Thursday, November 21, 2013

On puppies, parvo, and being a small animal breeder

There was a time in my life where I thought I would only ever work in the cattle industry, but then I got a job at a mixed animal practice in Southern, Alberta and gained a new perspective on life.  I still enjoy working with cattle, in fact I spend more time in this sector of veterinary medicine than any other.  But sometimes a little change is as good as a vacation, and one of my favorite things about working in a mixed animal practice is the chance it gives me to play with puppies.  I love puppies.  How could anyone not love puppies?  A litter of puppies will transform me from a straight talkin', no nonsense cattle vet into a baby gibberish spouting suck in 2.7 seconds or less.  I love their little puppy grunts, the way their little puppy eyes get all anxious and worried when you pick them up, and their general fluffiness.  It doesn't really matter what breed they are, a litter of healthy puppies always makes my day.

Puppies can also break my heart.  Things don't always go smoothly when it comes to the business of bringing puppies into the world, and even after they are out and breathing there are a lot of things that can go wrong.  In my career, I have examined and treated hundreds of puppies for parvovirus infection; a deadly virus that causes severe diarrhea, dehydration and death.  In our area, we even see the occasional canine distemper outbreak.  This virus attacks the central nervous system and is nigh untreatable in unvaccinated pups.  Puppies are also susceptible to ingestion of foreign objects, malnutrition, hernias, rectal prolapses, and a whole host of other problems.  The truth is, dead puppies really aren't much fun.    

In veterinary practice, we see puppies that come from a wide variety of circumstances.  Some puppies are the result of careful planning and selection on the part of a breeder that is producing dogs with specific traits, mainly because they find dog breeding rewarding and satisfying.  Others are the results of accidents caused by a moment of unsupervised 'socializing' with the neighbor's dog, but are treasured members of the family nonetheless.  There are those individuals who breed dogs purely for profit, and base many, if not all of their decisions on whatever will require the fewest out of pocket expenses.  Lastly, there are far too many puppies that are born into neglect and apathy because their owners can't be bothered to spay or neuter their pets.

I get to deal with them all in our practice.  I would say that most of the people that bring us their puppies fit into the categories of caring and responsible pet owners.  There are also those who come to us from situations of neglect, usually by caring individuals who have taken on the burdens of someone else's poor decisions and are now trying to make things right.  However I deal with a lot of puppies that come to me in the middle of a wreck because their owners nickled and dimed their ways into one.  It is to these individuals that I wish to address some remarks; those individuals who got into breeding dogs because they thought they could turn a fat profit with few inputs.

First, trying to make money on dog breeding is kind of like playing the futures market.  While there are examples of people who have succeeded, there are also many people who have lost big.  The difference here, is that when you lose big in the puppy breeding market, it doesn't only affect you, it also affects living, feeling animals that are otherwise incapable of sustaining themselves.  Many people think that the input costs for breeding dogs are limited merely to the purchase price of breeding animals, however these individuals have not taken the time to look at the big picture.  If you want to make money breeding and selling dogs, that is fine, but you should be financially prepared for the worst.  The worst may include having to care for all of your pups until a suitable home can be found for them, even if they have to stay for longer than you anticipated.  The worst may include having to re-home puppies when things don't work out at their intended destination.  The worse may include behavioral problems that you are not able to deal with.  The worst may include veterinary bills for birthing complications, injury, and/or disease.  You need to ask yourself before you start breeding dogs if these are worst case scenarios that you can live with and afford, because if they are not, you SHOULD NOT BREED DOGS!!!!  Or any animal for that matter.

In addition to the worst case scenarios, there are the risk management costs to consider when breeding dogs.  Can you afford to vaccinate your female and her pups?  Can you afford adequate nutrition for a lactating female?  Can you afford the adequate living space for a female and her puppies?  Do you have time to care for all these animals?  If the answer is no, do not be fooled into thinking that you can just do without.  You may get lucky and get along fine for awhile, but sooner or later reality will catch up with you, and then you will be faced with a tough decision.  Either you will have to come up with large sums of money to clean up your mess, or you will join the ranks of those slimebags who let their animals suffer and perish from neglect.  Neither option is desirable.  I have seen way too many animals suffer needlessly, at great costs to their owner, from diseases that could have been easily prevented with good management, good nutrition, and proper vaccination.  I have seen even more that have become the victims of apathy and irresponsibility.  It is heartbreaking, and it can give otherwise responsible breeders a bad name.

I know many veterinarians and other animal lovers who look disdainfully on breeding dogs.  They feel that there are already too many unwanted pets that need homes, and that adding to the pet population is irresponsible and inhumane.  While I can certainly see their point of view, I have also seen plenty of dog breeders that do things the right way and I feel that there should be a place for responsible dog breeding.  I feel there is a place for dog breeders who genuinely care for their dogs and who would never intentionally place a puppy in a poor home situation.  I feel there is a place for breeders who educate themselves, and who work closely with their breed associations, veterinarians, and other industry professionals who have the dogs best interest in mind.  I look forward to many more years of coming in out of the large animal barn, or in from the field, just to act a little bit goofy for the newest litter of furry monsters to come through the door.  Each one is precious, and has a right to a good home where they will be loved and cared for responsibly.  When considering whether to breed your dog, please consider this, and choose wisely.

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