its coat.
- Is my chosen dog going to smell or slobber? – Some dog breeds are more prone to this than others. For the house proud amongst us, it is worth doing some research before making your final decision.
- Health – No pedigree dog breed is innately unhealthy, although there are breeds that are more susceptible to health complaints than others. When purchasing from a breeder, be sure to ask about any breed-specific conditions, whether all vaccinations are up-to-date, if your puppy has been vet-checked, flea-treated, micro-chipped and neutered. If you have any doubts about the general health of your puppy, whether you are collecting it to bring home or you decide you want to ‘rescue’ it, it is best not to do so.
Looking for a breeder or rescue centre
Once you have decided on the dog breed that best fulfils your requirements, you will be wanting to find a breeder. Although most breeders are experienced in the field and will have the welfare of their animals at the forefront of their minds, there are some unscrupulous individuals that will purchase from breeders and then deal in their new puppies, with the sole intention of making a profit. This practice often results in puppies being neglected or inappropriately re-homed. The most devious may even bring in a dog to act as the puppies’ mother for the benefit of prospective owners who come to view, although more often than not, there will be no mother and some baffling excuse as to its whereabouts may be given. This section is not intended to alarm you, rather to prepare you for all eventualities when visiting a breeder so that you know what to ask, what to look for, and how to go about securing only the healthiest, most lovable companion for your home.
What to ask your breeder (and yourself) before you arrive and while you are there:
- Am I able to view the puppies with their mother? – Bearing in mind puppies should not leave their mother before they are a minimum of 8 weeks old, there should be no reason why this wouldn’t be possible. It is common not to see the father, although puppies should always be viewed in the presence of their mother.
- How old are the puppies? – Any breeder willing to let you collect your puppy before the 8-week stage is irresponsible and should be refused in every incidence.
- How old is the mother? How many litters has she had? – It is important that a bitch is both physically and mentally mature before she goes on to have her first litter. Maturity is generally reached between the ages of 2-3, although large dogs are slower to mature than small and toy breeds. Be wary of any breeder that tells you the mother is less than a year old. Also, if the breeder tells you the mother’s last litter was less than 12 months ago, walk away.
- Have the puppies been veterinary checked since their birth? – Make sure you inquire about vaccinations (are they up-to-date? If not, when are they next due?), whether the puppies are flea-treated/wormed/neutered/micro-chipped. Whilst a breeder might not respond ‘yes’ to everything, a responsible one will have at least ensured all puppies have been vet-checked and wormed since birth, as most puppies are born with roundworms.
- Are the puppies weaned? – It is important that this happens before you collect your puppy, as it will no longer be getting its mother’s milk in its new home.
- What should I feed my puppy? – It is a good idea to request a diet sheet from your breeder so that you know exactly what your puppy has been fed on since its birth.
- Have the puppies been socialised? What experiences have they had so far? – Ensuring your dog is properly socialised from an early age is central to its development, and it is worth buying from a breeder that has already begun socialising their puppies. Socialisation means introducing your dog to the varied sights and sounds of the outside world, so that when it encounters something it is unfamiliar with it will not respond with undue shyness or aggression.
- Can I return the puppy? – It is recommended that you take your new puppy for a veterinary check-up within 48 hours of collecting it from the breeder. If your puppy is found to be in a poor state of health for whatever reason, most reputable breeders will accept the puppy back. If the puppy is in a good state of health but you are unable to care for it as you would have liked to, again, the puppy should be accepted back by any responsible breeder. It is vital you ask the question, regardless of how certain you are you will never have cause to return your puppy, just in case anything should happen that was out of your control.
- Is the puppy Kennel Club registered?
- Make sure you take careful note of the puppy’s appearance – While you might be tempted to choose the most handsome puppy of the litter, bear in mind that it should reflect its state of physical health in its features – make sure your chosen puppy (as well as the whole litter) has clean, clear eyes and ears, as well as a clean bottom.
- Ask the breeder what to look out for in the breed – This includes any breed-specific health complaints, issues of temperament, how well it responds to training etc. Any breeder that tells you your chosen breed is perfect, susceptible to no diseases or afflictions, with an impeccable temperament, completely responsive in training, and amazing with all children and house pets, should not be trusted. You want your breeder to inform you of any flaws in the breed so that you are met with no surprises later on.
- Ask to handle the puppies – Breeders that have already begun to socialise their puppies should have no qualms with this. It will also allow you to take a better look at your chosen puppy and glimpse its temperament for yourself. If you visit your puppy regularly before bringing it home, handling it can help establish a mutual trust between you both, whilst allowing your puppy to gradually adjust to its new family.
- Find out whether the breeder has a follow-up policy after adoption.
Just as you will have your questions for a breeder, a responsible breeder will have their questions for you. If the breeder shows no interest in finding out about your lifestyle/family setup/expectations and preparations then they do not have a genuine care for their animals. The more questions the breeder asks you, the better. They are not being nosey or trying to catch you out, they are simply trying to ensure their precious puppies are going to a good home. Be honest – rescue centres reserve the right to reclaim their dogs if any information you provide them with is inaccurate.
