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The Sad Story Behind the Soaring Cost of Sickly Pups

31/08/2015 20:52 BST | Updated 31/08/2016 10:59 BST

Bringing a puppy into your home should be one of the most exciting times but sadly, for too many people, it turns into a living nightmare.

We hear, time and again, about adorable puppies getting sick and ill not long after entering their new homes, costing their owner lots of money and heartache too.

The sad thing is this is not entirely surprising when you consider how people are buying their puppies and how little they actually know about the critical early weeks of their life.

Our research for Puppy Awareness Week, taking place from 1-7 September, shows that a shocking one in ten people buy their pup online, without seeing the puppy before they buy and 15% continue to buy from pet shops.

This is shocking because one of the first rules of buying a puppy is always to see the pup in its home environment and interacting with its mum. You should ask to see where the puppy has been whelped and reared - rather than finding closed doors and hidden outdoor areas where unsavoury breeding pens might be lurking. Instead, 36% of people don't see mum and 61% don't see the home environment.

If you don't get this right, how can you know where your pup has originated from? The sad truth is that too many have been churned out from puppy farms, not only from the UK but also abroad (the pups are cruelly transported and smuggled over the borders when they are only a few weeks old). These puppy farmers are only too happy to fill our insatiable demand for puppies. One in four people in the UK think that their puppy originated on a puppy farm.

What is so wrong with the conditions on these so called puppy farms, which can after all, conjure up images of idyllic pastures and a rural idyll? Puppies on puppy farms are often kept in unsanitary, dark and crowded conditions, as they are churned out from breeding bitches, who are then disposed of when they are no longer of use. In other cases they may simply be badly bred in somebody's home. But one common factor unites all so called puppy farms, which is that every corner will have been cut to the detriment of your pup's health and welfare, in the name of chasing an extra pound.

Typically, no effort will have been taken to give the pups the worming or inoculations they require. Common problems that come about as a result include worms, fleas and skin conditions, gastro intestinal problems and the potentially deadly parvovirus. Furthermore, many of these pups will be more likely to get problems later in life as the parents will not have been health tested for potential genetic conditions, before they were selected for breeding - and this applies just as much for crossbreed as it does for purebred puppies. Puppy farmed pups are also much more likely to have severe behaviour problems because they were not socialised in the impressionable and critical early weeks of life.

It is hardly surprising that our research shows that one fifth of pups purchased online, without being seen by their new owner first, ended up with serious gastro intestinal problems, 15% with the potentially deadly parvovirus and one in 10 developed kennel cough. Furthermore, of the 15% of pups bought from pet shops, almost one in five end up with the potentially deadly parvovirus.

So what should you do when buying a puppy? First and foremost remember to see the pup with its mum and in its home environment, and be prepared to be asked lots of questions, as a good sign that the breeder cares about their pups and their new home. You should get a contract of sale, the relevant health certificates for your pup's parents, and your pup should be microchipped (this will be a legal requirement from April 2016). The Kennel Club has a film showing the dos and don'ts of buying a puppy.

If you go to a Kennel Club Assured Breeder you do not need to remember the whole check list, as the checks have been done for you. This is the only scheme in the country (aside from the local authority licensing system which only applies to those who breed five or more litters a year and which is criticised for its 'patchiness'), where dog breeders have to follow rules for responsible breeding which include carrying out the relevant health tests and ensuring their pups are socialised and well cared for and where breeders are inspected. The Kennel Club has UKAS accreditation to carry out these inspections meaning they are done in a robust and consistent way. People should also look into whether rescuing a pup is a good route for them. The Kennel Club website lists specialist breed rescue organisations across the country.

For more information on buying a puppy responsibly visit www.thekennenclub.org.uk/paw

For the dos and don'ts of buying a puppy watch here