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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Controversy Week: Breeders

Ready for me to start getting into real trouble? Let me tackle another issue. Breeders. Or really, I should say "so-called" breeders. Because not all are created equal.

There are breeders out there who are models of what people should be like. They listen to their vet and follow the vet's recommendations. They don't try and be vets themselves. They breed responsibly to improve the breed they have chosen. They pay attention to the quality of the dogs or cats they produce, both in physical appearance and behavior. I have been proud to know breeders like that. And I'm not talking about them.

Talk to any veterinarian and you'll quickly find out (if the vet is being truly honest) that dog and cat breeders are some of the worst clients and worst sources of information. We dread hearing a client say "well, my breeder said..." Again, I'm not talking about all breeders, and I bought my own dog from a breeder. If you get a good one, they're the best source for good, pure-bred pets. Unfortunately, those breeders appear to be in the minority. Here are some of the issues I've run into.

Anybody can get two dogs to mate and call themselves a breeder. This doesn't mean they know didley-squat about good dog breeding or genetics. I've seen these breeders mate two dogs with known health or genetic issues. The people are only concerned about making dogs or cats to sell, and are really unconcerned if they have retained puppy teeth, umbilical hernias, overbites, or other common problems. A breeder should only be mating "show quality" pets; ones that have the right physical and behavioral characteristics to be able to go into a show ring, regardless of whether or not the pet actually is shown. Anything less than that is showing the breeder's unconcern and ignorance.

I frequently see breeders sending puppies home with medications such as Albon or metronidazole. These medications usually go home in a small envelope with how much and often to give it on the outside. Often the name of the medication isn't even written on it. The reasoning is that it will prevent diarrhea from stress. I can assure you that this is medically incorrect, and frankly is totally illegal in every US state. These are antibiotics, and legally can only be prescribed by a veterinarian. Even vets don't recommend using these routinely and without cause. The breeders do it without even having the appropriate diseases diagnosed. I'm certain that these breeders don't understand how the medications work or what the potential side-effects are. Do you want your pet taking prescription medications from someone with no medical degree or background? Would you have your child take an unknown medication because a stranger told you to give it to them? That's what is happening in these cases. I've seen it time and time again, and I have to bite my tongue to keep from calling the breeder and confronting them. In every state there are pharmacy laws that make it a crime to give prescription medications (which all of these are considered) without a valid patient-doctor relationship. This means that the doctor must have seen the patient the medicine is prescribed for. The medication is also legally required to have a label with the following information: doctor's name, address and phone number; patient's name; medication name, strength, and dosage instructions; expiration date; number of refills. I have seen many medications go to the new owner with "give 1/2 tablet daily" the ONLY information written on the little envelope. This violates so many laws it's not funny. Yet breeders consistently do it. Be warned of this if it happens to you.

Breeders frequently give vaccinations inappropriately. Now, I'm the first to admit that giving an injection isn't rocket science, and I could probably train a monkey to do it. However, simply giving an injection isn't the issue. Not all vaccines give equal immunity. The vaccines must be stored properly, and given at the appropriate age and intervals. Giving vaccines to a dog or cat younger than 6 weeks old is pointless, yet I see it happen frequently. Giving vaccine boosters more frequently than once every 2 weeks is also pointless, and won't stimulate immunity properly, yet I've seen many breeders giving them at 1 week intervals. One time I had a new puppy come to me that had been vaccinated by the breeder, and the owner had the vials to show. When we use certain vaccines, there is a "dry" component and a "wet" component that we have to mix together prior to giving the injection. This breeder had mixed the dry part from one company and the wet part from a TOTALLY DIFFERENT manufacturer! The puppy was fine, but there was no reason to believe that the vaccine was in any way effective. Breeders give vaccines based on what someone else told them or what they read somewhere. They have no medical training, and usually don't understand the immunology behind vaccines. I bet that most of this kind of breeder can't list the diseases included in the vaccine, how they are transmitted, and what their symptoms are. I can also guarantee that the majority of them can't explain why we wait until dogs and cats are 6 weeks old before vaccinating, why we have to wait at least two weeks between vaccines, and why we do them so frequently up until 4 months old. Are these the kinds of people you want to get a pet from?

