How To Avoid Puppy Scams

30 seconds. That’s how long it took me to find a fake puppy being sold on Gumtree. Even I was surprised how easy it was.

If you’re buying a puppy online, you need to know how many scammers there are out there. Why don’t you hear more? Just like other internet scams, embarrassment stops people talking about how they got tricked.

I think it’s possible to spot a scam, and even easier to spot the warning signs of a possible scam. I want to share my knowledge and experience.

How To Buy A Puppy Online Safely

First, there’s a vital message that you must follow for this to work:

Do not be emotional. That’s easier said than done! However, scams work because our defences are weakened by desperate, sad or cute stories. You still have to apply the same diligence you would to any purchase. If you can’t do it alone, get a friend to help.

Please also remember that many good, reputable people have terrible online skills and may look like scammers at first. Go about your investigations with respect. In all your questions and requests, act like a caring, trusting pet-owner-to-be.

So here’s how to spot a scam…

Know How To Spot Dodgy Sites

Anyone can build a website. So what makes a more trustworthy one?

  • Look for country-specific addresses (“” in Australia). These are much better regulated (and more expensive) than just “.com”
  • Put the address into WHOIS Lookup and check the name and location of the holder.lookup website owner Here’s what happens for
  • Inspect images on the site (see how below).
  • Then just read the site and make sure it sounds legitimate.
  • Lastly, select a section of good-sounding text and paste it into Google with quotes (“…”) to look for it being copied from elsewhere.

If they don’t have a website, be more suspicious. Here’s what to do next.

Image Forensics

This is my favourite part, and where you can usually trip them up. You can use images from their website, but you should always ask for more pictures of the puppy. What’s more natural than that? If they can’t supply any, I would be very, very wary.

Once you have the images, there are three ways to analyse them.

1. Filename Check

dodgy puppy hoaxThe filename should make sense. You can view the filename under File Explorer (Windows) or Preview (Mac, like this example). This image was sent to use as ‘proof’ of ownership of a lost puppy we had in the clinic. So why on earth would anyone call their puppy “staffyxridgeback5-1-1”. Such a cute name!

Read more about how Dr. Sky prevented this puppy theft here. Of course, filenames are easy to change, so let’s look at other forensic tools.

2. Reverse Image Search

This is how I found the scam-in-30-seconds from the beginning. Right click on any images and download them. Then go to and upload them. Below you can see the search results I got.reverse image puppy

This shows the picture was taken from other sources online, and therefore cannot be a real puppy now. Reverse image search doesn’t always work. Social media images won’t always show up in Google searches, and images can be doctored to fool Google by flipping, cropping or filtering.

3. Metadata

Metadata is the extra information your camera or phone adds when it takes the picture. You will be astonished (and possibly scared) by what it can tell you.

To find out how, Google “view image EXIF metadata” for your device. For example, on my Mac all I need to do is open the picture in Preview, go to Tools and select “Show Inspector”. Now look at the example from our website below. The first one shows all the image EXIF data, such as date, time, device etc.EXIF image metadata

The second one shows the GPS data. Yep, that’s our Adelaide address. It’s important to state that I did not include this information deliberately.GPS image metadata

Metadata is removed from images on social media or Gumtree (and can be removed manually) but it should be found on websites or emailed images. If it’s there, it should roughly agree with what you are told. If it’s not there, it’s a big red flag.

Research The Ad

If everything is checking out, now copy a selection of text from the ad and drop it into Google, again with quotes (“…”). If anyone has posted this exact ad before, it should come up. This could either be because the person uses the same ad repeatedly, or because someone who was scammed has posted of their experiences.

Research The Breeder

Also search Google using the email address in the ad and the breeder’s name for an idea of any possible problems. However, bear in mind there will always be some people with grievances, but the majority should be positive. Check that there is a physical address for the breeder that you can verify. If they have a business name, you can search this in the state register too.

If they say they are a registered breeder, you should be able to cross-check this against breeder lists for each state. Here are the NSW breeder lists, but bear in mind these might not always be up to date.

More recently, registration is becoming mandatory in Australia for all breeders, not just pure breeds. This won’t apply in SA until July 2018, but the Queensland dog breeder register should be what it will look like. Once the law is in place in your state, it will be up to you to check the number they supply is accurate.

Australian quarantine laws make importation of dogs very expensive and very difficult. If the breeder claims to be bringing a dog from outside of Australia, it’s almost certainly a scam.

