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Things to Know Before Getting a Puppy

Alex loves animals and is an experienced licensed veterinary technician with a BS in Biology and an AS in Veterinary Technology.

4 week old St. Bernard puppies

4 week old St. Bernard puppies

Pets Are Expensive

No matter how you look at it, pets are expensive. It doesn't matter if you are getting a 'free' kitten from a friend who has a litter of kittens under their deck or are buying a purebred dog from a pet store.

To take proper care of a pet means you will need to provide them with proper housing, food, medical care, and physical and mental enrichment.

Before you decide to get a pet, it would be a good idea to look at your own finances. How much extra each month can you afford to spend? Call your local veterinarian's office and ask for pricing for basic care: exam, vaccines, and flea/tick and heartworm prevention. How much will their food cost each month? What about other supplies? Little things add up.

Trust me. Both my pets were 'free'. My cat may not have been a big spender but lordy my dog sure has been. Do I love them? To the moon and back.

Pet Stores

Pet stores are not always what they appear to be. Many states have laws against 'puppy mills' and that's great! However, if you look at the pedigree for the puppies in the pet stores, you'll often find that they are not coming from your home state. Research the names of the 'kennels' your puppy's parents are from. Nine times out of ten they are from puppy mills.

What's the problem with puppy mills? The dogs are bred for profit. This means that they don't always pay attention to the quality of the offspring produced. Genetic defects can cause major issues in a pet's life.

For example, the average person doesn't know what stenotic nares (pinched in nostrils) look like or that they should even be looking for that in some breeds. But, stenotic nares are common in brachycephalic dogs (breeds with a smushy face) that have not been bred with genetics in mind. This syndrome can impair the dog's ability to breathe.

It is also not uncommon for dogs from the pet store to be sick. Think about it. These puppies do not have mature immune systems and are in close quarters with many other dogs. Respiratory diseases and parasitic infections are common. That means that after you just spent a few grand on a new puppy you will now need to spend a few hundred more to make it well, not to mention the fact that it will also need to continue its vaccine series.

I'm not saying that all pet stores are bad. But I do think it is a good idea to shop around and fully research an establishment before you make a decision as major as buying a dog that you could have for the next 12-15 years.


Breeders can be as unpredictable as a pet store. There is a difference between a backyard breeder and a proper breeder. When looking into getting a puppy it is worth doing a little research before you buy.

Typically a backyard breeder won't pay attention to the genetics of the dogs they breed. If they pay attention to anything, it is the aesthetic of the puppies they are trying to sell.

They often have a lot of dogs in their home, will try to sell dogs before they are fully able to leave their mothers (if anyone tries to get you to take a puppy under 8 weeks of age, that is a bad sign), and sometimes will even try to practice veterinary medicine.

They may give the first round of vaccines for you. I've seen people come in with breeder records that were literally just a piece of paper that said 'puppy given parvo shot' with a date—no mention of the vaccine name, manufacture, lot number, or expiration date. How do you know the vaccine was really given? How do you know if was stored properly? How do you know that what they say they gave is actually what your puppy revived? How do you even know if it was given at the right time? Puppies can start some vaccines at 6 weeks of age; I've seen some breeders give clients records that say the vaccines were given at 4 weeks of age. This would be pointless as the mother's antibodies are still very much present in the puppy, and the puppy's immune system isn't developed enough yet to start to incorporate the vaccine. I've even seen some breeders write out a bunch of vaccine names with dates—there was no way they gave them because half of them were human vaccines. These people are banking on the fact that the average person doesn't know what they are looking for in a puppy.

Responsible Breeders

There are some responsible breeders out there. They pay attention to the genetic history of the dogs they are breeding. They are making sure that there are no genetic defects in the parents. They take their dogs to the vet to have exams done during pregnancy. They have a veterinarian examine the puppies before finding them homes.