Many breeders have a great arrogance about them. They firmly believe that they know the absolute best things for the dogs. Often those "facts" are contradicted by known and accepted medical science. They also give medical advice without knowing the reasons. Breeders of small dogs often warn the new owners about the dangers of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). But how many of them can explain WHY this happens in small dogs, why it's really only a concern in puppies, and why it doesn't mean that they all have to have sugar water? I bet most of them can't. The breeders will give advice contradictory to that given by a vet, yet will believe that THEY are right, not the vet. Ummm, exactly where did they get their medical degree? Sure, that person may have been breeding chihuahuas for 20 years, but do you honestly believe that they know more about anatomy, physiology, and immunology than someone who spent a minimum of 4 years of intense medical and surgical training?

Again, I'm not talking about every breeder. I've had and currently have several clients who are excellent breeders and whom I'd be proud to recommend. Unfortunately, the "bad" breeders make up a large portion, if not most of the ones out there. So how do you find a good one among the bad?

Here are some of my recommendations....
* Choose a breeder who has shown dogs or cats at some point, or been involved in pet shows and breed fancier groups. They will have a much better understanding of the proper characteristics of the breed, and the health concerns.
* If you want a large dog, make sure that at least the hips have been certified against hip dysplasia. In some breeds, you may also want to have the elbows and retinas certified.
* Ask to see the parents, and ask about their health issues. Many times the male may not be available, and that's understandable. But the mother should be there. Looking at the parents and knowing their health history can give you a better understanding of the potential of the puppies. This is true of both behavior and general appearance or health. You should also be looking at the environment to make sure it is clean and well tended.
* Use a breeder that does NOT give the vaccines themselves. All of the best breeders I have known have brought the puppies to the vet to be vaccinated. Again, it doesn't take special skills to give the injections, but it does take experience and skill to know why and when. As a rule, most veterinarians don't accept or trust vaccines given by a breeder, because we never know whether they were done appropriately (see above for examples). The breeder should be able to give you reports from the veterinary exam showing that the puppies have been checked out and are healthy, as well as vaccine records from the vet.

When I decided to get a Labrador retriever, I knew we wanted a pure bred. I checked with many local breeders advertising puppies available. Based on phone conversations I picked one to visit. On the first visit I got to meet the mother, father, and even grandfather of the puppies. I got to see where all of the dogs were kept. The breeder was able to provide me with records from her vet. And the parents had had their hips x-rayed and certified. I now have a wonderful dog, and would go to that breeder again. I just wish that more were like her.

If you want a pure bred, first check your local shelters and breed rescue organizations. If you can't find what you want there, be very careful when you look for a breeder.

Tomorrow...AKC registration! Good stuff or pure junk?


  1. Thank you for writing such an honest entry. All of this is true in New Zealand as well. Yes, we have many responsible breeders who do it right, but we have the same issues you write about.
    We had one breeder whose G.Shepherd puppies had to be euthed at 9 months due to severe hip dysplasia.. she was told it was ok to breed dogs if their combined total hip score was under 30 - and one was 0 and the other was 30...

    In general, one of the other problems we had was a few breeders that demanded prescription drugs so that they could administer them at home.. like eye ointments and antibiotic tablets for fights, diarrhoea.. I can understand their frustration at having to pay for consults etc, but you are right... there are strict rules, and usually a host of good reasons not to just administer these drugs without a full check over first.
    It is a big issue for us in our programmes - how to train the vet nurses to stand up to clients who are shouted at by clients who want this!!
    One problem we don't have - (yet) is vaccines - they are still unavailable outside clinic use here...

  2. I find it very interesting that this kind of issue is not exclusive to one country. I guess that's part of human nature.

    I wish my clients couldn't get ahold of vaccines easily. But you can order them from just about any large online or catalog pet supply retailer. You can also buy them at "feed stores", which also sell farm and pet supplies. I think it goes back to farmers giving immunizations to their livestock, rather than paying a vet to do it. In the US, the only vaccine required to be given by a vet is rabies. All others are legally allowed to be purchased and given by anyone.

  3. Isn't it possible for a good breeder to get puppies out of a litter that are not show quality, even if both parents were show quality? Especially if they are from a breed that tend toward illnesses? Getting the occasional imperfect puppy wouldn't make those people bad breeders as long as they weren't misrepresenting the puppies, would it? Just curious.

