If you’ve decided to add a small mammal like a rabbit, rat, or hamster to your family, the next step is to choose between adopting a rescued or rehomed pet, or purchasing from a reputable, responsible breeder.
You’ll notice that I haven’t listed purchasing from a pet store as an option. That’s entirely intentional, for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to the following three:
- Just like dogs and cats, small animals deserve caring homes. Pet stores that sell to anyone with the money to purchase a pet are not treating animals ethically.
- Most pet stores either breed their own small pets or purchase from a mill-style breeder. In either case, it is unlikely that breeding stock has been evaluated for health and temperament prior to breeding, that proper quarantine practices are in use for new additions, or that the breeding animals receive individual attention and appropriate care.
- Pet stores rarely raise pets with daily, loving attention from a young age. That means the responsibility for socialization falls on you, and you may find yourself with a shy or aggressive pet.
We’ll talk about adopting a rescued or rehomed small animal another time, but for now let’s presume you’ve chosen to look for a small animal breeder. If you adopt from a reputable, responsible breeder, you’re more likely to get a healthy, friendly pet, lifelong support from the breeder, and more likely to be able to find the color, gender, and type of animal that you want. However, it’s not as easy as googling “hamster breeder” and your state. There are many “backyard breeders” or “basement breeders” who do little more than placing pretty males with pretty females and then selling babies. A responsible, reputable breeder, or RRB, does much more than that.
What RRBs Do
- RRBs keep records on every breeding animal, every litter, and check in with adopters throughout each pet’s life in order to update these records.
- RRBs are involved in some way in the community of people who love the type of pet they breed. They share their knowledge with and learn from RRBs.
- RRBs treat their breeding animals as pets first. They provide a nutritious diet, fresh water, caging that keeps pets safe and happy, frequent love and attention, veterinary care, and a stable environment.
- RRBs breed for themselves first. Litters are born in order to advance the breeder’s goals, not to make money.
- RRBs make a lifetime committment to every baby and will provide support and advice to adopters.
- RRBs are honest about their lines and, if asked what issues are present in the lines, will have an answer.
- RRBs screen adopters carefully and will refuse a sale if the pet wouldn’t be well cared for.
- RRBs use an adoption contract in order to ensure each baby will be well cared for.
- RRBs do not overbreed their animals.
- RRBs keep a waiting list for babies.
- RRBs do not cull babies unless they are suffering and euthanasia is the most humane option.
- RRBs breed only as many litters as they can properly socialize, afford to care for, and can adopt into forever homes.
- RRBs know they won’t get rich, and will probably lose a lot of money, breeding animals.
There are several red flags to avoid when searching for a breeder. Some are fairly obvious, others less so. Perhaps the biggest red flag is an uneasy feeling about dealing with a person. If you think a breeder is being dishonest with you, if you don’t think their animals are treated well, or if their answers to your questions sound more like advertising than a conversation, walk away. There’s always another breeder. A few red flags follow, but in all cases, listen to your gut.
- Avoid breeders who always have babies available, especially if they have multiple litters available. This indicates a breeder who produces babies to meet future demand, not to advance their own goals and place babies in homes from a waiting lists.
- Look out for breeders whose goals involve only color and conformation. When asked about their goals, a breeder should mention health and temperament.
- Stay away from breeders who offer you the option of purchasing a pet without first asking questions about your experience, lifestyle, and why you want that type of pet.
- Similarly, stay away from breeders who don’t require you to agree to any preconditions or a standard of care before purchasing a pet.
- Avoid breeders who do not keep pedigrees of some sort, or who keep pedigrees but can only tell you the names and colors of a pet’s ancestors, rather than detailed information on their life.
These are only a very few of many possible red flags. If you’re not confident in selecting a breeder on your own, connect with others who have owned the type of pet you want for a long time and who are familiar with the community. Ask for references from happy adopters and from other breeders. Ask on forums or email groups if anyone has had an experience with the breeder you’re considering. Contact fanciers’ clubs and ask if the members are familiar with the breeder. Don’t be afraid to pass on adopting from a litter in order to take more time to evaluate your options. To paraphrase an old saying, “Adopt in haste, regret at leisure.”