A guide for choosing a pet

Pet ownership can be an incredibly rewarding experience, enriching the lives of you and your family. But the decision to take on a pet should never be made lightly and is a big responsibility. Ultimately, you want a pet that is happy, healthy and suits your family and lifestyle.

Choosing whether to become a pet owner, and what pet you should get, should never be an impulsive decision. Take your time to think it through as there’s much to consider.

Can you care for a pet its whole life? Can you afford a pet? Do you know how to care for a pet? Is your home environment suited to a pet? Will a pet fit into your lifestyle? Is the pet you’re buying healthy?

Your local vet can provide the help and advice you need – so booking in a time to meet with them is a great first step.

Do you have the time?

Animals need company, exercise/playtime, socialisation and training, so ask yourself whether you have the time and patience for your dog. How much time can you invest in meeting their needs?

Can you care for them?

There are always the basics – food, water, warmth, and shelter. But beyond this there are other aspects of care that are equally important – love and emotional needs, nutrition, exercise, play, and training. Under the Animal Welfare Act, every owner has a duty of care to their pet.

There will be food, training, medicines, and veterinarian fees to pay. As pets age, their health needs are also likely to increase so it’s recommended that you budget for their care taking a lifelong approach (the average age most dogs live is about 12 years, but can be longer).

Consider pet insurance – there are a number of providers to consider and various payment and coverage options.

Do you have the space?

Where is your pet going to live and do you have enough space? If you don’t have much room you might be better off purchasing a smaller dog rather than the big one you had in mind. Is there a park nearby or other suitable walking areas to take your dog for their daily exercise?

Are there any allergies in your family?

Check that no-one in your family is going to be allergic to your dog.

What are your expectations of your pet?

Think about what you want from your pet. Do you want an animal that will curl up on your lap quietly or one that you can take for big walks and expel some energy with? What experiences has the animal had to date in terms of its living situation? Does the environment it’s been in - for example, noisy and busy - match your home environment? Has the puppy been socialised, that is, been around other people and animals? If the dog has lived a very quiet home life you need to carefully introduce it to new experiences so that it isn’t afraid.

Do you want a dog? Once you've decided you are ready for a dog - look to source it in a way that supports animal welfare

In the way that ethics are guiding purchases for food and clothing, the NZVA suggests that prospective owners also consider ethical issues when obtaining a pet dog.

Adopt don’t buy

With large numbers of healthy puppies and dogs unable to find homes, consider adopting a rescue dog and help alleviate the “wastage” that irresponsible breeding and ownership creates.

Don’t support puppy farms – even if you feel sorry for the puppy

Don’t buy from puppy farms, even if you feel sorry for the puppy; more will be bred to replace it. Visit the breeding facility and look carefully at the environment where the puppy is being raised. It should be hygienic and provide the puppy with the opportunity to socialise with people and other animals.

Satisfy yourself that the mating pair selection was made with consideration to the health and wellbeing of the resulting puppies

  • Don’t support breeders who produce puppies with severely exaggerated features that may compromise welfare. If buying a breed that has exaggerated features, choose a breeder who is trying to breed away from extreme features.
  • Ask about the health history of the parents and ask to meet them. Be wary if the parents have needed correctional surgery to enable them to breathe comfortably, correct eyelid issues, or walk normally.
  • Support breeders who are registered with Dogs New Zealand (formally New Zealand Kennel Club) and participate in screening programmes that seek to eliminate inherited disorders. You can see what screening programmes are recommended for each dog breed at Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. Discuss the results of tests performed with your veterinarian before you buy the puppy. It is not enough for a breeder to just participate in the scheme; they must also use the results to inform the suitability of mating the dogs.
  • Avoid buying puppies produced from mating closely related dogs. A puppy from a Dogs New Zealand registered breeder will have a pedigree so this can be checked. There is no way to verify this for a dog without a registered pedigree.

Check out how the breeding bitch has been managed

  • Responsible breeders of pet dogs shouldn’t need more than three litters to produce a daughter who is suitable to carry on the breeding lines. This means that older bitches can be retired from breeding duties and be desexed to avoid uterine infections. You should be concerned if a breeder has bred from one bitch for more than three litters.
  • As the risks of pregnancy complications are related to the age of the bitch, look to obtain puppies from bitches who were mated between one and six years of age.
  • Don’t support breeders who subject their bitches to multiple caesarean sections. No more than one or two are acceptable.

Ensure that the puppy’s health has been well managed

  • A responsible breeder will have had the puppies checked by a veterinarian for any congenital defects or other health issues before they release them to their new owners.
  • The puppies will be on a regular parasite control programme and will have had any vaccinations that are required.
  • The puppies will have been fed adequate amounts of a nutritious diet that meets all their needs so that they are well-grown and in good body condition.
  • Puppies must be weaned and fully self-sufficient and at least eight weeks old before they are released to their new owners. For small breeds, waiting until 10 weeks of age is preferred.

Ensure that the puppy’s behavioural needs have been met

  • Puppies should be socialised with people and other animals from three weeks of age. This markedly improves the puppies' abilities to accept new experiences as they get older and reduces behavioural problems in the long term. Well-socialised dogs reduce the risks of being relinquished by their owners for behavioural problems.
  • Breeders must consider the parents' temperaments and ensure that only dogs with suitable temperaments are used for mating.

Select a breeder who will provide support and follow-up care

A responsible breeder will also be knowledgeable about the breed and the care of new puppies. They will be keen to provide follow-up support and you should receive printed advice about:

  • general care, housing, and management
  • appropriate diet
  • legal responsibilities of animal ownership
  • vaccination, de-sexing, and registration
  • Registered Dogs New Zealand breeders operate under a code of ethics, which requires them to provide follow-up support. If you source your puppy from a Dogs New Zealand registered breeder you will be able to access their canine health and welfare officer to mediate if problems arise.

More information

In the UK, the British Veterinary Association and the RSPCA jointly developed resources to make it clear what the responsibilities are of both buyers and sellers in relation to a puppy’s health and welfare. There is an excellent section with 40+ questions you can ask to make a fully informed decision about your puppy and to help you care for it. Find this information here and here.

First health checks for your pet

Book an appointment with your veterinarian for your pet's first check up. Find out what to expect at this visit here.

Seriously consider pet insurance

The NZVA strongly recommends that pet owners consider pet insurance. Please note that some insurance companies may charge more in insurance premiums, or not cover certain breeds, in relation to inherited disorders.

New Zealand Companion Animal Register

The NZVA and its special interest branch, the Companion Animal Veterinarians, have teamed up with other agencies to create a microchip-based national register that enables animal owners to locate lost (or found) animals - whatever their species. Find out more at www.animalregister.co.nz.