5 actions to take to make sure that you're not funding bad breeders
A blog by our head of companion animals, Dr Samantha Gaines.
Last year saw demand for dogs and puppies soar, with breeders, buyers and rescue centres reporting unprecedented interest. With many of us stuck in another lockdown, puppies are still highly sought after.
Unfortunately, finding a puppy that has been responsibly bred can be difficult at the best of times but as a result of last year's spike in demand, the UK market for puppies is struggling as a result and there's now a worrying trend of breeding and importing puppies outside of the UK.
What's wrong with imported puppies?
The imported puppy trade places puppies at serious risk of severe health problems, putting new owners in stressful situations that can cost thousands in vet bills and even more in emotional distress. There is typically a lack of appropriate healthcare including vaccinations and litters tend to be mixed during transportation to the UK meaning diseases can quickly spread.
Additionally, puppies can be at greater risk of developing behaviour problems due to poor and inadequate socialisation and exposure to stressful events including transportation for extended periods of time. Puppies may also be smuggled into the UK and at a much younger than the required age of 15 weeks. The welfare of these puppies is a real concern but some diseases being carried by these puppies may also be harmful to other pets and people too.
To help tackle this awful trade, we launched a campaign #ForPupsSake in December 2020. The campaign calls on the UK Government to raise the age of imports from 15 to 24 weeks, helping to better protect the public. You can help us by sending our letter to the Secretary of State, George Eustice.
Have you considered adopting from a rescue centre?
But what if you're looking to get a puppy yourself this year? New research conducted by our team here at the RSPCA found that nearly a third of people said that they did not feel confident in how to avoid an illegal or irresponsible breeder or seller.
There are so many dogs waiting patiently for a new family, and we would always encourage families to consider offering a home to a rescue dog instead of buying. Why not take a look at the animals we have ready and waiting for their forever homes right now?
Meet our animals ready to be loved: Find a pet.
How to buy a healthy puppy from a breeder if you can't adopt
We know that many people will want to buy a puppy from a breeder, and we want to ensure you don't get caught out with an unhealthy pup. If you are going to buy then you need to make sure that you don't get caught out by an unscrupulous seller. Here are some steps you can take that will help you find a happy and healthy puppy:
1. Use the Puppy Contract!
This is a free online tool that helps guide you through finding a good breeder and choosing a puppy. The Puppy Contract provides a step-by-step guide on what to look out for, what to ask and provides a contract for you and the seller to sign. It will really help support you and give you peace of mind when you start looking for and speaking to breeders.
2. Check the advert
There are a few simple things you can do to check that the seller is acting responsibly and legally:
- If you found your puppy advertised online, copy and paste the phone number into your search engine. Do not contact sellers whose numbers have been used on lots of other adverts or if the same seller has lots of different breeds or types available. This could be a puppy farm which is where puppies are bred in large numbers, often in very poor conditions.
- Puppies and kittens need to be at least 15 weeks to travel from the EU and certain other countries, or seven months old from unlisted 'third' countries. If they are advertised as younger than this but with a pet passport, then these puppies will have been illegally imported.
Read more: Tips for spotting a puppy dealer's online advert.
3. Pick up the phone
- Always call the seller before you visit and be prepared to ask a lot of questions - this is where the Puppy Contract is especially helpful!
- Questions should include: how the pups have been bred, how they're being kept, what medical treatment they have had as well as what the breeder has done to introduce the pup to new sights, sounds, smells as well as other animals and people.
- You should also ask lots of questions about the parents including any health tests they might have had and what the results are.
- Make sure to ask them that they have bred the puppies themselves. Lucy's Law means that only those people who have bred the puppies themselves can sell them.
- The seller should be willing to share with you copies of all relevant paperwork including vaccination certificates, proof of microchipping, worming and flea treatment and depending on the dog you're buying, pedigree documentation.
- Never feel rushed or pressured into a sale or feel uncomfortable asking important questions. If it doesn't feel right then walk away.
Read more: Buying a puppy from a breeder.
4. See the puppies with their mum and in their home
In pre-Covid times you would expect to visit the seller and the puppies on several occasions but with measures in place to restrict the spread of the virus, this might not be possible. Instead, it is important to ask for lots of photos and videos so that you can see how the puppies are developing and progressing and that you can be sure that they are being raised in the place they were born.
You could also ask for a Zoom or FaceTime meet-up so that you can see the pups in real-time. All the puppies should be healthy, sociable and alert.
Be prepared to answer lots of questions; the breeder should be asking you as much as you ask them. They should want assurance that you are going to give their puppy a great life!
When you have found the right puppy for you make sure that they are at least eight weeks of age when you collect him or her and that it is from the place where he/she was born. Don't buy from someone who is suggesting that you meet somewhere other than the puppy's place of birth.
5. Trust your instincts
If something seems wrong or suspicious, it probably is. Don't hand over any money and don't 'rescue' the puppy. Walk away and report your concerns to the local authority or Trading Standards team, to the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 or to the police on 101.
Our top tips will help you find a happy and healthy puppy but if you want even more information on how to get your puppy safely then the UK Government has some great advice which will help you get to know the person behind the pet and to avoid deceitful sellers.
Once you have your happy and healthy puppy you will need to start socialising them. This is a process whereby puppies are shown and introduced, in positive and gradual ways, to lots of sights, sounds, smells, people and animals to help their development. Doing this during coronavirus requires a little more thought. For more information please read:
You can also check out our guide for what to expect to do during your puppy's first year.
Find out more
Find out more about buying a healthy dog from a safe breeder: Finding a good puppy breeder.