How To Find an Ethical, Reputable, and Responsible Breeder

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Feb. 7, 2024
litter of Dalmatian puppies in a circle

Getting a puppy or kitten is a big decision, and there are many important factors involved that need to be considered long before your new family member comes home—perhaps even before they’re born.

If you’re planning to purchase your puppy or kitten, working with a reputable breeder is one of the best choices you can make to ensure that your new pet is healthy and well-adjusted.

Avoiding breeders who are solely motivated by profit can save you from heartbreak and potentially thousands of dollars in vet bills down the line.

But how can pet parents find breeders who are genuinely dedicated to everyone’s best interests? We’re here to help.

Why Choosing a Good Breeder Matters

Ethical, reputable, and responsible breeders work very hard to promote the well-being of the dogs or cats they sell and the overall welfare of their chosen breed.

Breeding is a complex undertaking, and breeders face two key considerations when determining the compatibility of a male and female:

  1. Will the kittens or puppies conform to the breed standard?
    • The breed standard, a document crafted by the breed’s parent club (such as the American Maltese Association), outlines the attributes of a “perfect” individual. Judges use this standard in shows to evaluate the dogs or cats.

  2. Will the kittens or puppies be healthy?
    • Genetic diseases pose challenges for many purebred dogs and cats. However, by making informed choices about which males and females to breed (and excluding certain individuals from the breeding pool), breeders can reduce the likelihood of genetic conditions in their puppies or kittens.

    • The Canine Health Information Center and the Neogen Cat Fanciers’ Association DNA Test site serve as reliable sources of information about which genetic testing is appropriate for the breed you are interested in.

Good breeders will happily provide you with what you need to make an informed decision.

Breeders who are more interested in profit than in the health of their dogs and cats may not invest the time, effort, and money necessary to give their puppies and kittens the best start in life.

Good breeders will also be there for you throughout your pet’s life—answering questions and even taking back a dog or cat who isn’t working out, for whatever reason. Their commitment is for the lifetime of the pets they produce.

How To Find the Right Breeder

Fortunately, finding an ethical and responsible breeder isn’t that difficult; it just takes a little time and effort. 

Only Buy Directly From the Breeder

Do not purchase puppies or kittens from pet stores, as many get their pets from puppy or kitten mills. Reputable breeders want to ensure that their animals are going to good homes, and an ethical breeder wouldn’t sell their puppies or kittens to a pet store in the first place.

Look At Purebred Registries and Ask Around

Online registries for purebred dogs and cats provide valuable information about breeders. Initiatives such as the American Kennel Club’s Breeder of Merit and Bred with HEART programs and the Cat Fanciers’ Association’s Approved Cattery Environment Program are good places to start your search for a reputable breeder.

Local veterinarians, groomers, and trainers can also tell you about ethical breeders they have experience with. Have you met a dog or cat you admired? Ask their pet parent how they found their fur baby.

Ask Lots of Questions

Good breeders are happy to answer all your questions, no matter how silly they might sound. After all, they don’t just want to make a sale, they want to place their puppies and kittens in loving forever-homes. Questions to ask may include:

  • “Can I see the parents’ pedigrees (aka, their ‘papers’) and registration?”

  • “Are you a member of your breed’s club?”

  • “What genetic or DNA tests do you run on your breeding dogs or cats? Can I see the results?”

  • “Have your puppies and kittens seen a veterinarian? Can I see the records?”

  • “How do you socialize your puppies or kittens?”

  • “What are your puppies or kittens eating? What is their environment like?” This is important because it’s best to make changes gradually once they get to your home.

  • “At what age can I take home a puppy or kitten?” Ideally, they should stay with their mom and littermates until they are eight to 12 weeks old (the longer the better).

  • “What kind of guarantee do you offer? Will you take pets back if they need to be re-homed?”

  • “Do you have references I can call?”

Getting answers to your questions shouldn’t be difficult. Good breeders will happily provide you with what you need to make an informed decision. They should also ask you questions so they can be sure that you will provide a good home for their puppies or kittens.

Take a Tour

Ethical breeders are proud of their animals and their facilities and should jump at the chance to give you a tour. Try to go in person, but if you can’t, a video tour is better than nothing. During your tour, make note of how the animals look and act. Do they appear healthy, well-fed, and happy to see the breeder and any visitors? Is the facility clean, well-maintained, and not too crowded?

Good breeders will also be there for you throughout your pet’s life. Their commitment is for the lifetime of the pets they produce.

An in-person visit also allows you to meet the breeder and your puppy or kitten’s parents face-to-face, even if the litter you’re interested in hasn’t been born yet. There’s no better way to determine if you have potentially found a good match for your family.

Get Everything in Writing

Paperwork is a necessary part of purchasing a new puppy or kitten. Once you’ve selected your new furry family member, get copies of all your breeder’s guarantees, the parents’ pedigrees, and veterinary records before you pay for your puppy or kitten and they come home with you.

Be Alert for Warning Signs

Don’t forget to pay attention to your instincts. Walk away if anything seems off or if a breeder is less than forthcoming with the information you need.

Also, responsible breeders will NOT ship you a puppy or kitten sight unseen. It may be inconvenient, but you absolutely should pick up your puppy or kitten in person.

Alternatives to Breeders

Finally, breeders aren’t the only sources of wonderful dogs and cats. You can find many healthy and well-behaved dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens at local animal shelters. Chewy's shelter and rescue network allows you to search local rescues in your area to find the perfect match. You may even find purebred dogs that have finished breeding or puppies and kittens that weren’t sold in a timely fashion in shelters.

Shelter staff know the animals there well and can help you find your perfect new companion. If you have your heart set on a certain breed, look into a breed-specific rescue. For dogs, the AKC Rescue Network is a good place to start. For cats, your best option is to search online for a breed-specific rescue near you.

Featured Image: SolStock/E+ via Getty Images Plus

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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