Pet Connection

Buyer Beware

Do your homework before plunking down big bucks for a pet

By Kim Campbell Thornton

We can stream movies at any time of day or night, order books or small kitchen appliances for next-day delivery, or send off for a dozen pairs of shoes for in-home try-on, free returns guaranteed. The Internet allows us to acquire all kinds of goods at a speed undreamed of less than a decade ago.

So why not pets? Americans spent more than $2 billion last year purchasing dogs, cats and other companion animals, according to a 2013 survey by the American Pet Products Association. Anyone in search of a puppy has run across websites such as NextDayPets.com, PuppyFind.com, PuppyDogWeb.com or PuppyAvenue.com, not to mention advertisements on Craigslist or eBayclassifieds.com. It's no longer "How much is that puppy in the window?" but "How much is that puppy on your website?"

It's easy to fall in love with a pet in a picture, but not so easy to evaluate that potential pet's temperament, health and living conditions. Last November, a new USDA rule brought large-scale online pet sellers under federal oversight, but it's important to know that neither the USDA nor dog registries such as the American Kennel Club and United Kennel Club guarantee puppies or require breeders to test dogs for heritable problems, to socialize puppies or even to be knowledgeable about the breed or dogs in general. Registration papers certify only that both parents were of the same breed. It's up to you to research the breed and breeder to make an informed decision.

You might think that a dog destined to be "just a pet" doesn't need all the bells and whistles of champion, health-tested parents, health guarantees, an in-person visit to examine the breeder's home and kennel, and all the rest that comes along with buying a dog from a reputable breeder. But pets are family members, and it just makes good financial and emotional sense to choose one carefully, not only to ensure that the dog is a good fit for your family, but also to reduce the risk of high veterinary bills from congenital or genetic diseases.

It's best if you can see the puppy in person before you buy so you can evaluate his temperament and the conditions in which he was raised. If that's impossible, ask for references that include the breeder's veterinarian and previous puppy buyers -- and call them. Try to find a trusted friend or relative in the area who can examine the puppy and interview the breeder on your behalf.

To get the most for your money, expect the seller to provide up-to-date health certifications for both of a pup's parents on file with health registries, such as the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and the Canine Health Information Center. Check CHIC to see which health tests are recommended for the breed you're interested in.

The seller should offer a health guarantee against heritable problems for the first two years of the pup's life and lifetime support when you have questions about the dog's health or behavior. He or she should provide a sales contract that includes a clause stating that the breeder will take the dog back at any time in his life if you can't keep him.

If you are buying a "designer dog," a crossbreed such as a Maltipoo, Yorkipoo, puggle or Labradoodle, ask for the same health certifications and warranties that you would if you were buying a purebred. All of this advice applies even if all you plan to do with your dog is walk him around the block every day and sit on the sofa with him and watch TV.

Q&A

3 ways to help

sound-sensitive pets

Q: My dog is really fearful of loud noises, especially thunderstorms and fireworks. Can I do anything to help him be less afraid? -- via Facebook

A: With Independence Day coming up, that's a concern that's on the minds of many pet owners. Extreme sensitivity to sound is a common problem. Up to 20 percent of dogs of all ages and breeds suffer from severe noise phobias. They can become so panicked that they jump through windows and glass doors, tear carpet away from doorways, or dig out of the yard and run away.

Shelters know to expect an influx of lost dogs on July 5 every year. (Cats can develop noise phobias, too, but they are more likely to just hide under the bed until the scary sounds subside.)

Thunder and fireworks are the most common causes of noise phobias, but dogs can also fear gunshots or any unusual sound. Dogs who are prone to anxiety are most likely to develop noise phobias. The following techniques may help your dog learn to remain calm when he hears scary sounds.

-- Expose him to the sounds of thunder or fireworks on CDs. Gradually increase the volume and duration. This can help to reduce the dog's overall level of fear by desensitizing and counterconditioning him to the sounds.

-- Some dogs respond well to dog-appeasing pheromones, which come in collars, sprays and diffusers, and snug-fitting wraps such as Storm Defender Capes and Thundershirts.

-- If your dog has a severe noise phobia, ask your veterinarian about medication to help him remain calm during a storm or a fireworks show in the distance. Medication is a temporary remedy that can be withdrawn once the dog's fear becomes more manageable.

-- Never take your dog to a fireworks show to try to acclimate him to the sound. It's a good way to lose him. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Dogs sporting yellow

may not be mellow

-- Tie a yellow ribbon. Not 'round the old oak tree, but to the leash or collar of your dog if he's aggressive toward other dogs or people, or has special needs, such as being overly excitable or a health problem that makes it uncomfortable for him to be touched. The yellow ribbon shouts caution to others, warning them to give your dog some space and not to approach him unless you give the OK. A yellow leash, bandana or bow serves the same purpose. Whether or not a dog is wearing a yellow ribbon, it's always polite to ask before petting.

-- The ears have it -- cat ears, that is. A cat's hearing is better than that of dogs and people. One of the reasons is because cats can rotate their ears and focus each ear independently, allowing them to hear well from all directions. If your cat stalks out of the room while you're watching TV, it might be a signal that you have the volume up just a little too high for his comfort.

-- People, domestic animals, wildlife and the environment are all served when doctors, veterinarians and scientists work together, a concept known as One Health. To move the initiative forward, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association's One Health Committee is focusing on a number of areas, including control of rabies and other zoonoses (diseases that can be passed between people and animals); research into diseases that affect people, cats and dogs; and the human-animal bond and its significance to health.

In a related effort, the WSAVA Foundation is working to improve the care of companion animals in sub-Saharan Africa, including monitoring infectious and parasitic diseases that affect them, and supporting the education and work of the veterinarians who care for them. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

CAPTIONS AND CREDITS

Caption 01: A picture might be worth a thousand words, but it's only the starting point when purchasing a dog. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: Hear, hear! When it comes to sound, cats can hear four times more frequencies than humans and nearly twice as many as dogs. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 2

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