Check The Documents

Most well-bred pets come with vaccination, microchip and vet history. It’s a smart idea to ask to see copies of these, even if you’re just wanting to know more about the puppy. These should all make sense with times, dates and places. Puppies in Victoria must now be microchipped for sale. Read here how to check the registration of a microchip number.

Call Or Drop In

Get the seller’s phone number and ring them. At least then you know they really exist. During the conversation, say something like, “I’m going to be in Sydney for work this week, could I come and meet the puppy then?” Even if it’s impossible, you can always back out later.

You want to hear how they respond. I can see no good reason why anyone would refuse to meet you. In fact, if they care about where their pups go they should be relieved that they get to check you over.

Do Not Ignore Warning Signs

Finally, is this all just a ruse so I finally get to play my favourite clip from my favourite movie?

Too many people have their hearts set so firmly on a puppy that they explain away all the little discrepancies. That’s why they are so embarrassed afterwards.

Most scams aren’t done by smart people. Take for example the one I found: a price that’s too good to be true (money would have been requested for freight), a fake-looking picture and spelling errors.

What About Shelters?

Many people reading this will ask: why not just get a puppy from a good shelter? There are two answers to this. First, whether you agree or not, many people have their heart set on a certain breed. And second, even if you want to use a shelter, it’s not that easy.

Apart from RSPCA and Animal Welfare, you still need to check them out. That’s because many scams also pose as loving shelters, often looking for payment for shipping or other needs rather than an outright puppy price.

In conclusion, nothing beats a face-to-face encounter with a good shelter or breeder. When this is possible, it’s almost always the best way. When it isn’t, I hope I’ve given you enough to stay suspicious and avoid the hoaxes.

Related: What’s Wrong With Cute? | Choose a Breeder or Shelter | Getting A Puppy For Xmas

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

20 Essential Vet & Animal Words

Are we talking gibberish? Here are 20 of the most common vet words that get us in trouble. Read this list and you’ll prevent a lot of misunderstanding at the vet.


Remember SARS: severe acute respiratory syndrome? It made a lot of people believe ‘acute’ means severe, when all it really means is ‘comes on quickly.’ When you stub your toe it’s an acute injury. See also chronic.


I avoid saying ‘benign’ because it makes a tumour sound cuddly and harmless when it isn’t. Benign usually only means that it doesn’t spread throughout the body. The problem is that a tumour that stays in one spot can still cause a lot of problems.


What a great example of why vets have special words; if I don’t use it, I have to use four whole words! It simply means ‘present on both sides’. For example, most pet insurance companies have a ‘bilateral conditions’ exclusion where if a pet has had a problem on one side before starting cover, they will exclude the other side as well. Arthritis is commonly bilateral; unilateral means affecting only one side.


I just can’t say ‘bitch’ to clients thanks to people ruining the word by making it a form of abuse. It just means an undesexed female dog. A lovely one. See also dog

I want this word back. While we’re at it, can we stop calling people ‘animals’ when they behave badly? That’s neither fair nor accurate. Animals wouldn’t do half the things people do.


The carpus is the same joint as our wrist but we don’t say ‘wrist’ because the joint is so different. See also hock & stifle.


Every time I say something is ‘chronic’ I worry people think I mean severe, and end up explaining it anyway. We call a problem chronic when it has been happening for two weeks or more (chronos = “time”). Just like its opposite acute, it’s got nothing to do with how bad it is. You can have a chronic itch!

Directions on the bodydog body parts

We use some different anatomical words than humans because animals stand on four legs, not two.

Cranial: towards the head (it’s a cranial cruciate ligament, not an anterior cruciate)
Caudal: towards the tail (often called posterior in humans)
Lateral: towards the left or right, e.g. a left lateral digit
Medial: towards the middle, e.g. a right medial meniscus
Dorsal: up or towards the back (everyone knows a dorsal fin)
Ventral: down or towards the belly


If you’re at the vet, chances are your pet has a disease. However, if I say so, it often causes people to think something terrible is wrong. ‘Disease’ doesn’t mean anything specific; it just means anything wrong whether mild or severe. In fact, give me five minutes and I can find a ‘disease’ on any animal, even though it may be trivial! See also lesion.


Yep, even ‘dog’ has two meanings. Is nothing sacred? If your breeder talks about their ‘dog’, chances are they specifically mean their breeding male.


This is the equivalent joint to the ankle in people. Just like carpus & hock, we change the name to recognise the big differences for four-legged animals.

