The patient that inspired this article is a cute teacup Yorkie named Samantha with a host of health and behavioral problems. Working with her is heartbreaking because she is suffering physically and behaviorally. Everything about her pulls you to save her and help her. I explain to her owner that a big part of what is going on physically and behaviorally is due to poor breeding. This puppy was purchased from a pet store instead of from a reputable breeder. Therein lies the problem.
My client says what I have heard many times before—that she wanted to save this puppy. She did save her, but the consequence was that she opened the door for a another puppy to suffer. She sees one pup who needs help, but I see the thousands of pups who are ready to fill that one’s spot. That puppy will suffer as will her owners. I know that this seems harsh, but it is reality. If there were no spaces for more pups and if we didn’t purchase from pet stores, they would be shut down. If there was no way to make money, the pet stores would close. Plain and simple.
This client was told that the pet store only purchases from reputable breeders who breed for form, health and temperament. Just spending time with Samantha proves that statement to be untrue. She has luxating patellas (kneecaps which do not stay in place), a liver shunt (a life threatening disease), separation anxiety, generalized anxiety and storm phobia. I wish that I could say that Samantha’s case is rare, but it is not.
Remember this statement: Reputable breeders don’t send their pups to pet stores, ever. Period. A reputable breeder would rather keep the entire litter herself and live her life with 8 teacup Yorkies than give even one up to someone else for sale to a third party. If you would like to know what makes a good breeder, click here.
Aside from breeding, there are problems in the handling and behavioral development of the puppies that are purchased from pet stores. In order for puppies to be in the pet store at a cute age, they have to be taken from the litter prior to 8 weeks. This means that they have to be separated from the litter and transported by road or air to the store. Can you imagine putting your infant on a truck or plane from Nebraska to Florida? That is what many of these puppies go through to get to the pet store. Puppies from different litters or different breeders are often transported together facilitating the spread of disease. Young pups have underdeveloped immune systems to begin with. The early separation, handling and transportation are stressful causing the immune system to become suppressed making them more susceptible to infectious diseases like Bordetella bronchiseptica (one of the key diseases in Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease), Giardiasis and other types of infectious diarrhea, and canine distemper. As in Samantha’s case, many pet store pups spend the first 2 weeks after adoption hospitalized for pneumonia.
The behavioral reason that separation from the litter at an early age is so important is that there is a sensitive period for socialization to other dogs which occurs between 3 and 8 weeks of age. If dogs are separated from the litter before they should be, they can become afraid of other dogs. Small dogs often present with reactivity to other dogs partially because they weren’t well socialized prior to 8 weeks with other dogs.
Once the puppy is in the store, she will most likely be kept in a baby pool or crib. Some stores still keep them in cages. The pups in cages fare the worst because they don’t get any socialization. Remember that the socialization period (3-14 weeks) is a time when a small amount of interaction can cause a big impact. It is also a time when no interaction can cause a big impact in a negative way. Really, there is no way to do this well. If the pup is fearful and shows that body language to a potential purchaser, it will probably go unnoticed. If the pup is in a baby pool, the purchaser will pick the puppy up which will further teach the puppy that people don’t pay attention to body language very well. This type of learning can potentially cause the puppy to bypass appropriate fearful body language signals in the future and go right to bigger displays such as barking or growling. If the pup is in a cage, she gets no exposure at all which often results in a very fearful puppy.
Another factor is the exposure to crates and walking outside which is lacking in most puppy stores. If pups are exposed to crates in a positive way before 14 weeks, they will be more likely to accept this type of confinement later. If not, they can be more likely to be afraid of the crate causing them to panic when the door is closed. This can be horrific for owners as they try to housetrain their new pups. Pups begin to develop preferences for a certain substrate somewhere around 6 weeks. Well, if the pup is never walked outside and only urinates or defecates inside on a soft substrate until she adopted at 10 weeks old, it is easy to see how she would be confused when the owner tries to teach her to urinate outside. She has developed a preference for inside on paper so that is what she chooses naturally.
I am not saying that puppies adopted from pet stores don’t deserve the same love, respect and right to a good home as pups adopted from a breeder. I am saying that these pups will most often suffer and the ones that come after them will as well.
No, it is not OK to purchase a puppy from a pet store. Go to a good breeder or visit your local shelter or rescue organization. Remember the ones that will come after that puppy and as the song goes “walk on by.“