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Covid puppies phenomenon with vet Dr Anne Quain

While the impacts of Covid-19 have been devastating for many businesses and individuals, it has been a boom for the pet industry and rescue organisations.  During lockdown in 2020, national charity, PetRescue experienced a huge surge in pet adoptions and enquiries via their website.  Some animal shelters even had a short period when they had no pets waiting for a home.  Puppy breeders were also big winners last year when the demand for puppies increased because families were stuck at home more due to government-imposed restrictions.  We chat with Dr Anne Quain, animal welfare veterinarian, author, and Rescue Awards Judge to ask her about the covid puppies phenomenon from a veterinarian’s perspective.  Dr Anne Quain has her own blog, Small Animal Talk.

Q1: As a veterinarian, did you see an increase in puppies at the vet clinic during the pandemic restrictions, has this covid puppies trend continued into 2021?  

Dr Anne Quain: There has been a huge increase in the adoption of puppies since the advent of the pandemic. I have not formally kept track of numbers but I would say the increase has been 25-40%. When I look at published figures from the US, it seems that the number of vet visits, in general, has increased in some clinics by 30-40%, and SOME of those are new puppies. My impression that the adoption of kittens has been steady.

I think there are a few drivers of these adoptions. First, the inability to travel has meant people who were always thinking they would get a dog “one day” and delayed this til after they travelled have decided to get a dog. Secondly, people working from home find they have more time to settle in and bond with a new puppy and do all of those things like toilet training which can be easier if animals are not left alone for extended periods. Third, initiatives like job keeper have meant people have had funds to adopt an animal and pay for vet bills.

I think COVID-19 has been positive for dogs. I see people really spending time with their animals, bonding, and investing in their care. I don’t get the impression that most puppy owners will simply dump their puppies when they return to work.

 Q2: What health or behavioural or other puppy concerns have you seen last year until now if any?

Unfortunately, the massive increase in demand has led to a surge in backyard breeders, inexperienced breeders, and people seeking to take advantage of increased demand. They are charging large amounts of money – 5, 10, 15 thousand dollars – for puppies that are often unhealthy. An example would be French bulldogs with extreme brachycephalic features who will have lifelong problems due to airway and other diseases.  I’ve also seen inexperienced breeders begin breeding “oodle” dogs, and some of these puppies are extremely poorly socialised.

I actively refer new puppy owners to puppy preschools and reputable trainers, but some of these animals have severe behaviour problems. And some buyers are so set on buying a dog that meets their aesthetic criteria that they overlook red flags, like aggression.

Q3:  I’ve heard families were paying upwards of $5,000 for a purebred puppy when the covid puppies demand increased during 2020, is this the case?  

You have heard correctly, unfortunately, and I believe puppy farms are being rewarded for some appalling and frankly unacceptable practices. They’ve also been hiding behind COVID-19 as a reason for people not to come and meet the parents and meet the puppies on their premises.

Q4: What advice would you give a family looking to buy a puppy from a breeder and avoid?

I would contact breeders or rescue organisations directly, and where possible visit in person. Meet the puppy’s parents, see the conditions the animals are raised in. If you cannot do this because of restrictions, Face time and ask if you can have a consultation with their vet.

Check that the breeder is registered.

All puppies should be microchipped and have at least their first vaccination, and paperwork proving such should be available when you meet or collect the puppy – too often I hear “the papers are in the mail”, yet they never arrive.

Once you purchase a puppy, have your regular vet perform a check-up within 48-72 hours.

Living with a dog is a source of incredible joy, so we owe it to both those dogs and ourselves to ensure they have a healthy start in life. Doing your homework ensures that the hard work of reputable rescue organisations is rewarded and that your dollar doesn’t fund poor animal welfare.

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Choose your puppy wisely. Download our Fact sheet on the questions to ask a puppy breeder.