Hyper vs Hypo

You probably already know that these have nothing to do with hyperactivity. These are opposites and refer only to quantity. Hyper- means too much of something, whereas hypo- means not enough. A hypothyroid dog is lethargic, not bouncing off the walls.


You’ll see this word when Googling. This is the most technical word I’ve included but it’s so useful. It means: ‘of unknown cause’. There are lots of idiopathic diseases in veterinary medicine.

On heat

Bitches are said to be ‘on heat’ or ‘in season’ during the two or three week period when they show signs of fertility. They experience vulval swelling, mammary gland enlargement and a blood-tinged discharge. Their actual temperature doesn’t change though.


I was warned at vet school not to use this word but I just can’t help it. A ‘lesion’ is any abnormal region on or in the body. It’s such a great word because I don’t have to know what it is to name it. Is it a wound? Is it an infection? Either way, it’s a lesion!


This is the ear flap. It’s a very useful word because when we say ‘ear’ we can mean a lot of different things. To say ‘pinna’ locates the problem accurately.


Queen is the name for a breeding female cat. Also very suitable for cats generally, so why don’t we call the males ‘kings’? They think we should.


Pedantic fact: words with the ending -itis refer to inflammation, not infection.

Conjunctivitis & Cystitis, in particular, cause the most problems. In humans, they are usually infections and so words ending in -itis have become shorthand for the use of antibiotics. In animals, they can just as easily be allergic or idiopathic (see before) and antibiotics will be useless.


Just our name for the knee of four-legged animals. See also carpus & hock.


A tumour is just the right name for any growth caused by cells multiplying but that doesn’t mean it’s terrible. For example, Poodles are often covered in small tumours called sebaceous adenomas that are completely trivial.


Not to be confused with yelping, this old word refers to the time when a bitch is having puppies. If you bring your boy in because he hurt his foot and started whelping I might begin to worry.

Next week, the last blog for the year: how to avoid online puppy scams.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

The One Thing Every Vet Wants You To Know

Looks don’t matter. I don’t mean that in a ‘politically correct’, ‘we shouldn’t be so superficial’ kind of way. I mean it quite literally: looks don’t matter to you.

How can I say that? It’s obvious that some animals are cuter and more adorable than other ones. A cute kitty gets through my defences every time and I’m always baby talking to puppies.

It’s just that, beyond the fun, cuteness is completely irrelevant and even harmful to animals. I’ll explain why after trying to work out what makes an animal cute.

What Is Cuteness?

Cuteness is very much an individual taste, but certain traits seem to appear regularly:

  • Age: young animals are cute
  • Size: small animals are cute
  • Facial features: large eyes, flat faces & folded ears all seem cuter
  • Body shape: rounded bodies, short legs & stubby tails are cute
  • Coat: fluffy animals seem cuter

The whole concept of ‘cute’ is probably a survival strategy to care for our young.

When Cuteness Goes Bad

It’s OK of course to have a cute pet. What is wrong is when the same factors that create cuteness cause suffering or even a reduction in quality of life. Then we cross a line, like what happens to Scottish Fold cats.

Other than Folds, I’m not going to talk about the merits or deficiencies of certain breeds. Some are distinctly unhealthier than others, and some possibly shouldn’t be pets at all. I have a particular welfare concern with wildlife like sugar gliders as pets. However, most domestic species can (and do) lead high-quality lives if owners choose with their heads, not their hearts.

Why We Love Animals

There’s nothing wrong with liking the look of your pets. We all do. I remember being slightly offended when Loki’s breeder said she wasn’t happy with how his ears turned out. His ears? But they’re awesome!

We all get a bit of pride watching a fine animal or when someone says how handsome our dog or cat is. For some, owning a rare breed gives a joy in itself.

However, experienced vets see something that all pet owners should know. It’s how the love an animal receives has nothing to do with size, shape or appearance. It has everything to do with only two things:

  1. The personality of the pet
  2. The willingness of an owner to open their heart

In other words, as the RSPCA say, love is blind.

What Vets Want You To Know

  • Loved pets are always cute to their owners
  • Looks will distract you from making smart choices

Cuteness works its charm best on first impressions and outsiders. No owner says that one of their pets is cuter than another.

I think most experienced dog & cat owners know this innately. I see owners who recently lost a cute breed come in with a Staffy cross or a moggie from the shelter that they immediately and utterly adore. I see dogs who could be called ‘ugly’ to an outsider receive the same love as the most photogenic.