    This post also reminded me of a lady I knew when I was a teenager that told me her folks used to breed Chihuahuas to cure Asthma in children, and she SWORE it worked. (She said that if you put a Chihuahua in a room with an Asthmatic child at night and close the door, the dog will take the Asthma on itself, and the child will be cured, but the dog will die of Asthma.) Sounds bogus to me, but have you ever heard of this?

  4. Great post! When I was looking for a papillon puppy, I took two years and researched many different breeders in my area. The one I ended up choosing was able to show me the parents and grandparents. She's also active in showing and in the breed club. The dogs were free to roam all over the house and she even took them camping! I didn't meet one dog at her place that wasn't overly friendly and licky. LOL When I took my puppy home, he came home with not only a puppy pack of food, toys and information of the breed, but also a veterinary packet with the vet listed that did the exam, vaccinations and neutering. Yes, my dog was neutered before coming home at 12 weeks of age. This is another reason I chose this breeder. I am a huge fan of early spay/neutering. (There's another blog idea for you! lol) It's the one way for a breeder to guarantee that non-show quality dogs don't go on to be bred. My own vet (who is the most wonderful person on the planet!)is very impressed with the wonderful temperments that both my papillons have. She has two other clients that have papillons from another breeder that have horrible temperments. I had visited this breeder as well and had chosen to pass on their pups as I couldn't meet the parents, only the freshly washed puppies in the kitchen. It was a red flag for me. People don't want to wait for a puppy. We tend to want things now. I was put on a waiting list for a year while I waited for a puppy. When the time finally came, I had 4 to choose from and made my choices from first choice to fourth. I got the puppy I chose last. lol Why? The breeder watched the temperments of the puppies as they grew and matched that to what our family was like. It worked! He's the most perfect dog I ever could have imagined. She wasn't interested in just finding the puppies homes, but in finding the right homes for the puppies. I am so happy with this breeder that I ended up buying a second puppy from her two years later. Now we have two perfect pups (in our I love reading your blog! Keep up the great work!

  5. Mary, you're absolutely correct that you get two types of dogs out of a litter: show quality and pet quality. The pet quality dogs are just as pure bred and potentially healthy as the show quality ones, but have some slight characteristics that doesn't make them good representatives of the breed. Getting one or the other is a matter of genetic randomness, not just the breeder. So, yes, even a good breeder can get back luck on puppies on occasion. But that's not the issues I was talking about.

    Tasha, glad you're reading! And you have exactly the kind of breeder I like! Glad that you found such a good one.

  6. Great post-this is the issue that makes me the most angry-everyone wants to be a dog breeder for all the wrong reasons and yet people will gladly hand over hundreds of dollars for a yorkie with luxating patellas, etc, etc, while millions of dogs are in shelters and rescues.

  7. Yep, I agree, Nicki.

    Just today I saw a new shih tzu puppy whose breeder gave the first vaccine at 4 weeks old and sent home Albon as a parasite preventative. *sigh*

    Sorry about the other question, Mary. There actually is a grain of truth to that, but not in the way that she thinks. Asthma is not a contagious disease, and there is no possible way to transmit it from one animal or person to another. Chihuahuas are also not special in this regard. They won't become asthmatic if other dogs won't. So that is totally bogus. However, studies have shown that children who grow up around animals from infancy tend to have fewer allergy and respiratory problems than children without pets in the home.

  8. Shelter medicine is slightly different than private practice medicine. We vaccinate kittens as early as 2 weeks old (butusually starting at 4 weeks old), especially those that are from mothers of unknown vaccination history or orphaned kittens. So while you poo poo breeders and vets who vaccinate at 4 weeks old, its a life-saving action to vaccinate kittens at 2 weeks old+. Check for more information. I shutter to think that vets would be bad mouthing shelters and rescues because we are following our industry's recommendations.

  9. Anonymous, I'm not aware of any immunological data to support vaccinating prior to 6 weeks old. The maternal antibodies are simply too strong, and this is true even if the mother has not been vaccinated. If there is more recent data showing otherwise, I would be very interested in seeing it. I did go to the site you linked, and could find nothing about this. Until I see information to the contrary, I will stick by what the immunologists taught me.


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