When faced with a beautiful litter of newborn puppies, or a rescue centre enclosure containing two or more companion dogs, it is easy to get carried away and agree to take two animals. Though this is usually done with the best intentions, buying two dogs together is a bad idea. They will tend to bond with each other, especially in the case of puppies, instead of you and your family. It is slightly different with rescue dogs as they are usually older and will have been housed together for long enough to be able to form new attachments. In certain cases, rescue centres will only offer dogs as a pair – siblings, for instance, or dogs that were rescued together. Introducing another dog to the home later (a few years later) is fine, as long as your existing dog has been well socialised and is confident enough welcoming a new canine into the fold; some dogs resent having to share their territory and space, although most will behave amicably and will enjoy the company.
Here is a list of questions you should expect to hear from a responsible breeder:
- Have you owned a dog before or will this be your first?
- Have you done your homework on the breed you are adopting?
- Is your puppy going to be a show dog or a companion pet?
- Are you welcoming the puppy into a family? If so, how old are your children and do they all want a dog?
- Do you have any other pets?
- What temperament are you looking for in a dog?
- Where do you live? (in a house/flat/rented house)
- Do you have a well fenced back garden?
- Are you aware of the financial costs of owning a dog?
Hopefully, by the time these questions have been answered, you will be well on your way to owning a dog, and having considered these guidelines you should be bringing home only the healthiest and most lovable companion.
Once your puppy is home, the early stages will bring about a whole range of issues to consider, such as how to go about toilet training your puppy, how much exercise it needs, and how to introduce other house pets to the new addition. We hope this guide has provided you with as much in-depth information on purchasing a dog as you could possibly need, and that you now feel confident in beginning the process of adoption.
Getting a cat
Much of the advice provided on purchasing a dog will also apply to purchasing a cat, although there are some notable differences between the two species, and thus some separate issues to consider. First of all, it is important to decide whether your cat is going to be an ‘innie’ or an ‘outtie’ – that is, whether it is going to live exclusively indoors, or be allowed to roam outdoors. There is much debate on which lifestyle is best for the happiness and well-being of a cat, although the jury is still out, with clear advantages and disadvantages for both sides of the argument. Deciding as soon as you bring your kitten home is the best option, as this is when it is most adaptable. Deciding later on that you want your outdoor cat to become an indoor one can lead to destructive behaviours in the home, such as furniture scratching and spraying.
Before you welcome your new cat into your home and family, there are some key things to consider. We have constructed a list of the most important questions to ask yourself when embarking on the adoption process:
- Can I make a lifetime commitment? – Unlike dogs, it is typical for cats to live into their 20s. This means dedicating two decades of your life to the care of your feline companion. Bear in mind that statistically, outdoor cats live far shorter lives than indoor ones, as being wild makes them more susceptible to injury, animal attack, and disease.
- Consider your lifestyle – Are you able to find time to appropriately love and care for your cat? This includes time for feeding, grooming and entertaining – vital if you have an indoor-only cat.
- Is my house big enough for an indoor cat? – Cats are naturally active and inquisitive creatures, so ensuring your cat has sufficient space to wander and explore is very important. A cat that is cramped can become frustrated and bored, resulting in destructive behaviours. If you are wanting an indoor cat, consider whether you have a porch you could potentially block off for it to roam around in, thereby allowing it some of the freedom of the outdoors, whilst protecting it from harm. If you rent your house, think about asking your landlord about owning a cat, or consult the conditions of the tenancy agreement. If you are discovered with a cat that you did not declare, your landlord reserves the right to evict you.
- Do I have the financial means to provide for a cat? (Remember – this could be for 20 years!) – Consider your financial situation now, and how you would manage were your circumstances to change. The largest expense to consider – an expense that will sting some of us more than others (those with outdoor cats) is that of veterinary bills and medication costs. If your cat was mauled by a dog or a fox, or was hit by traffic, would you have to means to fund its treatment and recovery?
- Do I want a kitten or an adult cat? – As with dogs, most prospective owners will already know the answer to this. Many will want to introduce a cat to their home at the start of its life. This might mean the cat grows up with their children, or that the owner can decide to keep it inside or out, whilst training and socialising their kitten is more achievable. Others will want to re-home a rescue cat, and most shelters will offer adult cats as opposed to kittens. Rather than going to a breeder or a pet shop, a rescue centre is your best bet for finding a lovable companion, in need of lots of care and attention, for your home.
- How will my other pets respond to having a cat in the home? – The presence of dogs in the home can be a worry to new cat owners. While most breeds of dog are highly compatible with felines, some, such as the sight and scent hounds that are inclined to follow a trail, as well as traditional herding breeds, will chase and aggravate a cat in their effort to reassert their authority in the home and teach the new addition that they are head of the pack. It is important to introduce both species gradually so that they can become accustomed to each other and learn how to co-exist.
- How will my children respond to having a cat in the home? – A new kitten can be delicate, so teaching your children how to handle it in its early and most vulnerable stages is essential. When a cat perceives threat, it is likely to retreat to high-ground or act in a manner to protect itself. In order to avoid being scratched or bitten, respecting your cat’s space is very important, as is recognising its inherent nature to be independent, so not all cats will want to be petted, fussed and placed in a lap.
When buying from a breeder, the same guidelines for choosing a dog relate to choosing a cat, so be sure to read the entire guide through to help you in your decision and equip you for selecting the pet that is right for you.