Illegal Puppy Trade

Buying a new puppy is always an exciting occasion and a huge decision to make. However, demand for the latest designer breeds can outstrip supply. Many of these ‘designer’ dogs advertised online have been bred on illegal puppy farms and are being sold by unlicensed dealers.

When people are caught up in the anticipation of buying a new pet, they can easily forget to look into the full background of the animal. The puppies might look cute, but unfortunately their appearance hides the cruel upbringing they may have experienced.

We want to help you make sure that you are buying a puppy from a reputable breeder rather than from an illegal dealer who may be involved in the cruel and illegal puppy trade.

Illegal Puppy Trade

The UK dog trade is a multi-million pound industry which is growing rapidly due to the increasing demand for ‘designer’ dogs. In recent years the industry has been infiltrated by unscrupulous individuals, often involved in other criminal activities, who sell puppies obtained from illegal puppy farms. In Scotland, this illicit trade usually involves dogs bred on farms abroad which are then brought into the country and sold on, being advertised as having been bred domestically. However, there has also been an increase in the number of illegal puppy farms which are now operating in Scotland. 


Conditions on Illegal Puppy Farms

Dogs bred on puppy farms are often reared in appalling conditions, making them increasingly susceptible to disease and ill health. The pups can be at risk of congenital health problems and may not have been vaccinated correctly, for example against rabies, therefore putting the health of other animals and the general public at risk.

Infectious diseases can spread easily on unlicensed puppy farms. One of the most common is Parvovirus, a highly contagious viral disease that can cause life-threatening illness. Little, if any, thought is given to the health and wellbeing of the animals and many are contained in small pens, meaning that they never see daylight. In addition to health issues, illegally farmed dogs can display a range of behavioural problems, such as poor socialisation.


Unlicensed Dealers

Posing as breeders, unlicensed dealers advertise puppies in newspapers, magazines and, most commonly, online. They lure consumers by promoting the fact that the puppies are complete pedigrees; however, this does not guarantee quality. Many consumers then find themselves having to pay a high cost, both financially and emotionally, for puppies reared in awful circumstances. When this happens, consumers have little or no chance of receiving compensation, particularly as the majority of transactions involving puppies are cash in hand.

Unlicensed puppy dealers prioritise profit over animal welfare – they want to generate the maximum amount of profit for the absolute minimum amount of effort and investment. The trade is attractive because of the large profits, with designer breed dogs having average price tags of £1,000, but often selling for as much as £5,000. As with other types of illicit trade, the people involved are often engaged in other criminal activity, including the distribution of illegal drugs, money laundering and tax avoidance.


Case Study

In December 2020 a Scottish woman looking for a puppy responded to an advert on a well-known pet rehoming website. It was for a cockapoo puppy advertised for £1750 in Whitby, Yorkshire. The conversation switched to WhatsApp and the woman agreed to pay a deposit of £250 via bank transfer.

The seller was supposed to send the woman a receipt and to call her the following day to discuss next steps. However, when the woman tried to message and phone the seller she received no reply and hasn’t been able to get in touch with them since sending the money.

What You Can Do

The more knowledge you have about what to consider when buying a new pet, the more you can protect yourself and play a part in stamping out this cruel practice.

If you are planning to buy a new puppy, consider adopting from a refuge or find a legitimate breeder through the Scottish SPCA’s Assured Puppy Breeder scheme or Kennel Club UK. Be wary of online adverts for puppies.

The Puppy Contract is a free online tool which encourages the responsible breeding and buying of puppies – it can be used both by dog breeders and by anyone thinking of buying a new puppy.

Gudrun Ravetz, President of the British Veterinary Association, advises:

“Anyone thinking of getting a new puppy should speak to their local veterinary practice for advice and use the Puppy Contract to avoid purchasing a puppy farmed dog. If a seller is not willing to provide the information listed in the Puppy Contract or allow you to see the puppy interacting with its mother, then you should walk away. If you buy a puppy that you suspect of being puppy farmed, we’d advise you to seek advice from a local vet and contact Trading Standards.”

If you have concerns that your puppy may have been bred as a consequence of a puppy farm or are aware of someone who may be involved in an unlicensed puppy farm, contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA), Trading Standards Scotland, Society of Chief Officers for Trading Standards in Scotland (SCOTSS) and the SSPCA have developed a new guidance note and flow chart to support vets in their considerations of when and how to report the suspected illegal importation of pets.
Access the reporting form through Advice Direct Scotland’s website