What We’re Up Against

Cuteness is certainly a big influence on the choice over which species or breed to purchase. Some people who lack other information may even use cuteness as the only factor in the decision. It takes a lot for them to look beyond the ‘cute at first sight’ breeds

It’s no wonder. We are increasingly bombarded with images of these dog and cat breeds. I see them used in all forms of media, especially on Facebook and YouTube. I see them as the most commonly chosen breeds for advertising, even within our own veterinary industry. Are even vets susceptible? Until recently, the answer would have been yes.

How To Show Love

So this is a message to those among us about to become dog or cat owners. You will love your pet, no matter what they look like. You will love them not for their looks, which you will soon think are wonderful anyway. You will love them instead for who they are.

That’s why when we see your new puppy or kitten, we’ll spend more time talking about social development than health. That’s why we’re obsessed with allowing a young animal to grow to their full potential.

It’s good breeding, health and management that make happy pets and happy people. Nothing else. If they end up being cute too, that’s a bonus. Choosing a breed for cuteness first is a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Dog Breed Selector | Cat Breeds of Adelaide | RSPCA Love Is Blind Campaign

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Giving Cats Tablets (Or Ointment)

The advice you are getting is wrong. I’m to blame as much as anyone else. For years I’ve been blithely telling people how easy it will be. It was a friend of mine who first said, “Andrew, it was nothing like you showed me,” Then my own cat showed me, big time.

There’s a big difference between what happens in my clinic and what happens at home. I like to believe I can safely give pills to almost any of my patients but when it came to treating Grendel, I got scratched.

It showed me that we’re asking and answering the wrong question. In failing to see the problem, we’re causing cats to miss essential medicines and people to get injured. I’ll answer the right question in a minute, but first, we need to talk about safety.

Why Cats Are So Dangerous

It’s not just the teeth and claws. Yes, cats can give you a painful scratch or bite, but the wounds are usually small punctures. They should heal quickly without requiring stitches.

It’s the infection that follows. Every vet knows to go to the doctor as soon as possible after a deep bite but how many cat owners know this? Once the infection sets in, it’s not unusual to need intravenous antibiotics in hospital.

Wounds from cats quickly close over, can’t be disinfected and aren’t exposed to oxygen. The bacteria found on cats’ teeth and claws multiply rapidly and start spreading, even in normal, healthy people. When a person has poor circulation, advanced age or a weak immune system, it only gets worse.

The Right Question To Ask

Now, let’s return to the original problem. When I said that giving cats pills was easy I had two big advantages over you:

  1. Cats at the vet are scared and usually smart enough to cooperate
  2. Our nurses make cat handling look easy

When I went home I was just like you: facing down a stroppy cat with help only from family members. That’s when it became clear; giving pills or ointment is less important than knowing you are safe while you do it. Then you can take your time and do a good job without fear, struggle or injury (and avoid arguments!).

Nowadays, when I demonstrate pilling to cat owners, I tell the person holding the cat that they have the most important job. Yet for all the Google searches on “how to give a cat a tablet” you don’t ever see people searching how to hold cats. It’s time to set the record straight. The question they should ask is:

How Do I Hold A Cat For Medicine?

Holding a cat well is the secret to successful medication.

  1. Get ready by clipping your cat’s nails and wearing long sleeves
  2. Choose a flat surface such as a tabletop or your lap
  3. If you use your lap you need to wear thick trousers or cover your legs in a rug
  4. Position the cat sitting or crouching and faced away from you
  5. Slide each of your hands down the chest until you grasp and control one forearm in each hand
  6. Now tuck your arms in until they box your cat and prevent the hind legs from slipping out
  7. Lean your head back so the other person can get access and away they go
  8. The videos at the start show a good pilling or ointment technique

Your cat will often wriggle out of the hold or get the back legs free. Just start again as calmly and patiently as you can; if you feel yourself getting cross, take a break.

Now have a look at the video. That’s not a happy cat but he’s tolerating it and the good hold makes it easy and quick.

How To Give A Cat A Pill By Yourself

What if you can’t get anyone to help you? Realistically I don’t think it’s safe for most people to do this on their own. If you want to try, the technique is to wrap your cat in a towel and peg it around the neck like at the hairdresser. This keeps the claws under wraps. Then you face the cat away from yourself with your elbows keeping them in place while your hands give the pill.

So is it an option to avoid tablets? Sometimes the answer is yes, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask. Don’t be shy; we’d rather be successful than have you injured and cats not treated. Visit this page for other ways to medicate cats.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Help! My Pet Is Going Deaf

Deafness in dogs and cats is important to understand. You need to know which puppies and kittens might be born deaf and recognise when it’s a sign of serious problems. You also need to know when it’s normal.

