Publication - Research publication

Sourcing of pet dogs from illegal importation and puppy farms 2016-2017: scoping research

Published: 9 Nov 2017
Agriculture and Rural Economy Directorate
Part of:
Farming and rural, Research

The report describes research into the scale of the trade in imported and illegally bred puppies.

Sourcing of pet dogs from illegal importation and puppy farms 2016-2017: scoping research


The irresponsible and illegal puppy trade is a fluid and lucrative market. This research has gathered more data as to the prevalence and nature, but still an accurate estimate as to the exact scale and scope of the illegal puppy trade in the UK was not achievable. This is presumably due to the hidden nature of the illegal trade in puppies and because consumers of illegal or irresponsibly bred puppies are too traumatised, embarrassed and/or ashamed to speak out.

We did learn from a snapshot of the number of puppies for sale online in a 12-week period in Scotland that trade within Scotland alone is estimated to be worth over £3.3 million a quarter or over £13 million a year. From speaking to 14 experts and 160 puppy owners, and surveying 53 stakeholders, we learned those profiting from the puppy trade are a mixture of individuals selling litters, hobby breeders, small businesses and commercial enterprises. Across this mixture, there are examples of good practice (complying with PAAG minimum standards, vetting prospective buyers etc.) and evidence of unscrupulous and illegal activities (using PTS for commercial transportation, using fraudulent passports with inaccurate data regarding age and vaccinations etc.).

There are information and processes in place that have the potential to be utilised more effectively to identify the illegal trade and to reduce illegal and irresponsible breeding and trade. For instance, mandatory microchipping could be used, not only to return dogs to their owners, but also to provide a traceability mechanism for dogs from birth through transport and sale to death. Likewise, NGOs produce useful guides to purchasing a puppy, but a combined effort and centralised 'go-to' website with this information would decrease the confusion felt by consumers looking for guidance.

Overall, the scale of the irresponsible and illegal puppy trade causes numerous puppies to suffer unhygienic and often abusive conditions. The trade can also endanger public health (see Case Study 4 and the literature review in Appendix II for specifics) as well as have other negative social and economic impacts, such as anti-social dogs and tax evasion. In order to respond to this problem, a multi-faceted approach is necessary. This would include better standardised data collection that is transparent and widely shared about the legal and known illegal trade, efforts to change consumer behaviour, and review and revision of legislation regarding domestic and international regulation and animal welfare.

Undoubtedly, resources and personnel are limited, so a multi-agency collaboration is the best chance of creating a robust team to undertake this improvement. A review and revision of the legislation should be a priority since there is an opportunity with leaving the European Union for the UK to revise its domestic and international regulation to ensure better traceability of dogs entering the country and their movement once they are in the UK. There is also the opportunity to address the main flaws of existing legislation (that is, PTS allowing five dogs per person).

There are several areas for further research that could be undertaken in the short-term to inform the improvement of the legislation: pilot studies testing, which approaches most effectively change consumer behaviour ( i.e. celebrity campaigns, 'go-to' website), the role of social media in facilitating the illegal and irresponsible trade, and comparative research of how other countries are tackling this problem.

Whilst we propose some recommendations and solutions, these would be most effective if supported by continued research to strengthen the evidence base as to which approaches will work best. Implementing these recommendations and continuing to research the problem is important to reduce the myriad of suffering and social impacts brought about by illegal and irresponsible puppy breeding and trading.