Like a judge or politician who must divulge conflicts of interest, I fully admit that I have a bias against many dog and cat breeders. I don’t routinely welcome them into my practice because they are often very bad pet owners and clients.
But every week, I have new, happy clients who have just purchased a puppy or a kitten from a breeder, and I have to wade through the information their breeder has given them. The stuff the breeder says is often not based on sound medical evidence. Fads, unfounded opinion and old wives’ tales or new-wave crap are often the order of the day.
“But my breeder said…” — this makes veterinarians’ blood boil.
Why? Because most of these breeder ideas are wacky and put the puppy or kitten’s health in jeopardy. The breeder didn’t spend eight or 12 years studying to be a veterinarian. “But my breeder has been doing this for 30 years…” It doesn’t take 30 years or a lot of smarts to put a male and female dog in a room and watch them have sex. However, it takes a tremendous amount of effort and knowledge to become a veterinarian.
Okay, all you good breeders out there. Cool your jets. Of course some of you are wonderful, ethical breeders who work hard to improve your breed. You are welcome at my practice. Unfortunately, you are in the minority.
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Many breeders are interested in only one thing: emptying their kennel of puppies. Veterinarians are interested in something else: keeping those puppies healthy for the next 15 years. Who do you think has more interest in giving you the best advice possible? The breeder you’ll never see again, or your vet — who might be with you from puppy kits to geriatric screening?
The Puppy Visit
So Mrs. Luvapup comes in with her new maltipeekapoo. “My breeder said this breed is very sensitive to vaccines. You should only give her half a dose.”
(To myself: Well, this is not a breed. This is a mutt. All dogs get the same dose of vaccine. If a little dog should get just a little vaccine, should a Great Dane get four doses?)
“My breeder said this breed is very sensitive to anesthesia. You can’t use any drugs.”
(To myself: Again, this is not a breed. She is a little dog with no specific sensitivities to anesthesia. And if she was a breed that had special needs, I would know how to carefully anesthetize her — because I’m a veterinarian.)
“My breeder said I didn’t need to bring a stool sample in because the mother has no worms.”
Out loud: “I give up.”
Now we move on to the literary segment of this frustrating episode of “My Breeder Said.”
Many breeders load up their new owners with lots of information in handouts, covering everything from nutrition to disease prevention to vaccine schedules to training. New owners are ready to follow the breeder’s opinions like it’s a bible. This drives veterinarians nuts! NUTTY TIME! NUTS!
Many new owners don’t realize they’re offending their new veterinarian by saying, “But my breeder said…” 500 times. Why would you bring your new puppy to a veterinarian if the breeder knows everything there is to know about that particular breed, and all veterinary medicine as well? I honestly think some new owners would like a drive-through window for a vaccination and a deposit box to drop off the handouts they got from the breeder. There might be something in those handouts I don’t know.
If they don’t want a veterinarian’s advice, they should keep their handouts to themselves and go get their vaccines at a Pets-R-Us. That way, they’ll get no exam; they won’t find out about the umbilical hernia or the puppy’s luxating patellas; and Pets-R-Us will sell them vaccines they don’t need.
What are some of my favorite breeder mantras? Hmmm…
Grain-free is oh, so smokin’
Fish oil and green tea
BARF means no need for cookin’
For puppy and for me
Breeders have TONS of opinions about food, and I respect this interest. Nutrition may be the most important part of pediatric care, along with preventive medicine and proper immunization. But new puppy owners often come away with a feeling that if they do not feed their puppy Dr. Strangelove’s Free Range Blue Buffalo Bits with cranapples and pomegranate seeds, their puppy will DIE.
Add to this a scant 1/3 tablespoon of Dr. Doolittle’s immunostimulant powder, 1/16 cup (minus a teaspoon) of wheat germ, canned pumpkin that covers the tip of your little finger (measure finger tip to make sure it’s the same size as the breeder’s), and enough organic Greek yogurt to make the bowl of puppy food look like monkey vomit. Oh, and don’t forget the sardine soaked in milk on Friday. Good for the coat. And for the soul.
Frequently, these new parents are so serious about their new charge that I cannot crack a smile while reading over the literature from the breeder. My job is to approach the debunking procedure with a soft touch. I want Mr. and Mrs. Newpup to leave my office feeling confident and happy, understanding that if there’s a pomegranate blight in the Middle East this season, their puppy will survive.
