Thinking of buying a pet? Visit your vet nurse.

As veterinary professionals, we have knowledge, expertise and experience that can be vital in so many areas of animal welfare, and we should aim to be the public’s first port of call when they want pet advice – and in the topic under discussion in this blog – when they are seeking advice before purchasing or obtaining a pet.

But how many members of the public consider which pet will be most suited to them before they make that decision, and how many vet practices overtly offer clients advice on such a decision?

Animal welfare – when we hear that phrase we may think of stray dogs and cats on the streets; animal cruelty cases; care of our inpatients and ensuring quality of life; environmental enrichment – the list goes on. Yes, of course all of these components, and many others, are important too (animal welfare science is such a complex topic!), but the ‘arm’ of animal welfare that often gets missed is that of education. Educating pet owners and potential pet owners. And a lot of the responsibility (although we might not always like it) lies with us in the veterinary profession. We have knowledge, expertise and experience that the public may not have, and we are who they should go to, and who they should think of first when they want pet advice, and in the topic under discussion here – when they want advice before they purchase a pet.

But how many members of the public consider which pet will be most suited to them before they make that decision, and how many vet practices overtly offer clients advice on such a decision?

The other factor is where the pet is obtained from – and we know that in many cases this is from completely unsuitable and even unlawful sources, where animal welfare is severely compromised, and this practice is then sustained through continuing sales of these pets.

Do the public really know the implications of buying from a puppy farm for example, and how to avoid doing so?

The welfare impacts are huge – many pets are relinquished into rehoming centres every year, and the short and long term affect that this has on these animals can never be overstated.

The mantra needs to be: ‘Thinking of buying a pet? Visit your vet nurse!’

Animal Welfare Foundation Discussion Forum

As RVN representative, I was lucky to attend the Animal Welfare Foundation Discussion Forum on 12th June, and one of the (many) topics covered was ‘how practice management strategies can benefit animal welfare’ and Sean Wensley’s talk offered some pertinent issues and figures, highlighted the use of ‘pre-purchase appointments’ to benefit animal welfare, and introduced the PDSA’s ‘which pet?’ scheme – more on that shortly.

Simply too many pets end up in rehoming centres

According to the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes (ADCH), 250,000 dogs and cats are relinquished to rehoming centres every year, and then there’s rabbits and other species to consider too. That’s a phenomenal amount of animals that end up in these centres (and I have one of them), and according to research specifically into rabbits, 96% of the reasons were ‘human factors’ such as circumstances and incompatible lifestyle. (Ellis et al, 2017) The impact that education could have on these figures could be remarkable, and yet as uncovered in the PDSA 2018 PAW Report, only 15% of practices currently offer pre-purchase appointments.

Staggeringly, according to the 2016 report, 5.2 million pet owners did no research at all before taking on a pet, and only 5% sought advice from their vet prior to making a decision.

That is not necessarily because they do not want that advice – it may be that they simply do not know where to go to obtain it.

Welfare implications in educating clients huge

As Sean Wensley rightly pointed out, the welfare implications of client education through pre-purchase appointments could be huge, and it is also a potentially very commercially viable venture too (and let’s face it – practices are businesses, so whilst we always want to do the best for animal welfare, we have to make it financially sustainable too). According to the PAW Report, of clients who were not pre-existing clients of the practice, it was estimated that 71% went on to join that practice after attending a pre-purchase appointment, showing that they value this service enough to become loyal to you. What better way to ensure you are there to support your clients throughout the lifetime of their pet, than to start offering that support before the pet has even been acquired?

Resources to help you with pre-purchase appointments

So where do you start if you want to set up pre-purchase appointments? Well the PDSA have developed an excellent set of resources to assist practices. There is a free learning module and a toolkit to accompany this – which includes a practice guide, poster, handout and client booklet. This set of tools will really help you and your team to set up these clinics in your practice, and I’d thoroughly recommend you take a look, and discuss this with your team.

Have your heard of ‘PETS-K?’

The learning module is really quite comprehensive and covers topics such as educating clients about the Animal Welfare Act, helping clients understand the five welfare needs and how to meet them, and useful communication tips such as which questions to ask, before moving onto important topics such as breed-related disorders. They have developed a useful acronym – PETS-K, which stands for Place, Exercise, Spend, Time and Knowledge.

You can find the PDSA resources here on their ‘PDSA Which Pet?’ page:

Want more help with setting up clinics?

This will help offer you a framework for offering this particular service in your practice, and then if you want more on the setup, management, and promotion side of clinics, then our popular Nurse Clinics course is there to help you with that if you need it.

Are you a pet owner, looking for advice?

For pet owners, there is also a potential pet owner’s ‘Get Petwise’ quiz to help with the decision-making process.

So – if you are a thinking of getting a new pet – take a look at the quiz here, and please go to your vet practice and ask them for advice before you make that decision – they will be only too happy to help you even if they haven’t advertised that they offer this service.

There’s so much that can be done for animal welfare through education – please consider the impact that you can have simply by offering your clients a friendly and impartial place to go when they are making a decision that could affect the next 15-20 years of their (and their pet’s) life.


Animal Welfare Foundation Discussion Forum – presentations available on you tube here (this link is to the Sean Wensley talk discussed in this blog):

Association of Dogs and Cats Homes:

Ellis et al (2017) Analysis of Factors Relating to Companion Rabbits Relinquished to Two United Kingdom Rehoming Centers. [Online] Available at:

PDSA (2018) PDSA Animal Wellbeing (Paw) Report: The state of our pet nation [Online] Available at:

PDSA (n.d.) Get Petwise. [Online] Available at:

PDSA ‘Which Pet?’, available at:

This article was written by Jill Macdonald