Whilst veterinary professionals will always encourage those who want a new dog or cat to look at adoption first, sometimes it isn’t a suitable option. So what then – is it OK to buy from a breeder? How do you know whether they’re responsible or not? And what even is a responsible breeder? This article will explore whether there’s such a thing as a responsible breeder and whether it’s ever ok to take the ‘shop’ over ‘adopt’ approach. 

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So, what factors might make a breeder responsible?

They‘ll ask the right questions

A responsible breeder will want to ensure that the puppy or kitten is going to a suitable home. They will ask questions about your circumstances and your home environment. And they will take the time to answer any questions that you have. They will not rush or pressure you into making a decision (and parting with your cash). 

They take responsible precautions

A responsible breeder should take appropriate steps to ensure the health and welfare of the puppies or kittens:

Before breeding they will ensure that:

  • The mum and dad do not suffer from health conditions which could be passed down to the puppies or kittens (see below for more on this)
  • The mum and dad are not related in a way that could lead to the puppies or kittens being inbred
  • Mum is in a suitable state of health to carry, birth and rear the puppies or kittens – she has not been overbred, has been allowed adequate time to recover between litters, has not had a previous caesarean section and is up-to-date with worming and vaccinations

During pregnancy they will ensure that:

  • The mum is kept in a warm, clean and safe environment, regularly treated with a wormer, provided with adequate nutrition and not over-exercised

After the puppies or kittens are born they will ensure that:

  • The puppies and kittens have been health checked, wormed, microchipped and vaccinated to a vet recommended protocol at suitable ages (either with the breeder or once they are passed to the new owner)
  • If the puppy or kitten is suspected to be suffering from a health issue they are examined by a vet – and details of the vet’s findings are shared with the new owner
  • The puppies do not have their tails docked or their ears cropped for a non-medical reason
  • The puppies or kittens have been adequately socialised in a home environment
  • New owners are given adequate food to swap the diet of the puppies or kittens gradually
  • The puppies or kittens are not rehomed before 8 weeks old

To help ensure that a breeder has carried out all these steps, I recommend using the Puppy Contract. This is aimed at those wanting to buy puppies but most of the information will be applicable to kittens as well. 

They breed for health over appearance

Breeders may be tempted to breed animals with a particular appearance or feature because it looks cute and trendy and therefore owners will pay more. But often it’s these types of features, such as big eyes, flat faces, wrinkles, muscular bodies etc that result in painful and debilitating health issues. 

A responsible breeder will prioritise breeding for health by deliberately choosing to breed dogs or cats with healthier features; such as longer snouts, less wrinkles, good body conformation etc. This will result in healthier and happier puppies and kittens and fewer vet bills for their owners. Unfortunately there are some (irresponsible) breeders who still feel that certain breeds must have unhealthy features.

The Kennel Club does offer tests to help with responsible breeding of dogs with exaggerated features, such as the Respiratory Function Grading Scheme which assesses breathing difficulties in flat-faced breeds. Responsible breeders should be making use of these tests where possible. 

Can all breeds be bred healthily?

Unfortunately, there are some breeds that have been bred so badly for a large number of years that it is extremely difficult to breed them now in a way that’s ethical. This is because even if the breeder tries to breed from individuals with healthier features, the puppies and kittens will still be very likely to suffer from severe health issues. 

This is where breed research comes in. If you are thinking of getting a breed that tends to suffer from debilitating health issues such as a flat-faced breed, think twice about the impacts this could have, both on the dog or cat who may suffer as a result, but also on you as the owner who may be forced to invest a large amount of time and money into caring for the animal. 

They test for inherited diseases

Breeders should also test parents for inherited disorders that can be passed onto the puppy or kitten before breeding. Many breeds of dog and cat are prone to a number of inherited disorders such as blindness, epilepsy, heart disease and hip dysplasia just to name a few. There are health screening tests available which measure the likelihood of an animal being affected by a condition and/or carrying that condition onto its offspring and a responsible breeder will carry out these tests and provide certificates to any potential new owners. 

They stick to facts

Breeders are a critical source of information for new dog and cat owners who will be looking for advice on diet, health and behaviour. A responsible breeder will ensure that any information they provide is supported by evidence and is not obtained from unreliable sources (such as hearsay on social media). This doesn’t just apply to breeders, it’s important for anyone who is responsible for advising on dog and cat health and welfare. 

So…is there such a thing as a responsible breeder?

In my opinion, yes there is, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about choosing to purchase from a responsible breeder if this is the best option for you and your family. There are numerous responsible breeders out there who care deeply about the animals they breed and who work hard to ensure they have the best outcomes. But there is a caveat…some breeds, such as flat-faced breeds, are extremely difficult to breed in a way that is ethical. In the case of these breeds, then I wouldn’t personally advocate buying them from a breeder. If they aren’t available to adopt, then I would look into purchasing a healthier breed. 

How to find a responsible breeder

For prospective puppy owners, a good place to start is to look for Kennel Club Assured Breeders. Assured breeders are required to comply with breed-specific mandatory health tests. They must also follow good breeding practices and are liable to inspections by the Kennel Club. Note that this is not the same as the puppy being registered with the Kennel Club.  

Bear in mind that although breeders must follow mandatory health tests, there are some tests which are not mandatory. So it’s worth seeing if there are any non-mandatory tests applicable to your chosen breed. 

or…

Another option to find both puppy and kitten breeders is to ask people such as veterinary staff, dog trainers, behaviourists, and kennel and cattery owners for recommendations. They may have dealt with breeders and will have inside knowledge that could be valuable. 

Avoid online adverts where the photos or descriptions can be seen across multiple sites. Also avoid adverts which have several breeds of dog listed at one time. These are signs of puppy farmers. If you contact a breeder and they are reluctant to let you visit the puppy and its mother this is another red flag. Sadly, there are still many puppy farms operating up and down the country; the last thing you want to do is fund their activities.

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