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Thinking of Buying a Pet?

Animal Concern Advice Line is here to help you on any animal issues by providing you with animal friendly advice and guidance on everything from aquaculture to zoos.

Our first bit of advice is to help you do the best thing for your companion animals.

Consider our advice before taking on a new pet. The decisions you take before bringing an animal into your home might be the most important choices you make.

I dread one of the frequently asked questions which regularly crops up on the Animal Concern Advice Line.  That question is: “Can you tell me where I can get a wee puppy or a baby kitten?”

If the caller has not even decided between a puppy or kitten it is obvious that not enough thought has been given to the idea of taking on a pet.

Sadly people do still obtain pets on impulse. Unlike a new sweater or a jacket which you later decide is not really you, a puppy or kitten cannot be dumped at the back of the wardrobe. Pets really are for life and not just for Christmas or for a birthday.

Do you (or the person you are buying the animal for) really want to care for a dog or cat for the next 12 to 20 years? Remember if you buy a pet for one of your children you are very likely to take over the pet caring role within a few weeks (or days!)

Are you living in a suitable property where pets are allowed and are you in a stable relationship? We frequently hear from people who have taken on pets despite their tenancy agreements forbidding the keeping of animals. Others take on pets when their own relationships are in turmoil. Homeless units and refuges do not take in pets. Remember dogs don't use litter trays so if you live in a flat without a garden you must be able to walk your pet to a PPP (Poos Permitted Place) at least twice a day, even if you're not feeling very well yourself.

Will the animal be properly cared for? A dog needs at least one good walk a day - every day, in all weather - and will need your company and some playtime throughout the day. A cat is more independent but you still need to spend time with it or it will become half wild.

Can you afford a dog or cat? If it comes from a rescue centre expect to pay from £40 to £100 for an animal. From a breeder prepare to part with £250 to £500+. In the first year expect to pay around £150 to £250 in essential veterinary treatments such as vaccinations, worming, flea/tick treatments and neutering your pet. It is also advisable to take out pet insurance for emergency treatments and third party liability - that’s another £100 to £150 a year. If your dog was in an accident could you find say £750 to £1,500 to pay an emergency vets bill? It is a criminal offence to fail or delay in getting your pet necessary veterinary treatment - you could be fined and/or go to jail.

Remember comparatively few people have access to or are eligible for subsidised veterinary treatment for their pets. Those who can get help from charities are very unlikely to get help with standard treatments and vaccinations. In addition you will pay out around £250 to feed your pet and buy it food dishes, a bed-box and the odd treat or toy. If you board your pet for a fortnight while you are on holiday, budget to pay £90 to £170 for that. So far, without any emergencies, we are at a top figure of over £1400 in routine pet costs for just the first year.

How much do you value your home fittings and furniture? Even the best puppy or kitten will have little accidents (causing smell, mess and staining). They will also go through scratching and chewing stages where furniture, carpets, wallpaper and woodwork will all be targeted.  Some people buy indoor kennels (metal cages costing hundreds of pounds) but these can be cruel and should not become a permanent fixture. I once had a very well behaved pup who still managed to destroy two pairs of new shoes, a mobile phone and a pair of very expensive vari-focal spectacles. I have twice helped re-home dogs for people who left them at home while they were at work and returned to find the animals had literally chewed through utility room doors and then caused havoc in the rest of the house. Your pet and home insurance is very unlikely to cover you for damage done by your own pet to your own property.

If, after reading all of the above, you are still sure the new pet is wanted and will be properly cared for over the whole of its life then please read on!

The best place to obtain a puppy or kitten (or better still an adult dog or cat) is from a rescue centre. You will find rescue centres via our website links page or by contacting your local Council Environmental Health Department or through your local library. Always ask why the animal is in the rescue centre. You do not want to take home a dog that chases sheep if you live next to a farm.

There are rescue organisations for most breeds of dogs. If you are interested in a specific breed check to see if there is a breed rescue group in your area. Details can be obtained by phoning us on 01389 841 111 or The Kennel Club on 0870-6066750.

We advise against buying pups or kittens from pet shops. Even the very best shop cannot really take proper care of dogs and cats.

