Thinking of brightening up Lockdown 3.0 with a puppy? Perhaps read this first.

Bloody hell, yes I think we are all glad to be seeing the tail end of this car crash of a year. Such a shame about Christmas, isn’t it? We were SO looking forward to just a bit of normality, but oh well. It is what it is. At least Bill Bailey won Strictly – did you see it? Brightened up a dire evening didn’t it?

Ah, you are thinking of getting a dog – I never saw you as a doggy person! Ooh – a cockapoo! Great! Do I have any advice, as your only vet friend?

Well, firstly, please DON’T call it Teddy. I’ve vaccinated at least 15 of those since lockdown 1.0. Ha! Oh, any genuinely useful advice? Okay. Well, where to start? I think we know each other well enough to drop the filters. So here it goes.

You need to decide whether you really want to get a dog in the first place. Yes we all want a paw to clasp right now; COVID-safe contact from a fellow mammal: something we have all been deprived of! Affection without conditions (other than edible ones!). A reason to get out of the house, to pound the pavements, and explore forests, fields and reserves. Yes it sounds trite – but unconditional love is what everyone wants right now and is precisely what a dog can offer.

But think about this: would you have got a dog a year ago? If you didn’t think you were in a position a year ago to get a dog, will you be any more able to look after one once normality returns? When you aren’t working from home, and have a more enviable social calendar? And what might your lifestyle look like in 5, 10 or even 15 years time – will a dog still fit into your life still then?

Cockapoos are intelligent and energetic dogs. It’ll need to be walked twice a day – come rain or shine, including those dank, dark, Autumn mornings, and the nights you get home from work and just want to collapse on the sofa. You’ll have a school run to do before long. And won’t you both be out of the house most of the day? You would need to consider paying a dog walker or doggy day care if it’ll be on its own most of the day.

Looking after a puppy is a huge time commitment. It’s really important to get training right – obviously toilet training and teaching commands etc. But things can go very wrong: you don’t want a dog that rips apart furniture and barks relentlessly when you leave the house – a sure fire way to upset your new neighbours. You need to put in the work to make sure it doesn’t end up aggressive towards other dogs, or children. Some dogs cannot be trusted alone with children – it takes time to get it right, and a small number of dogs can become a problem despite your best intentions. Like all vets, I’ve had the heart-wrenching task of euthanising aggressive dogs – most of the time nobody intended the dog to end up that way. Clearly that is the absolute worst case scenario.

Then there’s the financial commitment. The upwards of two grand you would likely pay for the puppy is just the very start. Obviously you’ll need to pay for food – though this can end up being as costly as feeding a child when it comes to some of the more premium foods on the market. There’s the cost of dog walkers and training classes. It’ll need regular grooming – the average dog groom is more expensive than my hair cuts at the barbers!

Who will look after the dog when you go on holiday? Paying for kennels or a ‘home from home’ type arrangement can be pricey. Thanks to Brexit, as of January it’ll no longer be as straightforward as it has been to bring a dog along to Europe on your holidays. Each time you want to take your dog into the EU, you would need your vet to issue a new Animal Health Certificate.

On the subject of vet bills, you’ll need to think about preventative healthcare; annual vaccinations and health checks, as well as neutering and preventative flea and worming treatment all add up. And what about if they fall ill? It’s a personal choice whether or not you decide to get insurance (though I would advise that you do). If you do, remember the premiums will always go up, not down. They might be £30 a month now, but when they get to old age, there’s a possibility you’ll be paying more for pet insurance than your home, life and car insurance combined!

This is for good reason; there is no NHS for pets. If things go wrong, it is your responsibility to pay. And private healthcare has an expensive price-tag. If your dog decides to swallow a stone, you could easily end up paying £2000+ for surgery and treatment. It is not uncommon for dogs to rupture cruciate ligaments in both knees over their lifetime, requiring surgery. An MRI scan and surgery for a slipped disc: £4000+.

Even treatments for skin allergies, which are unfortunately very common in cockapoos, can be very costly in the long term; one of the gold standard treatments is a monthly injection which costs about £100 per treatment. Sadly, many are unprepared for these sorts of costs for common problems; and although there is often a cheaper option, in many circumstances a cheap option simply does not exist.

A dog cannot brush their own teeth – you really ought to try to get into a habit of brushing their teeth from a young age. Yes perhaps it does sound ludicrous – some days I barely remember to brush my own. But if you don’t, you are likely to have to pay for multiple general anaesthetics for dental procedures, adding up to hundreds or even thousands or pounds over the dog’s lifetime, to properly clean the teeth and extract ‘rotten’ ones.

Where are you thinking of getting him from? You must extremely careful when searching online. Don’t get Petfished! It is now illegal to sell puppies from a puppy farm. However, sadly it’s just far too easy to fall prey to unscrupulous dealers masquerading as breeders on the web, taking advantage of lockdown restrictions and high demand. Partly it’s an ethical issue – the breeding bitches and puppies can be kept in really awful conditions. But there’s also a very real chance you could end up buying a pup that falls ill almost immediately with an infection like Parvovirus, and if this is the case you could easily end up with a substantial vet bill and a dead puppy.

Although he might look adorable in his weekly posts to his doggy friends on Instagram when he is fresh and new, one day he will be a doddery, possibly quite smelly and/or incontinent elderly dog, whose quality of life is your responsibility to look after. It is a privilege and a joy, but it is also a very significant commitment in terms of time, finances, and emotion to own a dog.

Oh no, I’m sorry I didn’t meant to put you off! Yes, perhaps best to wait a little while before making any decisions. See how 2021 pans out!

Animal charities are predicting a dog welfare crisis over the coming year. A wagging tail might sound like the easy remedy to the dud hand 2020 has dealt us, but a dog is not just for lockdown. It can be a pleasure to share your home with a dog, and if you are prepared for all of the above, then go ahead and enjoy having a new family member. But nobody should ever buy a dog on impulse.


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