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Why puppy farms are an issue

Over the last 18 months I’ve seen an increasing number of puppies presenting for their first wellness check. This should be an exciting time for new puppy carers, but sadly, too many are already unwell, due to stress, illness and poor socialisation. I’ve had to treat pups for resistant giardia infections. I’ve seen demodex mites, persistent vomiting, diarrhoea and early onset food sensitivity, anxiety and significant behaviour problems, kennel cough resistant to treatment, hip dysplasia and painful luxating patellas.

So is it my imagination, or are more puppies poorly bred in an inadequate environment? Unfortunately, it’s probably the latter. Maybe COVID has created an increased demand for puppies, and part of the problem may be the need for instant gratification. This drives commercial breeding practices, where the dogs (and cats) are a commodity rather than a beloved companion animal.

Puppy farm problems

Puppy farms are intensive breeding commercial businesses. Although in Victoria and Queensland there is legislation to try to limit puppy farms, NSW has yet to amend the Companion Animals Act. Currently there are no limits to the number of breeding dogs in breeding establishments, or guidelines for the space and environment they live in. No requirement for appropriate attention, socialisation and exercise. There’s no mandate for veterinary checks for puppies or adult dogs, both as regular health checks and for veterinary attention if they are injured or unwell. There’s no enforcement of important breeding practices, including screening for health conditions that will impact the quality of life and longevity and be costly for future owners.

Puppies born in these conditions, usually with poor sanitation and ventilation and little socialisation, are rehomed stressed and depleted. Older dogs that can no longer breed may never be able to be rehomed, due to ill health and lack of human companionship. The ex-breeding female dogs I’ve met are usually fearful, and many cannot even cope with a walk outside. Most have severe dental disease.

The RSPCA has some guidelines to help prospective puppy owners make more educated purchasing choices. They also point out that not all poorly run breeding establishments are large-scale, and some small backyard breeders are also inadequate. Sometimes it’s hard to know if your puppy has come from a farm or not, and internet advertising, as well as recent social distancing restrictions, have limited the option of visiting the breeder in person.

Helping the puppies

There are some general strategies that can help reduce the stress and improve the health for new puppies.

I usually try to move pups over two weeks old from a processed dry or wet puppy diet to a cooked diet suited to their growth and expected size. For stressed depleted pups, I prefer to avoid raw food for at least two months. The diet may need to be formulated by a specialist veterinary nutritionist, or a holistic vet experienced formulating diets for growth. These puppies are supported with a good-quality broad-spectrum probiotic suited to dogs.

Intestinal worms are best treated conventionally. I find these pups don’t have the immune system to respond to natural dewormers. Fleas should also be removed, and may require at least one short-acting conventional flea treatment. Puppies with giardia infection will probably need a course of fenbendazole. They also receive a gut support supplement, and an appropriate Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbal formula, with added ginger and cinnamon. Appropriate hygiene at home will reduce reinfection.

Reishi mushroom has numerous benefits for debilitated pups, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, antimicrobial effects and immune modulation. It can also be used for prebiotic and biome support. Ashwagandha (withania) is an adaptogen and can be used to help reduce the impact of chronic stress. In TCM, astragalus is a qi tonic and is particularly useful for pups with chronic respiratory disease. Milk thistle is used for liver support.

At home, stress is reduced with Rescue Remedy Pets, or Calm & Clear Essence (from Australian Bush Flower Essences) as a spritz spayed on hands and massaged through their coat. Touch massage or other calming slow massage can be tried. When they are older, many of these young dogs will benefit from one-on-one training with a positive trainer, to find strategies to manage any anxiety or phobias.

For pups with more serious health conditions, an integrative approach is needed. Those with liver shunts often require medical treatment to prevent hepatic encephalopathy, and low-protein diets (a homemade diet formulated by a vet nutritionist will be more palatable than prescription diets). We add in liver-supporting herbs and vitamins, and if required support to prepare for surgery. For the French Bulldogs with spinal malformations, weight control, home massage and exercise management, acupuncture and cold laser therapy (photobiomodulation) will improve their mobility and quality of life. Dogs with brachycephalic airway syndrome, including French Bulldog pups or Pugs, may require airway surgery, which is best done by a specialist surgeon.

These depleted stressed pups from puppy farms require additional care and financial investment. As we help them to have the best start they can, we need to consider strategies for changing the commercial pressure leading to so many sick pups and the welfare of breeding dogs. Political pressure and carefully considering the sourcing of your next pup will help. The RSPCA has guidelines, and the Animal Justice Party has resources for applying political pressure.

NB: We do see occasional congenital birth problems and illness in pups from good breeding establishments, but these organisations are usually actively addressing these problems. For more information on puppy farms in Australia see the RSPCA, the Australian Veterinary Association and the Animal Justice Party.

Karen Goldrick

Karen Goldrick

Karen Goldrick is a holistic veterinarian at All Natural Vet Care, Russell Lea, Sydney, Australia.

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