Q + A – Choosing a puppy

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Dear Your Own Vet,

My wife and I want to get a new puppy. We aren’t millionaires, and don’t have thousands to spend on a dog, and we also don’t need a puppy with papers as we just want a pet for the family. We would, however, like to get a pure breed dog, not a mongrel. What is the best place to get a puppy from and how do we choose a puppy that is happy and healthy?

Manuel da Sousa,



Where to buy a healthy happy pup

How to find a healthy puppy

Dear Manuel,

Choosing the right puppy from the start is very important. It is absolutely heartbreaking for a family to get a puppy, only to find out that the puppy is very ill, and possibly even dies within a week or two of coming home, not to mention the thousands people spend in vets bills on that poor, sick puppy.  Our animal behaviorist will also be doing an article on choosing the right puppy from her perspective. It should be published next week. Laws about how puppies are bought and sold differ from country to country, but unscrupulous puppy farmers exist in every country, and they will try to sell you puppies that they have spent the bare minimum on, and these are the puppies that tend to be ill.  I see people every day that have been let down by bad breeders or poor care of puppies.

There are a few questions that you need to ask before getting a puppy:


Vaccines protect puppies from disease

The first puppy vaccine is given at 6-8 weeks of age.

All puppies need to have at least three vaccinations, with the first vaccination being between the ages of six to eight weeks of age.  Thereafter vaccinations are given three to four weeks apart. The most important diseases that puppies are immunized against include Parvo virus (cat flu), canine Distemper, Hepatitis,  Leptospirosis and Rabies in areas where it is present. All these diseases can kill your puppy very quickly.  The first puppy vaccine should immunize against Parvo and Distemper as a minimum.  It is very important that you purchase a puppy that has had his/her first vaccination at the very least.  When you choose your puppy, you will receive a certificate of vaccination and it is important that it has been done by a veterinarian or veterinary nurse. Many breeders vaccinate the puppies themselves, but this means that the puppy has not been checked by a vet for inborn problems such as heart problems.   When you get your puppy, you must insist on a certificate on the day. Many people will tell you they have done the vaccines (and they haven’t)  in order to sell you the puppy at a higher price. Some people will say they will post it later on. There is no reason for them not to give you a certificate at the time you get the puppy if the puppy has been vaccinated.  Also if they say the puppy is too young for vaccines, it probably is and should stay with it’s mother for longer.


Roundworms in the intestine of puppies

Roundworms and Hookworms will kill your puppy.

Worming of puppies is so important. A good breeder will worm the mother before the pups are born, then the pups at two, four and six weeks of age and thereafter at every vaccination as well.  All puppies are born with worms! They get the worms from the mother whilst still in the womb and then also through the breast milk from the mother. Even if the mother has been wormed regularly, she can still give them worms, as, when she is pregnant, dormant worm cysts in her muscles become active and infect the puppies.   You get different types of worms in puppies. The two most dangerous worms are Hookworms, which suck their blood and make them anemic and Roundworms, which take a lot of the nutrition away from the growing puppy. Puppies riddled with worms will have thin, ribby chests, with bloated bellies, pale gums  and sometimes even vomit worms up.   Don’t buy one of these puppies as you are asking for trouble.  The breeder must be able to show you, on the vaccination certificate, the names and dates of all worming drugs that have been given to the puppy.


A lively, happy , interactive puppy is a healthy puppy. The one that sits on its own in the corner of the cage may be ill or very poorly socialized. The best puppy to choose is not the one you feel sorry for, but the strong, confident one that comes to you. They should also be tick and flea free, as ticks carry nasty diseases in some countries, such as Babesiosis (Biliary/Tick bite Fever) and Lyme disease, and fleas carry tapeworms.  If the puppy has diarrhea, it is also a good idea to leave it with the breeder or shop till the diarrhea has resolved.

Fleas give puppies tapeworms

If a puppy has fleas or ticks, it hasn’t been looked after well


If you get your puppy from  a pet store, you cannot be certain that your puppy will be entirely healthy. It just takes one sick puppy to be put with other puppies, and two days later, they are all vomiting or have diarrhea.  Pet stores usually buy puppies from private homes, and you just don’t know what care the puppies have received prior to arriving at the pet store.  They could have been fed well or have malnutrition; they could have been played with every day, or locked away in the backyard in a cage without human contact.  Both good and bad quality pet stores exist and some pet stores are very meticulous with hygiene and only take in dogs that have had vaccines, but others are not, and it is unfortunately these bad pet stores that give us problems.  If you want to get a puppy from a pet store, do your research first about the store, for example, phone the local vets and see if any sick puppies from that store have been brought in.

A dog with Parvo virus and bloody diarrhea

Pet store bought pups can come with viral diseases like Parvo

If you get your puppy from a private home, for example, people whose two dogs have gotten together and produced a litter, then the odds are  that the pups are not carrying any horrible viral diseases.  You can also have a look at the situation of the parents – are they healthy and happy, well socialized dogs?  Find out what they are being fed – is it a reputable brand of food? Some people believe in weaning puppies on cereal based human foods, which are very low in protein and could lead to malnutrition. Puppies should be weaned onto weaning or puppy foods from not less than four weeks of age.  The only downside to buying a puppy from a private home are genetic problems such as Hip and Elbow Dysplasia and eye problems.  Most normal people do not take their dogs for hip and elbow X rays and blood tests to check for these problems.   Just looking at the parents and seeing that they look “all right” doesn’t mean that they don’t carry Hip Dysplasia or a gene for retinal degeneration.

If you are fortunate to find a breeder in your price range, then the breeder should have had both the parents certified Hip Dysplasia free, by having X rays taken and sent off to a Veterinary Radiologist. A veterinary exam by a general veterinary practitioner will not certify the parents HD free and the breeder must be able to give you copies of the certificates of both parents.

A hip that doesn't fit well into the joint has Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia is partially a genetic disease and should be tested for

If you get your puppy from a Rescue facility or a shelter, unfortunately the same rules apply as to pet shops. However, is it lovely to give a rescue dog a home, so I would recommend waiting till the pup has had at least two vaccinations and wormings before you take him home. Most rescue facilities have a vet that that owners can take the puppy to, if it is not completely healthy.  This means that they will do their best to home a healthy puppy and that you won’t have to bear the financial burden of treating a very sick puppy.

If you buy a puppy off the side of the road from someone who is selling them, there are absolutely no guarantees whatsoever except that there is a 99% chance that the pups are not vaccinated or wormed.   You will be doing a good deed for that puppy, but you are also taking on a lot of responsibility to care for a possibly sick puppy.


I realize that what I have said sounds very harsh, but I have had enough children in tears coming through my surgery because their puppy has died from some horrible, easily preventable disease to warrant writing this response to your letter.

Dr. Claire Demmer



BVSc (Hons)


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