Finding a new pet

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So you've decided you want a pet. What next? Hopefully you've read through the section on "which pet is right for me" and done lots of background reading to ensure that this commitment is right for you and your prospective pet.

The next question is where to find your new companion. At any one time there are thousands of dogs, cats and other species looking for a second chance at a happy life. Thousands of dogs are handed in every year - from cute puppies to characterful older citizens. Rehoming is about giving them a new start, with a new family who can offer them the love and attention they deserve. Although many rehoming centres have a "no euthanasia" policy for healthy animals, unfortunately many strays are euthanased every year.

If you do decide to get a rescue pet your home will usually be checked to make sure it is suitable, and you will have to fill out a questionnaire including questions such as how long the animal will be left on its own. It can often take a while to find the right pet for your circumstance but this is important so mistakes aren't made. Look at our links page for websites of local rehoming charities.

If on the other hand you have decided to get a new puppy or kitten then you need to be very careful about where you get it from. Unfortunately "puppy farms" are all too common - have a look at this article from the dog's trust about puppy farms and see for yourself.

The best way to describe a puppy farm is to say that it is a place where puppies are bred, purely as a way to make money, without any regard for the welfare of the dogs involved. Cost cutting includes; breeding from bitches too often and from too young an age, cramming dogs into unsuitable kenneling and feeding only enough for them to survive and breed, not giving proper vet care or vaccinations and sending pups off for sale when they are too young to leave their mothers. If you buy from one of these places, you could easily end up with a puppy with physical defects, severe parasite infections, hereditary diseases (such as hip dysplasia and heart defects) and/or behaviour problems. In the worse cases puppies can die within days from serious illnesses such as parvo virus, distemper or gastroenteritis, leaving you with nothing but an expensive vet's bill. You should ALWAYS see the puppy at home with its mother (and preferably its litter mates). If a 'breeder' offers to meet you with the puppy, perhaps in a car park or motorway service station, steer well clear as this is a practice commonly used by dealers. Don't buy a puppy because you feel sorry for it or to 'save it' - you'll only be making room for more puppies to be bred.

If you decide on a pedigree puppy, ask for details of recommended breeders from the official breed club - contact the Kennel Club for details of the Accredited Breeder Scheme. For certain breeds the dog and bitch used for breeding will need to pass certain criteria such as hip/elbow scoring, eye tests, kidney scan, heart scan etc. Research the breed well to discover their temperament and their problems - there are very few pedigree dog or cat breeds that aren't renowned for certain conditions (e.g. bad skin, heart problems, digestive problems).

For rabbits, guinea pigs and small furries, it can be tempting to buy from a pet shop, but again a rescue centre or reputable breeder is the best place. Try not to go for the quiet one sat shivering in the corner - feeling sorry for an animal is not a reason to buy it! The quiet ones are more likely poorly and not well handled. This type of pet should be bright, inquisitive and used to being handled - if the shop assistant is scared to pick up your prospective pet then maybe you should be too! If you can, check the pet's bottom for signs of diarrhoea, and (without getting bitten) look at the incisor teeth to make sure they meet (overgrown misaligned teeth are a common cause of problems).

Before collecting your new pet, ensure you have everything ready for it when you get home - a large, suitable cage / run for small furries, basket / litter tray etc. It is also important to find out what food your pet has been given - sudden changes in diet can cause diarrhoea. If you think the previous diet unsuitable then change the diet gradually over 1-2 weeks. For dogs, cats, rabbits and ferrets find out if they have had any vaccinations already and when they were last treated for worms and fleas. For older pets find out if they've been neutered and any important medical history (allergies etc). Also find out what would happen if you wanted to return the pet - responsible breeders will insist you bring the pet back to them if there are any problems. Ideally sort out pet insurance to commence when you pick up your new pet.

NB - it would be a good idea for all members of the family to spend some time with a pet of the same species prior to purchase - unfortunately many people have allergies which don't show up until the pet is in the house and you have already become attached to it.

Once you pick up your new pet it is advisable to get it checked over by the vet to pick up any problems, and for them to answer any questions you might have.