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  • Dr. Hilary Jones

October is Adopt-A-Pet Month! Support Future Paw-rents with these resources.

COVID-19 has inspired dramatic fluctuations in pet shelters. In spite of the increase in demand, there are still plenty of animals who need homes. And as economic woes persist, there is reason to worry that a new wave of animals who need to be rehomed will arrive at your local shelter.


The sad fact is that there are still millions of friendly, perfectly well-adjusted dogs and cats euthanized every year.


As vets, we can steer clients toward adoption. When clients first start looking for a new pet, we can address any concerns a client might have about adoption. There are a lot of misconceptions about the health of animals from shelters versus breeders, and we can make sure clients have all the information they need to make a humane decision.


Common Health Issues Among Shelter Animals


Even while advocating for shelter adoption, it's important to make sure that prospective pet owners are prepared common, yet easily managed issues among pets rescues. One study showed that around half of the animals in their shelter pet sample had a health issue, but most of those were resolved within 12 months.


Reputable shelters take plenty of precautions with their animals, but there are a couple of illnesses that are more prevalent among shelter animals.

  • Shelter cats are especially prone to upper respiratory infections. Symptoms may present as ulcers in the mouth, as well as a reluctance to eat and extreme lethargy.

  • Rescue dogs can also have respiratory issues, and are also prone to gastrointestinal parasites.

Rescue pets will get a full assessment of their health, as well as temperament. During intake, dogs get an assessment called SAFER — Safety Assessment for Evaluating Rehoming. This is a scientifically backed assessment that allows shelters to identify the animals best suited for adoption. You can also rely on shelters to give you an honest assessment of a cat’s temperament — after all, the last thing they want is for an animal to be returned.


Common Health Issues Among Pets from Breeders


Some people hear the word “mutt” and assume they must have less favorable attributes than purebred dogs. This couldn’t be further from the truth — as you’re probably well aware, “Purebred” doesn’t actually mean healthy. In fact, after years of inbreeding, many purebred dogs are prone to genetic problems. come from bad breeders are prone to debilitating hereditary illnesses, which in some cases can even cut the pet’s life short.


The inhumane practices of some breeders who keep animals in filthy, cramped conditions in order to maximize their profits don’t just affect their animals’ physical health. Animals can develop terrible behavioral and social problems at mills and pet stores, partly because of the dirty surroundings, and also because of the developmental difficulties that come from being separated early from a parent.


Purebred Problems


Our love of certain breeds has led to the perpetuation of a host of hereditary problems. Unfortunately, the top dog breeds (as of 2019) are all especially likely to develop certain ailments.


1. Labrador Retriever

Labrador retrievers are prone to elbow problems and obesity. Studies suggest that the elbow issues are not due to inbreeding, and that it’s just a common problem among larger breeds.


2. German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs)

GSDs carry a gene for hereditary disease known as German Shepherd Dog Pyoderma, which is a type of bacterial infection that causes deep lesions under the skin. Responsible breeders make sure not to breed dogs who present with this condition, but it’s still quite common.


GSDs are also known for developing hip dysplasia, although the prevalence has decreased thanks to careful breeding.


Older GSDs are known for developing degenerative myelopathy, a fatal illness that affects the spinal cord and can cause paralysis in the hind legs.


3. Golden Retriever

Sadly, around half of golden retrievers die of cancer. Researchers are looking into how to get rid of the cancer-causing genes, but at this point, it’s a major cause for concern.


Hypothyroidism is a common issue among golden retrievers, affecting between 1 in 150 to 1 in 500. It can cause metabolic problems as well as heart issues.


4. Brachycephalic Breeds

French bulldogs and pugs are the next most-popular breeds on the “Most Popular Dog Breeds” list, and both brachycephalic breeds, which refers to dogs with shortened muzzles and relatively flat faces. These breeds have a laundry list of problems, including their respiratory issues, which are fairly obvious to anyone who has ever been in the same room as a pug.


Their protruding eyeballs and skin folds also make skin infections and eye injuries especially common among these breeds.


How to Find an Ethical Breeder


If your client truly has their heart set on a certain breed, make sure they know how to look for a responsible breeder.


These are a few key points to share:

  • Do not buy kittens puppies that are being shipped from another state. Dogs shipped across state lines are more likely to pick up illnesses, and are often shipped in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

  • No one can deny the pull of a tiny puppy or kitten, but clients should be warned away from any seller who will give up a puppy or a kitten who is fewer than six weeks old.

  • Puppies and kittens kept in small crates in pet stores often come from unethical breeders. Make sure to visit the breeder’s actual location.

  • Good breeders only sell to buyers they’ve met in person.

  • Breeders with healthy animals will offer copies of veterinary certificates and can provide information about an animal’s parents.

  • You can see a full checklist from the Humane Society here: https://www.humanesociety.org/sites/default/files/docs/find-responsible-dog-breeder.pdf


Make Sure Pet Parents Are Ready


Trying a short-term commitment can help clients determine if they’re ready for a puppy. Consider fostering a puppy or a kitten (or an adult animal!) before making the leap to full-blown pet ownership. Fostering is a big win-win: Clients get to experience what pet ownership feels like, a local shelter gets a little relief, and an animal gets to have some undivided attention.


People who love dogs and cats enough to want one probably also love dogs and cats enough to not support inhumane breeders. Make sure their clients have all the information they need to make an informed decision and bring home a healthy, happy pet — to a home that’s ready to give them a fantastic quality of life.


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