5 ways to ensure you're buying a healthy puppy

A B.C. couple was forced to put down a French bulldog puppy just four days after bringing it home because the animal was ill before its purchase. Here are some tips to help determine whether the animal you're thinking of buying is healthy.

Do your research, find a reputable breeder, Toronto expert says

Picking out a healthy puppy can include inspecting its eyes, ears and nose, and looking for any signs of eye or nasal leaking. It's just one of the ways anyone wanting to buy a dog can help cut down the chance it's sick - as one B.C. couple experienced recently. (Neil Hall/Reuters)

Buying or adopting a dog can bring joy and excitement into a family's life for many years.

But a couple in Surrey, B.C., faced a horrible experience of having to euthanize a French bulldog puppy just four days after purchasing the animal, because it turned out to be sick.

Ethan O'Reilly, a veterinary assistant at the Toronto Central Animal Clinic, says he often meets owners with sick pets bought from breeders. 

"We see issues where they come in and they are not properly de-wormed or vaccinated, or they are essentially lied to," he says.

Here are some things to keep in mind to help determine the animal you're bringing home is healthy. 

1. Do your research

"First and foremost, the best thing to do is look for a pet that complements your lifestyle rather than the look of the animal," O'Reilly says. 

If you don't know a lot about puppies, that's OK. But do your research.– Ethan O'Reilly,  Toronto Central Animal Clinic

Once you've picked a breed that fits, research the health issues that breed tends to face — for example, Irish wolfhounds and Great Danes tend to suffer from bone issues. If you know the most common problems of your chosen breed, you will have a better idea of the symptoms to watch. 

2. Find a reputable breeder

O'Reilly advises being "extremely cautious" when buying from breeders on websites like Kijiji — many of the young animals he sees with health issues were bought online.

Looking to buy a purebred? Toronto veterinary assistant Ethan O'Reilly recommends finding breeders through the Canadian Kennel Club. (Nestle Purina PetCare Canada/Canadian Press)
But if you do choose to go with a breeder found on the internet, he suggests talking to them over the phone or even arranging a visit.

"If you don't have a good relationship with the breeder, you're not going to ensure the proper health of the animal," O'Reilly says.

He recommends looking for breeders through the Canadian Kennel Club — its members must adhere to its policies and code of ethics. The organization even provides a handy guide to finding a reputable breeder.

3. Get the proper paperwork

Sellers should be able to provide you with health certificates and records of veterinary visits. If you're buying a purebred dog, you should also get a certificate showing the animal's bloodline, O'Reilly says.

The Canadian Kennel Club also advises insisting on getting a written guarantee from the breeder when buying a purebred animal. This document covers what the compensation would be to the buyer if the dog ends up having any health problems related to its genetics.

4. Examine your potential pooch 

When you meet the dog you want to buy, you should look for clues it's happy and healthy. O'Reilly recommends inspecting its eyes, ears and nose, and looking for any signs of eye or nasal leaking. 

He says you should also look for classic symptoms of health problems that the breed might be prone to (which you should already know if you've done your research). 

Most importantly, be ready to ask any questions about what you're seeing — and the seller should be able to answer them. "Don't be afraid to ask questions, that's the No. 1 thing," O'Reilly says. "Why are his eyes leaking? Why are the folds in his face dried out like that?"

5. Consider adopting from a shelter

Unless you're adamant on getting a puppy or a specific breed, O'Reilly suggests considering adoption. 

"Shelters are great," he says. "Shelters, I promote 100 per cent."

Sunny was found in Tucson, Ariz., on May 12 hanging from a tree and was recovering at the time this photo was taken. O'Reilly encourages aspiring pet owners to consider adoption. (Pima Animal Care Center/Associated Press)
While shelter animals are prone to certain illnesses — upper respiratory infection in cats and kennel cough in dogs — many of those problems are easily treatable. 

A major advantage of adoption is that many shelters have their own veterinarians who will do a complete checkup on the animals and fully disclose any illnesses. 

"Upon adopting that animal, you know what you're walking into, and if you as an owner are struggling with that issue, they wil help you," he says.

Whether you're buying from a breeder or adopting from a shelter, the biggest piece of advice, O'Reilly says, is to inform yourself and ask questions.

"If you don't know a lot about puppies, that's OK. But do your research."


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