DSC08988On Sunday we went to the breeder of the Maine Coon kitten we are having, to choose the one we wanted. As you can understand, I’m sure, this was a pretty exciting day. When we walked in and the kittens looked like this, it was even harder.

Although it’s bound to be exciting, it can be pretty daunting to decide on an animal you are going to spend many (hopefully happy) years with.

The first thing to think about is whether your chosen pet is going to fit into your lifestyle. I would love a dog, but I work full time and really don’t feel I could spend enough time with it to make life fun for it. Think about the time and space you can commit to a pet and how it will fit in the with rest of the people and pets you share your home with.

A friend lodges with a couple who have just bought a Doberman puppy. They both work full time and this young active dog ends up spending most of its time in an indoor kennel in the kitchen – this is not fair on the puppy, or the lodgers, who end up cleaning him out and amusing him most of the time.

Having decided on an animal and a breed you might like, spend a bit of time finding out about it. Many pedigree breeds are prone to inherited problems. Some of these can be reduced by good breeding, e.g. hip dysplasia in large breed dogs, so find out if there is a scheme within the breed to eradicate these problems. Moggies and mongrels tend to be free of may inherited problems as they have a wider gene pool.

I know that Maine Coons (Giacomo’s breed) suffer from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (a heart condition causing thickening of the muscle of the heart) and hip dysplasia (a malformation of the hip joints). His father has been screened clear of cardiomyopathy and I can monitor any signs of both diseases by making sure he has regular check ups. Pedigree cats are also in danger of catching FIP (feline infectious peritonitis, a horrible and often fatal disease) in breeding colonies, but breeders can take special steps of avoid this, which his breeder has done.

Once you have decided on a breed, or you know someone who has moggies or mongrel dogs you are interested in, arrange to go and see the litter. You should also take the chance to meet at least the mother, and if possible the father. In cats, the friendliness of the kittens comes mainly from the father, not the mother, so meet the stud if at all possible (obviously if no one knows who dad was, you can’t do this).

When you get to the breeder, have a good look round and ask lots of questions. Have the puppies or kittens been in the house, or do they live in a kennel outside? How much contact have they had with people? Have they been handled regularly? Are they used to being groomed? Have they met children and other animals?

It is very important to socialise puppies and kittens well in their early life (up to 10 weeks in cats, up to 14 weeks in dogs). Anything that they meet in this early period, they will take in their stride, things they meet later, they will assume are scary and may take a lot of convincing otherwise. For this reason you want puppies and kittens which familiar with all sorts of different people and household events and have been handled regularly.

Sadly, many dogs are still bred by puppy farmers and are kept in outbuildings for these vital first weeks of life. This means that the puppy you get is nervous of virtually everything he comes across. These are often the dogs who develop behavioural problems and aggression in later life and many are put down because of it.

When you get to see the litter, stay calm and quiet and let the puppies and kittens approach you. Temperament wise, you are looking for an outgoing puppy or kitten- one which is not too boisterous, but not the one that hangs back and won’t approach. You want one of the litter who is somewhere in the middle.

Do not pick the runt, or the smallest one because you feel sorry for it. You want a healthy, happy animal which will enjoy life with you, not one who may be prone to problems.

Look around for signs of sickness or diarrhoea – if so avoid these animals. All the litter should be about the same size and should be well covered in flesh – not too fat or too thin. Check the following

  • eyes – should be bright and clear with no discharge
  • ears – clean with no matting or brown wax (this can be a sign of ear mites)
  • coat – the coat should be clean and not matted, with no sign of black dirt, fleas or scurf, which can be a sign of mites. There should be no bald patches (although sometimes you will get little grazes from puppies and kittens playing together)
  • abdomen – their tummy should not be bloated as this can be a sign of worms
  • walking – watch them walk and play. There should be no sign of lameness or pain

DSC08993_2If all the puppies and kittens are healthy, then it’s a matter of personal choice. There were two kittens which we were tempted by in this litter and in the end, Ian chose the one he preferred. And here he is – Giacomo. We can take him home in two weeks, when he has had his second vaccination.

Before you take your puppy or kitten home, remember to ask

  • When were they wormed, how often and what with?
  • Have they been vaccinated (you should be given a certificate to prove this)
  • What are they used to being fed? (most breeders will send you home with some food. Feed them on this for the next few days, then change it gradually to a good quality food (we use Hills)
  • Have they been flea treated and if so, what with?
  • What sort of litter are the kittens used to (make sure you start them off on the same one)

Arrange a check up with your vet as soon as possible, to ensure that they are healthy and that there are no unpleasant surprises you should know about. Also arrange a lifetime cover insurance policy for them. This can be set up before you actually collect the puppy or kitten so that they are covered as soon as you get them.

take them home and enjoy them. Puppies and kittens are great fun and a pleasure to spend time with. My tip; be prepared for all the hours you’ll waste, just watching them!