Why Dogs & Cats Go Deaf

There are only three common causes of deafness in dogs and cats:

  1. Being born congenitally deaf
  2. Having a severe and prolonged ear infection
  3. A normal part of aging

Certain medicines can also cause deafness but that’s quite rare.

If we’re lucky we’ll all live with a deaf pet one day. All it takes is for them to live long enough. When that happens, how do you know their hearing loss is just age-related and not a sign of something worse? Let’s go through the causes one by one…

Congenital Hearing Loss

Certain breeds of dog and cat are well known to be at risk of deafness. Within these breeds, deafness is usually more common with particular coat patterns. For example, did you know that you can predict the rate of deafness in Aussie Cattle Dogs by their markings?

Read more in our guide to deafness in puppies and kittens.

Ear Infections

In our Adelaide clinic, the number one reason for an appointment is a dog with an ear infection. They are so common that any pet with hearing loss should be checked for an infection first. Cats don’t get them as much, but when they do they are usually worse and more likely to damage hearing.

Despite the pain, pets don’t always tell you when they have an ear infection. Signs of an ear problem include:

  • Discharge visible in the ear
  • Shaking the head
  • A smell from the ear
  • And of course, deafness

Your vet will need to use an otoscope to inspect the deep part of the canal and eardrum. Once you see the diagram of the ear on our page explaining ear infections you will understand why.

Loss of hearing can be due to the buildup of this wax or infected discharge. Worse, it can be due to eardrum rupture and inner ear disease. Get your vet involved; as soon as we know about it we can make it better.

Drug-Induced Hearing Loss

There is a long list of potentially ototoxic drugs. In reality, most of these can be safely used without ever seeing problems with hearing. In fact, in my clinic, I have never seen permanent deafness caused by medication.

Why? We know which drugs to be careful with, and there are usually safer alternatives. We also never put harmful drugs into ears when the eardrum may be ruptured. That’s why you should never put any treatment, and especially ear cleaners, into an infected ear without a checkup first. That’s also sometimes why we won’t be happy to treat an ear without an anaesthetic first.

Age-Related Hearing Loss

The danger with loss of hearing in the elderly is in assuming an animal is deaf just because they are old. Too many pets are walking around with ear problems that could be fixed. To be confident that deafness is a part of normal aging, I need all these three things to be true:

  1. A normal ear examination
  2. No history of ear damage
  3. A dog to be over 13, or a cat over 15

How To Tell If A Dog Or Cat Is Deaf

Most of the time, a responsive owner will easily pick up the early signs of hearing loss. These include:

  • Failure to come when called. This should get worse the further away you are.
  • Failure to respond when distracted. Early hearing loss looks like selective hearing because if they aren’t concentrating they don’t notice you.
  • Spending more time sleeping.
  • Acting startled when roused from sleep

Warning: young puppies and kittens up to 12 weeks can do all of these things and still have good hearing. They just aren’t as responsive as adults.

If in doubt, see the vet. We get asked about potential deafness all the time, know what a normal animal looks like and can inspect the entire ear for an infection.

Pet Hearing Test

  1. Choose a time when your dog or cat is relaxed on the floor but not asleep
  2. Make a noise from behind where the movement can’t be seen
  3. Start quietly in case they get frightened and don’t do it so close you make a puff of air
  4. You may need to make a loud clap or use a favourite squeaker
  5. Watch the ears or eyes: a positive response may only be a quick twitch in your direction

Specialised hearing tests for breeding purposes called BAER are necessary to look for deafness in just one ear. In South Australia this can be performed at Adelaide Plains Veterinary Surgery.

Living With A Deaf Dog or Cat

Here are some simple considerations I learned from having deaf pets of my own:

  • Sleeping pets need to be woken gently as they can easily get startled. However, if you don’t seek them out, they may sleep their lives away.
  • Training needs to be tailored to deaf dogs. Emphasis needs to be on gaining a dog’s attention and using hand signals instead of voice. Vibrating collars are also available.
  • For their own safety, off-leash activity for dogs and outdoor access for cats are probably best not done at all.

Indoors isn’t just to avoid short-term dangers either. Congenitally deaf animals usually lack the same skin pigments that help protect against sunburn and skin cancer.

Other than these ideas I can’t pretend to be an expert, but you can find plenty of trainers who are. Whether they are born deaf, or lose hearing later, dogs and cats without hearing will live normal, happy lives. All it takes is a bit of flexibility and an understanding of their disability.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.