Licensing of dog, cat and rabbit breeding activities: consultation

Seeks views on proposals to introduce new regulations for the licensing of dog, cat and rabbit breeding activities in Scotland.

Part II: Background Information

Current Legislation

The practice of breeding dogs in Scotland is governed by the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 and the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999. Under these Acts, a licence is required for any individual who keeps a breeding establishment. A breeding establishment is where a person undertakes the business of breeding dogs for sale, owns or is responsible for breeding bitches which produce a total of five or more litters between them in a 12 month period. The Breeding of Dogs Act 1991 provides for inspection of premises unlicensed for the purposes of dog breeding. The breeding of cats and rabbits is currently unregulated.

The dealing of young dogs and cats is regulated by the Licensing of Animal Dealers (Young Cats and Young Dogs) (Scotland) Regulations 2009. Under the regulations an individual who sells or acquires a cat or dog at less than 84 days old, with a view to sell requires an animal dealing licence. The dealing of young rabbits is currently unregulated.

These licences are granted subject to compliance with a set of standards, specific to the type of activity in question. They enable local authorities to inspect the premises, allow an appeals process to the courts in case of refusal or imposition of onerous conditions, provide that operating without a licence is an offence, and set out a number of disqualifications that are relevant to the local authority when assessing licence applications (such as a conviction for animal cruelty). They also permit a local authority to recover the costs for inspection, processing, and enforcement expenditure through a licence fee.

Welfare concerns

Despite these Acts and the ongoing work of many animal welfare organisations and enforcement agencies, serious animal welfare concerns remain, in particular with regard to puppies, for which there is an increasing demand.

Exact figures for the annual market for dogs, cats and rabbits are difficult to obtain. However, research by OneKind and the RSPCA estimates that around 100 licensed dog breeders currently operate within Scotland with the market for puppies in Scotland ranging between 70,000 and 190,000 per year1. This indicates that there may be a large number of unlicensed dog breeders who fall under the threshold of five or more litters in a 12-month period.

Whilst most breeding establishments are run by individuals with the best interests of the animals at heart, there is some concern that the welfare of breeding animals as well as their young can suffer if:

  • - More animals are kept than the premises have room for;
  • - Premises are unsanitary, unsafe and/or unsuitable for the animal in question;
  • - Females are bred too frequently;
  • - Offspring are separated from the mother at too young an age.

A new approach

The Programme for Government 2017-18 committed the Scottish Government to prepare legislation for a modern system of licensing of dog, cat and rabbit breeding activities, allowing for independent accreditation of applicants. The overall aim is to regulate this area to protect animal welfare in a way that is not unduly burdensome for those doing a good job at present, while being effective in dealing with cases where welfare is not being sufficiently protected.

The main features of the modern system are proposed to be:

  • A threshold number of breeding animals determining whether licensing is to be applied;
  • Licences should be flexible and may be awarded, on a risk-based assessment, for a period of up to three years;
  • An exemption from inspection requirements for businesses assured by a UKAS accredited body;
  • Licences to be issued at any point in the year for a fixed term but can be suspended or revoked at any time;
  • Discourage the breeding of dogs, cats and rabbits with a predisposition for genetic conditions which lead to health problems in later life.


Email: Grant Campbell 

Back to top