If buying from a breeder, be an educated consumer

Alabama Living Magazine
Alabama has many responsible, caring breeders. But could our society benefit from regulated, educated dog and cat breeders?

For months now, I have written about chronic diseases in pets. But my big interest has always been to reduce the suffering of dogs and cats. This month we will talk about some needless suffering these little ones endure. 

It was a busy Saturday afternoon when we got a frantic call about a puppy that had not eaten for three days. The tiny puppy was cute as a bug, weighing only four pounds. We found out that he was also throwing up and having diarrhea. The owners had bought him from a local flea market a week before. 

They were told that the puppy was an 8-week-old Catahoula Leopard dog and all the vaccinations were up-to-date. The puppy was gravely ill and looked more like a young smaller breed dog. He tested positive for Parvo. After a long discussion with the owners, we decided to not let the puppy suffer any longer. In my mind, this was a pure waste of life!

So, what went wrong? Parvo is an easily preventable disease with proper vaccinations, and the cost is quite reasonable. On the other hand, even when treated at home, treatment costs run around $200 and hospitalization costs can be anywhere between $300 to $600, even up to $1,200 depending on how upscale the hospital is! And we are not even addressing the extreme suffering that these poor creatures go through!

The vaccines for Parvo are available at many sources in our rural counties. Granted, the technology used in over-the-counter vaccines is a bit long in the tooth, and we vets have witnessed some vaccine failures, but it is still better than none! 

As a profession, have we failed to educate the general public that by properly vaccinating the mom, keeping premises sanitized, and vaccinating the pups in time, Parvo is an easily preventable disease? I think we have. I have come across many dog owners who either experienced the dreaded disease or heard about it but do not truly understand what it takes to prevent this scourge.

At this point, I should say kudos to ALL the responsible and caring breeders out there! However, in this case, it seems like this breeder was not all that forthcoming and probably was not a class act! I feel that some breeders lack the basic knowledge for proper dog breeding and care. Could this have been prevented if all the breeders were properly educated? Of course, but how to achieve that?

• Proper education that can come with online courses and certification.

• Some regulatory reform and willingness to enforce a minimal-care standard. Interestingly, the USDA has already set up such standards but there is a lack of enforcement.

• Buyer awareness. As buyers, we could interview the seller, inspect their premises, ask for a veterinary health certificate, and do not impulse buy.

Voluntary certification could work, but usually, people find a way to get around specific words like “pasture-raised” chickens. Will regulations work? Of course, but I am aware how unappetizing the word “regulations” is to us Alabamians! I do not see any rule changes in the foreseeable future. 

However, I am convinced that short of proper legislation and ways to enforce standards, voluntary efforts are highly likely to fail, at least in the short term. 

In the meantime, we can educate the buyers.  The “puppy mills” will never stop selling unless we stop buying. If we can’t stop uncaring, uneducated breeders perhaps the burden lies on educating people on what to demand of breeders. 

Now, to be clear, I have never bought a dog in my life. I support rescues. But the reality is that people will continue to buy and sell dogs (and cats) for decades to come. So, instead of ignoring their existence, we want to make the best of the given situation.

Goutam Mukherjee, DVM, MS, Ph.D. (Dr. G) has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He owns High Falls Holistic Veterinary Care near Geraldine, Alabama. To suggest topics for future discussions, email him at drg.vet@gmail.com

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