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What is a puppy mill and why are they dangerous?

By Emerald Life

Thinking of getting a puppy this autumn/winter? And you have the space and time to deal with a little bundle of fun? That’s great news. Here at Emerald Life, one of the reasons we offer pet insurance is that we love pets (Our office dogs Calvin and Jasper would definitely agree!). 

Another day, another dog treat...

We were recently speaking to a friend who bought a miniature schnauzer about six months ago. He did all the checks, but the puppy has been very ill. It turns out that the puppy came from a puppy mill. Our friends are devastated, as they did all the checks they could. Puppy mills are illegal and now the police are involved, but in the meantime there’s a little puppy fighting for its life. Signs are hopeful, but it reminded us that people often aren’t aware as they could be about puppy mills and the dangers there.

A puppy mill is an illegal puppy farm. Breeding bitches are overbred or interbred, which can result in behavioural or genetic issues (proper breeders will have full records of a dog’s family tree, particularly in less popular breeds, to prevent interbreeding). Also, conditions for the mothers and the puppies can often be disgusting, with no cleaning and no access to exercise or even light. Once they’ve been handed over to their new owners, many puppy mill puppies come down with ‘mill fever’, a specific set of conditions that show a vet that a puppy has had a very poor upbringing. 

So how do I tell if a puppy is from a puppy farm?

There’s no way to be 100% certain. Our friends did all the checks but it turns out that all the paperwork was forged from further up the chain, so ultimately no-one knew where their puppy was from. But there are some indicators which we’ve set out below. 

When you first talk

How does the breeder sound? We often forget the instincts that animals (ironically, such as dogs) have – and which humans share. Does the breeder sound suspicious?

Also, even bigger breeders will have a limited number of puppies, and they will go quickly once announced if the breeders has a good reputation. A waiting list is a good sign. Immediately-available puppies of more than two or three breeds is a very bad sign – it looks as if the breeder is sourcing puppies from a more industrial enterprise.

Strange location

Don’t be surprised to see a big building with breeding mothers and puppies. That doesn’t make it a puppy farm; it’s just a business after all. But kennels should be clean. The mothers may be shy (to be expected) but shouldn’t look permanently scared. And the breeder should be happy to have you stroll around. If they suggest meeting somewhere other than the kennels, that’s a big red light.

The boring paperwork

There’s more to collect when buying a puppy then an incontinent ball of fluff. There may not be a pedigree, but there should certainly be vaccination certificates. You should not be picking up a puppy younger than eight weeks, and without its first jabs. Good breeders will also have an agreement that sets out what they’ve done for the money, what your obligations are, but also hopefully the ability to bring the dog back if you just can’t get on caring for a puppy. You likely won’t get all your money back, but it shows the breeder cares rather than the puppy going to a dog shelter or disposed of in some other way.

Puppies look and smell like puppies…

Puppy mill pups often have poor coats or poor teeth. How do they walk? We all know puppies have that adorable stumble run, but do they look like this is the first time they’ve walked far? And they shouldn’t smell of kennels or poo. 

The first golden rule

The first golden rule is simple though – if you feel suspicious about the puppy, don’t buy it. Instead, ring the RSPCA and let them know. It may be that the sellers are already known to them and we all want to stamp out this illegal and cruel practice.

The second golden rule

And of course if you are thinking of getting a puppy then you will want to make sure that you have the ability to look after it should it fall ill. That means insurance.

Check out our EmeraldPet insurance - in many cases we are much cheaper than some major brands, and we might even send you a picture of Calvin and Jasper!

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