If you do buy from a breeder please do not buy from someone involved in puppy farming or dealing. Do not buy from anyone offering multiple breeds. Do not buy unless you can see the puppy with its mother. Never allow anyone to deliver an animal to you. Go and see where it was bred so you can determine if it has been raised in clean and sociable conditions. Do not sit in the lounge of a farmhouse or cottage and let someone bring in one or two puppies for you to see. Insist on seeing exactly where the pup was born and is being weaned. There might be a filthy puppy factory farm operating out the back.

Remember, in addition to any other paperwork, get a receipt for any money you pay for your new pet.

It is now illegal to dock the tails of dogs in Scotland. If someone is selling puppies which have had their tails chopped off please let us know.

Every year we get numerous calls from people who have bought weak and sickly puppies from breeders and dealers. The new owners have parted with perhaps £500 for their new pet and then have run up thousands in vets bills in unsuccessful attempts to save the poor creature.

No matter where you obtain your new pet from the first port of call is the vet. You must have the animal fully checked out. Check also to see if any Insurance Cover notes issued by breeders are worth the paper they are written on.

Depending on where you live, if you are on Housing or Council Tax benefit, check with the PDSA to see if they can help with veterinary treatment. Phone them on 0800-731-2502 during office hours. Do it before your pet falls ill as you may well have to pre-register your pet with one of their PetAid practices in order to be eligible for free treatment.

Cats and dogs are still the most popular pets in the UK but more exotic critters also find their ways into our homes.

We strongly advise against keeping animals other than dogs and cats as pets. Even small furries like hamsters, mice, rats and rabbits can only be provided with a minimal habitat. True, many have been bred in captivity for generations but you can still only offer them a fairly basic existence. If you still want to keep a furry get yourself a book on how to care for the species and read it thoroughly before taking it any further. Remember that, like cats and dogs, all pets will cause you some expense to provide for their needs.

If you are sure that you can offer the animal a good home with the best, most stimulating environment you can provide, then please check out rescue centres before buying from a breeder or a pet shop.

If you really want a rabbit and know how to care for them then contact your nearest animal rescue centre as most are inundated with unwanted rabbits abandoned by owners who did not appreciate the responsibilities, commitment and expense involved.

If you do buy small furries you should, as you should with all new pets, take them along to the vet and have them checked out and, if necessary neutered. While writing this I have taken a call from a woman who did not do this when she bought her son two hamsters. She now has 11 hamsters including 9 six week old youngsters. So far I have been unable to find a sanctuary able to take them in.

If you intend keeping fish or birds please learn about the needs of the creatures, decide if you can properly provide for those needs, and then check out rescue centres before going to pet shops or breeders. Personally I think birds and fish should be flying and swimming free in their own habitat instead of being imprisoned in a cage or tank in a corner of our environment.

The biggest problems occur when people are tempted to take on truly exotic creatures. Unless you are already an expert with plenty of knowledge, space and money do not even consider obtaining parrots, primates, amphibians or reptiles. Many of these creatures are taken from the wild and, for every one you see in the pet shop 10, 20 or a 100 will have died during capture and transport.

We had to find a new home for a python which killed a Glasgow woman’s pet dog and then tried to kill her. A couple of years later she bought an iguana which she did not know how to care for. It started absorbing its own skeleton because she was feeding it the wrong diet. We had to find a home for that too.

There are thousands of soup plate sized terrapins languishing in tiny tanks up and down the country. The tanks were fine when the terrapins were sold as 50p sized mutant turtles by unscrupulous dealers out to make a quick buck. Terrapins, lizards and snakes carry strains of salmonella which can be lethal to people.

Another recent pet fad was for tarantula spiders. Those selling them did not publicise the fact that they can shoot barbed hairs from their legs. These can irritate and even blind you.

In 2004 an Edinburgh man was fined for trying to sell an illegally obtained four foot long alligator out of his car boot. At least two small monkeys are languishing in little cages in Scottish pet shops – the owners could not sell them and now cannot bear to part with them – the creatures should never have been in this country in the first place.

If you really want an exotic pet – get a rescued moggy and call it Tiger.

I hope the above information has been of use to you. If you have any further queries do not hesitate to write or phone. If we have been able to help you why not consider helping us – our charity relies on donations from people like you.