There are many things to think about when bringing home a new puppy. At the top of that long list is health.
We all want to have healthy pets. And while that may not always be possible—sometimes they just get sick—starting out with a healthy puppy can go a long way.
To that end, American Kennel Club’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Jerry Klein, DVM, offers some advice for puppies purchased through breeders:
The Honest Kitchen: What are some differences between a good breeder and a bad one?
Jerry Klein: A good, responsible breeder is dedicated to the betterment of their breed. They are knowledgeable about the breed and work to advance its well-being and good health. Often, this is done through participation in American Kennel Club confirmation events (dog shows) where their animals are judged against the standard set for the breed. For breeds where specific health testing is appropriate, responsible breeders will perform health screenings on their breeding dogs to guide them in their decisions about which dogs to breed.
Just as people acquiring a dog should do their homework, a responsible breeder will also do their homework. They may ask questions about your family, lifestyle, and other pets in the house to make certain that their breed and dogs are a good match for you. They should also be there for you as a resource for the life of the dog.
THK: What are some things that can go wrong in terms of puppy health if a breeder is not qualified?
Jerry Klein: First, it’s important to know that just like with people, any dog can get sick. Responsible breeders use the knowledge and tools available to us to minimize the risk of serious health issues for pets. They breed healthy dogs that meet the standards set for the breed. They use testing to guide their decisions. Overall, their breeding practices should be geared to maintaining and improving the breed. Purebred dogs provide a consistency of size, physical characteristics, and demeanor. Responsible breeders help maintain that consistency.
THK: What kinds of health tests/documents are available that certify healthy puppy lines?
Jerry Klein: Both OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) and CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation) provide screening tests that help identify dogs with increased risk for hip and eye problems. A responsible breeder will have their dogs screened for any hip and/or eye issues before breeding them. They will use the results of the test to help guide them about which dogs are appropriate for breeding. The breeder should show potential buyers the results of these screenings and explain their meaning.
THK: In picking a healthy puppy, what are some things to look for in a breeder?
Jerry Klein: Find a breeder who is knowledgeable about their breed and that you feel comfortable with. Recommendations from others who have the breed or through breeders you meet at a dog show are a good start. Breed clubs may also be able to help you find a breeder.
Do your own research about the breed. The American Kennel Club website provides detailed information about each breed. Most breeds also have breed clubs that can provide additional information about the breed. A responsible breeder should be open and honest about their breed’s strengths and weaknesses and be able to discuss with you how well the breed is likely to fit into your family.
The breeder should be willing to share proof of health screenings such as OFA and CERF certificates with potential buyers. By doing your own research, you will have a good idea of which tests, if any, are appropriate for the breed.
Breeders should allow you to meet the mother dog. Does she look healthy? Is she comfortable with the breeder?
What type of environment has the puppy been raised in. Is it clean and odor-free?
THK: What are some things to look for in a puppy to try and pick a healthy one?
Jerry Klein: Puppies should be clean, well-fed, lively, and friendly. Puppies should be healthy. Look for signs of malnutrition such as protruding rib cages or illness such as runny nose/eyes, coughing, lethargy, or skin sores.
Also, pay attention to how the puppies and adult dogs interact with the breeder. Both the adult dogs and puppies shouldn’t shy away from the breeder. Not all dogs will be outgoing with strangers, but they should not show excessive fear.
THK: What are some do's and don'ts when looking for a new, healthy puppy?
Jerry Klein: Do your research. Go to dog shows and talk to people who are involved with the breed you’re interested in. Visit the breed’s parent club website to find responsible breeders. Don’t be put off if a breeder isn’t immediately responsive. Most breeders also work at other jobs and might not have puppies readily available. Plan well ahead of when you want to have a puppy join your family. Work with the breeder to determine when they might have a litter available. Most responsible breeders don’t have puppies available all the time.
It’s important to visit a prospective breeder and meet at least one of the puppy’s parents. This will give you an idea of what’s in store in terms of temperament and appearance.
As you go on your search for a new canine addition to your family, keep these tips in mind to help find a healthy puppy.
Jessica Peralta has been a journalist for more than 15 years and an animal lover all her life. She has had dogs, cats, birds, turtles, fish, frogs, and rabbits. Her current children are a German shepherd named Guinness and a black kitten named Riot (and he lives up to that name). It’s because of her love for animals that she focused her journalistic career to the world of holistic animal care and pet nutrition. In between keeping Riot and Guinness out of mischief, she’s constantly learning about all the ways she can make them healthier and happier.