Standards of Care for Dog Breeders & Sellers Expert Article

The standard of medical care for new puppies includes a series of medical evaluations and a few rounds of preventative care. While these may be missing from animals purchased through so-called “puppy mills,” puppies acquired from qualified breeders, rescue organizations, or local shelters reliably comply with these minimum standards.

In this article, the veterinary experts at Robson Forensic discuss the ways in which failure to comply with these minimum standards of medical care can lead to the often-fatal spread of infectious diseases in animals.

Standards of Care for Dog Breeders & Sellers - Infectious Diseases in Small Animals since COVID-19

Infectious Diseases in Small Animal Medicine Since COVID-19

Wellness and preventative care typically involve serial physical examinations, multiple vaccines against the most common puppy viruses, rabies vaccination, and routine de-worming treatment. These protocols are often initiated before puppies are acquired by families.

However, the reliable infrastructure for obtaining and caring for puppies was severely diminished by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic started, many traditional sources for new pets were forced to close. Likewise, many establishments providing routine preventative care, including veterinarians, vaccine clinics, and mobile or low-cost providers were also forced to close. 

Despite the reduction in industry resources, as the pandemic continued, many people sought out new pets. With reduced access to traditional and established sources for purchasing animals, some people turned to purchasing pets online. As a result of increased demand and reduced supply, an underground network of “Craigslist Puppies” rapidly flooded the market.

Often, puppies obtained from these online or underground sources were bred without regard to industry standards or the welfare of the animals. Breeding dogs were often not held to generally accepted criteria, and many of the animals used for breeding more likely than not lacked preventative and wellness care. 

The offspring were then sold, without regard to standard weaning practices, to owners lacking the support normally provided by veterinarians and other animal care providers. This meant that the puppies also lacked the veterinary services needed in the first few months of pet ownership. 

The net result in the veterinary clinics and emergency hospitals was a marked increase in the number of puppies being diagnosed with infectious illnesses that could have been prevented had reasonable care been provided.

Parvovirus Infections

The most striking example of surging preventable illness involved parvovirus infections. Parvovirus is a highly contagious, easily transmissible disease that commonly infects young and improperly vaccinated dogs. The virus itself can survive in the environment for extended periods of time. 

Parvovirus is one of the routine inoculations included for new puppies and is nearly 100% effective when administered properly. During the pandemic, many inexperienced or unqualified breeders faced parvo outbreaks within their breeding populations.

Because the parvovirus can incubate for over a week prior to symptoms developing, puppies typically appeared healthy at the time of sale and then became gravely ill a few days after getting to their new home. The virus leaves the puppy unable to eat or drink, and at a higher risk of dying from dehydration. These risks are greatest in very small and/or young animals. In many instances, puppy owners had few options for care other than emergency hospitals.

Treatment of parvovirus in an emergency hospital is lengthy and intensive, and infection in many cases may have been avoidable if breeding, weaning, and sale conditions had been closely aligned with industry standards. Data indicates the parvovirus outbreak became so severe in some locations that a disease once considered 90% treatable with appropriate care, dropped to closer to 50% in these populations. 

Preventable Diseases in Dogs & Cats

Parvovirus is only one striking example of how infectious diseases among companion animals have been affected by the pandemic. 

Other preventable diseases that have seen a resurgence since COVID-19 include:

  • Canine distemper (near 100% fatality rate)
  • Canine influenza
  • Leptospirosis
  • Feline panleukopenia (also a parvovirus)
  • Feline infectious peritonitis 

In many instances, these hazardous health conditions were also treated at emergency clinics, which led to a greater risk of outbreaks of these infectious diseases in densely populated veterinary clinics.

Small Animal Breeding & Sale Expert Investigations

Animal breeding operations can materialize in a variety of legal disputes. A lack of biosecurity can result in the spread of disease to other animals and potentially humans. Complaints against veterinarians and vet malpractice suits can arise as providers scramble to treat medically neglected animals. Additionally, breeders and sellers may face steep fines or criminal charges stemming from real or perceived cases of fraud, abuse, or neglect.

The veterinary experts at Robson Forensic have the experience and background to assist with plaintiff or defendant investigations involving the breeding or sale of companion animals, the transmission of infectious diseases, evaluating the standard of care for preventative or emergent medical protocols, as well as any other concern related to working or companion animals. 

To discuss your case with an expert, submit an inquiry or call us at 800.813.6736.

Featured Experts

McGee Leonard, Veterinary Expert

McGee Leonard, DVM, DACVECC

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Dr. McGee Leonard is a board-certified specialist in veterinary emergency and critical care medicine with a decade of professional experience in veterinary science and practice. Dr. Leonard applies… read more.
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