You can buy a dog or cat from home or professional breeders, or from rescues. All have benefits and pitfalls – we have some pointers to help you make the right choice for you, and your future pet.
A cautionary tale to learn about the pet you are bringing home. Alfie, the french bulldog pictured,
had many health problems due to poor breeding that required thousands of pounds of treatment.
Now the most common way to obtain a pet, people breed pets at home for profit, or because of a genuine mishap. Pets used to be advertised in local newspaper classified ads, but are now advertised on online forums, Facebook pages and groups.
Benefits. An instant pet,
Beware. It is difficult to regulate so this means it is the riskiest choice. Pet health may be compromised with the mum overbred and puppies or kittens in poor health. A house can even be a fake front to a puppy farm. Puppy farms illegally breed dogs in horrendous conditions, or some are illegally imported into the country. Health and breed certificates have been known to have been falsified. There are no returns if it doesn't work out, so we often see the worst side of this at rescue centres. As it is difficult to see the breed at a young age, you may get a surprise as they grow up.
Checks. Google the phone number and the picture from the ad, and you can see if it is genuine and unique. Meet at their house, never at yours or in a car park. Ask to see the mum, and ask to come back if they say she is sleeping/at vets/on a walk. Is the mum friendly, is she content with the owners being near her and the puppies or kittens? If there is pressure to buy immediately, rather than to reserve or come back again, then walk away.
If you are concerned, please report to RSPCA or your local Dog Warden.
If you are after a certain breed, then this is a good choice as membership to a professional program means they promise to maintain the health and welfare of their animals. Professional dog breeders are listed in Kennel Club and for cats see The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy. There are often waiting lists and you will be asked to visit a few times before taking them home.
Benefits. You can get the breed you want, often health checks are included, you can see the mum, most will maintain contact after buying for advice and most will accept returns if it doesn't work out.
Beware. A desire for form over function still results in sickly animals in some breeds, particularly in bracacephylic (short-nosed) breeds such as the pug, bulldogs, and persian cats. Specifically, be wary of german shepherd hips and rhodesian ridgeback spine health.
Checks. Read about your chosen breed and their characteristics on trusted websites such as the British Veterinary Association. Get recommendations, and talk with the breeder to make a good connection. If they ask about your family and what you are looking for in a pet, then that is a good sign that they are genuinely looking to match you well.
Breed-specific rescue group
If you want a certain breed but not keen on buying, then there are many breed-specific rescue groups. You can find a list on the Kennel Club website or through a Google search.
Benefits. Dedicated knowledge of that breed's traits and issues.
Beware. Many are run by well-meaning people with a passion, so welfare and service standards will vary wildly.
Checks. Look for a Registered Charity Number, which is often displayed at the bottom of the website and read through their rules carefully.
There are the big names of RSPCA, Dogs Trust, Cats Protection and many independent rescue centres. It will take time to find the right match, and it will help if you consider behaviour and character over breed and colour to widen your choices. With an astonishing 1,864,000 dogs and cats entering rescue centres in the UK every year, you will be doing a wonderful thing to adopt.
Benefits. Health checks and in some cases (like us!) behaviour assessments as well, the animals are neutered, you can return them if it doesn't work out. The centres are monitored for welfare conditions.
Beware. A small number of independent centres have welfare issues if they have not been regulated. See the Checks below.
Checks. Look for a Registered Charity Number, which is often displayed at the bottom of the website, look for ADCH membership (the Association of Dog and Cat Homes), and you can ask RSPCA branches about their regular site checks.
Dogs from abroad
These organisations (they are not registered charities) pick up stray dogs in other countries, most often Romania, and import them over to the UK. These dogs are either abandoned pets, or street dogs who have never lived in a house.
Benefits. Although with 110,000 stray and street dogs here in the UK we feel there is enough work here to do, we also understand the desire to do the best for every animal.
Beware. Often they are brought unseen straight from the plane to you, so no chance to see if you like each other. Dogs could have unknown health or behaviour issues, and many do not offer neutering as part of the service. Many will not take returns if it doesn't work out, meaning that the dogs are passed onto rescue centres in the end.
Checks. Ask if you can meet them first in a foster home or at a shelter, and if you can you return them if it doesn't work out. Ask for credentials to check that they are a legitimate company, complying with DEFRA guidelines on importing animals. Those who do will be proud to show you their commitment.