Translation: There are many great ways to approach feeding your puppy. Your breeder’s opinions may be valid, invalid, ridiculous or good. Talk to your vet. Do your own research. Keep an open mind.
One big caveat that most people seem to understand: Don’t deviate from what the puppy has been eating right away. If you are going to change the food, do it very slowly. (I think you’re safe to cut out the sardine immediately.)
Many breeders conform to generally accepted vaccination protocols, and tell their new owners to make an appointment with their veterinarian as soon as possible. Bringing your new pup to the vet very soon after purchase, with all your papers and records, is the thing to do.
There is always controversy surrounding vaccines, but immunization is very important in the puppy and kitten, and many breeders over-vaccinate, under-vaccinate or terrify their buyers about certain vaccines. Talk it out with your vet and ask a lot of questions, and come up with a good plan. If possible, try not to begin every sentence with “But my breeder says…”
“This Breed Is Special!”
Most breeds have genetic conditions or are prone to certain problems, and good breeders should make you aware of the breed-specific issues. In a perfect world, if you have done your research, you should know about the breed so you can ask the breeder intelligent questions.
This is a two-way street, but many potential puppy owners are bullied by high-powered breeders.
Remember how I made fun of breeders scaring new owners about anesthesia? Okay, of course anesthesia should not be taken lightly. If the breeder is so worried about breed-related problems, then why didn’t he or she do the proper screening of the pup or the pup’s parents BEFORE selling it?
If it’s a toy breed, did the breeder certify that the puppy doesn’t have a liver shunt? If it’s a boxer, were the parents screened for cardiomyopathy?
See why this is an irritating topic for veterinarians?
Now I’m on a roll. For breeds prone to hip dysplasia, I’ve had many breeders tell new owners that walking upstairs and vigorous exercise can ruin the pup’s hips. To prevent hip dysplasia or cancer, they recommend so much supplemental vitamin C that the little retriever lights up like an orange grove. But did that breeder have both parents’ hips OFA or PennHIP certified before breeding, ensuring that those hips were good to excellent?
Dr. Deb: “Were the parents’ hips checked and radiographed?”
New Owner: “She said none of her dogs ever had a problem…”
(This is just wrong. It’s my job to explain to this owner that any decent golden retriever breeder screens for hip dysplasia.)
New owner: “She guaranteed the hips.”
(Guaranteed the hips are… what? On the dog? Connected to the rear legs?)
Hips cannot be guaranteed without the parents’ hips or the puppy’s hips being radiographed and certified by OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) or PennHIP. Anything else the breeder tells you is hogwash.
Your Breeder Did What?!
What really irritates me is when a breeder thinks it’s okay to ship a 2-pound puppy like a piece of luggage across country — with a layover in freezing Chicago or hot Atlanta — but includes information in the kennel about what might endanger the pup’s health. I think the plane ride endangered the pup’s health, for starters!
As I’m looking at a shell-shocked, hypoglycemic, coughing puppy that’s dehydrated and stressed, the new owner is shoving the breeder’s information sheets in my face, stressing that rabies vaccines should never be given before 7 months of age. Forget about the vaccine protocol for now! What kind of a breeder would ship a puppy like this?
Take-home message: Go visit the puppy, the litter and the breeder in the home. This visit is the most important thing you do in choosing a puppy. You should interview the breeder as much as he or she interviews you.
Breeding is big business. Profit often outweighs responsible dog breeding. As I was writing this article, an online ad popped up for a kennel near me. Although specializing in dobermans and bulldogs for more than 20 years, this breeder advertises “20 different breeds” that are available with a $100 nonrefundable deposit. Although she may breed her own dobies, this breeder thinks nothing of procuring designer breeds from puppy mills. I think her ethics are in question, but I bet she has lots of handouts.
Do Your Homework Before You Buy
One thing I don’t understand is why veterinary offices don’t get more phone calls from prospective clients asking for advice BEFORE they buy a puppy. We’re happy to help, and steer you away from puppy mills, questionable breeders or breeds that may not be right for you. I realize that pictures on these breeder sites are cute, but your puppy is going to be a member of your family.
Pick your tulip bulbs from pretty pictures on the Internet — not your puppy.
Photos: Photos (from top to bottom): Shutterstock, agjimenez/Flickr, leirich/Flickr