Do Research Before Purchasing Puppy
Michael W. Stephan, D.V.M.
Juno Beach Animal Hospital
If you are ready to make the leap and bring a puppy into your life, we strongly urge you to visit the humane society first and look over the selection of puppies and young dogs they have available for adoption. Thousands of healthy dogs and cats are euthanized every week in the U.S. because people have not had their pets neutered or spayed, and there are simply more puppies than available homes. The pets available at shelters have been examined by a veterinarian and are usually already spayed or neutered and have their initial vaccinations.
Some people want to have a purebred dog. For many of us, there was a favorite dog from our childhood which attracts us to a certain breed and we may look for a purebred dog to capture the characteristics and personality that made them special to us. Before you make your purchase, spend a little time doing some research. A couple of hours spent in preparation my save you a lot of heartache later. The following is a short list of some of the things you should learn about your breed and will hopefully equip you with some of the questions you should ask before you buy.
1. OFA Certification
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals has established a program whereby radiographs (x-rays) are taken by a veterinarian and sent in for review. The films are evaluated by three different radiologists and the dog is assigned a grade - failed, poor, fair, good, or excellent. They are evaluating the joints for conformation, as a high degree of malformation - dysplasia - has a correlation with the development of arthritis. Some breeds - greyhounds - have virtually no history of dysplasia, while in other breeds - shepherds - dysplasia may be fairly common and may afflict hips, shoulders, or elbows. OFA certification is not done until two years of age. Certification of the parents of your puppy does not guarantee that your puppy will not be dysplastic and will not develop arthritis, but it decreases the likelihood that this will happen.
2. Eye Certification
Some breeds (Collies, Goldens, Border Collies, and others) are predisposed to certain eye problems and may be at greater risk of developing problems than other breeds. Either the parents of the puppy you are purchasing should be certified, or the puppy itself may be. Certification of eyes can only be done by a Board Certified Veterinary Ophthalmologist.
3. Longevity, Other Diseases, and Personality.
All of these things are influenced by genetics to some degree. Certainly, longevity is a factor of size and breed. Giant breeds (Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Mastiffs) have an expected life span of eight to ten years, while Poodles and other small breeds might be expected to live for eighteen to twenty years. As in people, you cannot predict the actual age range of any individual, but we can make a guess of a reasonable expectation based on breed and family history in dogs.
Besides the ones discussed above, other diseases may also be inherited. Heart disease is fairly common in some lines of Dobermans and Boxers; Shepherds are prone to a specific nerve degeneration; Cockers, Shar Peis, and West Highland White Terriers are prone to skin and ear problems; Goldens and Boxers are more prone to certain types of cancer. Even when these diseases are not life threatening, they can be expensive to treat or may interfere with their quality of life or your enjoyment of them as a member of your family.
Personality is also inherited to some degree. Certain breeds, Chows, Shepherds, Akitas, Rottweilers, and Pit Bulls tend to be more protective and aggressive than other breeds. Of course there are gentle examples of these breeds and there are aggressive individuals of the breeds known for their sweetness, and yes, personality can be influenced by the way a dog is raised, but keep in mind that some of it is genetic and bred into your puppy.
The bottom line is: Do your homework first. Go to the library or bookstore and read books on the breeds you are attracted to so that you learn what their weaknesses are. Do your homework on your breeder. Are they willing to answer your questions? Do they have OFA or Eye Certificates for the parents of the dog you are interested in. Don't be embarrassed to ask to see the certificates and check them over carefully. If at all possible, ask to meet the parents of your dog. Finally ask for references. Get the names and numbers of people who have purchased puppies from them five to eight years ago. People move around a lot and it may be impossible to find them, but contacting two or three owners can tell you a lot about the quality of the line you are purchasing. Remember, too, that you usually get what you pay for. A conscientious breeder who has had their dogs certified invested a fair amount in attempting to remove problems from their breeders and this cost will be passed on to you when you purchase one of their puppies.