Often, the puppies are AKC registered. When asked, the breeder should be able to provide the medical records for the litter and their parents. When you go to pick up your puppy, they should be able to show you the bitch, possibly even the sire if he lives onsite—or at the very least a picture if they used another breeder for stud—and they should be able to tell you about the linage. These are the breeders you will want to buy from.

Often, these breeders will screen their potential buyers; they want to make sure the puppy is going to a good home. The breeder will also often require a deposit and may have a waiting list several litters long. Remember, there is nothing wrong with wanting a purebred dog. Just make sure you are getting a puppy from a responsible breeder that is genuinely interested in producing quality puppies.

Of course, it goes without saying that you will most likely end up paying more for a dog from a proper breeder than one from a backyard breeder. But it is worth noting that you will most likely get a healthier dog from a proper breeder and will most likely end up paying less in veterinary bills in the long run.

If you get a puppy from a breeder ask to see the parents and ask about their medical history. For giant breeds, like this St. Bernard, you want to make sure the parents don't have evidence of diseases like hip dysplasia.

If you get a puppy from a breeder ask to see the parents and ask about their medical history. For giant breeds, like this St. Bernard, you want to make sure the parents don't have evidence of diseases like hip dysplasia.

Shelters and Rescues

It is very trendy to get a rescue dog. Adopt, don't shop! While I do agree that the shelter is a great place to look for a dog, it is not always the best place. Puppies from the shelter are often labeled as 'lab mix' or 'hound mix'. There is nothing wrong with a mixed breed puppy. The issue is that certain breeds have certain characteristics and grow to certain sizes. If you don't know what kind of puppy you have, you don't know how big it will get or have any idea of the potential needs of that dog.

For example, if you live in an apartment, you will most likely want a smaller or medium-sized dog. It would be most unfortunate to get a puppy, and it unexpectedly grows to 80+ pounds, and you find out it's actually part mastiff. Is that always going to happen? No, but it does happen.

The other thing with shelter puppies is you don't know any history for the dog. The puppy can have poor breeding and may have some genetic issues: like hip dysplasia, allergies, or stenotic nares syndrome. You may very well end up getting a puppy that never has any health issues. That's great! But you should be aware that unless a pet is surrendered with all its previous medical records you have no way of knowing any information about that pet.

The upside of adopting a shelter puppy is that the puppy will most likely have been spayed or neutered already, microchipped, been started on heartworm medication, and have at least started the most common vaccines. This can help save a bit of money when you take into consideration the expense of the frequent vaccines puppies need, just like human babies. Just remember that just because you can afford to pay the adoption fee at the shelter does not mean you can necessarily afford the puppy.

Offsetting Costs

Anyone that has ever had a pet knows they can be expensive. I always recommend pet owners look for ways to help save costs when reasonable.

Pet Insurance

When you first start to research getting a puppy you should add pet insurance to your research topics. The key with pet insurance is to enroll your pet as soon as possible. This way you can prevent having preexisting conditions. There are a lot of pet insurance policies out there. Do some research and find out what kind of coverage you think you will need and how much you can afford to pay each month.

Clinic Wellness Packages

A lot of clinics offer wellness packages. These packages often are paid on a monthly basis and include recommended vaccines, and discounted exam fees. It may be worthwhile to see if your local clinic has such a program as you may be able to save a little money on services you were going to get anyway.

Research Best Prices for Food and Toys

Search for the best pricing for food and toys. PetSmart will price match, even from their own website. You just need to show them the price that is cheaper—thank you smartphones—and they'll discount it.

I also tend to stock up on toys when they are on sale. I'll give my girls a new toy and then hide the rest to pull out as they destroy and lose other toys. Pet stores will often have BoGos on toys.

Check the price of your pet's food. Maybe it's cheaper at the pet store, at Chewy, or at the vet. You won't know where the best deal is if you don't look, and don't assume they will always have the best price each time. I've seen prices for food higher on Chewy than we had at the clinic.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

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