Animal Charity


8 tips to recognise the signs of illegal puppy breeding


During this time of the year many people are looking for a pet, especially when you are only one click away from welcoming a new furry friend to your home!

FOUR PAWS always stands up for adoption. We believe in giving rescued dogs, who will otherwise be spending Christmas in a kennel, a chance of a home. However, we know that despite our advice of #AdoptDontShop, many people still end up buying a puppy online. 

So, recognising this, we think it is crucial that we help raise awareness of unlicensed breeders and poor breeding conditions, knowing that this can affect puppy’s health and welfare.

According to an Opinion Matters survey, more than 1 in 10 (12%) pet buyers didn’t do any research at all before visiting their puppy or kitten for the first time. So, for this year, we have prepared an easy list of 8 tips to consider if you still want to buy a puppy. These are important steps to follow, and can help you to recognise signs of illegal breeders:

1.  Always buy from a proven licensed dog breeder, and look for the license number in the advert

You can check the number with your local authority to see if it is legitimate.

2.  If the seller is online, make sure that they do not offer more than one breed - this is suspicious!

You can check if the seller has multiple ads by searching the phone number, name or address given. Multiple ads and multiple breeds suggests puppy farming.

3. Before you visit the puppy, have a phone call with the seller and ask questions about the puppy’s breeding and veterinary history.

A responsible seller should also ask the buyer lots of questions! And a good breeder will be happy to answer.

4. Never pay a deposit without seeing the puppy in person.

Be suspicious of excuses and multiple phone numbers or contacts. Dodgy breeders will try to fob you off or be difficult to get hold of.

5. Be wary of buying from a breeder who is trying to sell the puppy as quickly as possible or in a unusual location e.g., a car park

Do not agree to have your puppy delivered to you or meet “half-way”. Pandemic restrictions have given dodgy breeders the freedom to arrange unusual meeting points, but be suspicious of people who do not allow you to visit where the puppy and mother are located.

6. Ask whether the puppy is already microchipped and if it is already registered to the breeder.

The pup should be registered to them and then transferred to you. By law all dogs should be microchipped from 8 weeks old, which is the earliest age you should be able to purchase a puppy.

7. Make sure that you get all the necessary paperwork - a purchase contract, with personal information about the breeder as well as the dog, and the vaccination papers and where the microchip number is documented.

Dodgy breeders can fake paperwork and this can be hard to spot, but no paperwork at all is definitely suspicious.

8. If you feel something isn’t right – just walk away. Contact the RSPCA or police if you are concerned with a pup’s welfare

Although it is very tempting to ‘rescue’ the dog from unethical sellers, please try your best to walk away. Buying the puppy only allows these dealers to continue their work and make money from unsuspecting victims of the trade.

It is important that you follow this checklist so you don’t get caught up in this trade, especially after the Opinion Matters poll show that less than half (43%) of UK dog or cat owners visited the seller in-person in the animal’s home when researching their recent pet purchase.

FOUR PAWS urges potential new owners to be alert of suspicious ads and breeders, especially during this time ahead of Christmas, when these sellers take more advantage of the higher demand.

If possible, we always suggest adoption over buying a puppy.

If you have seen something suspicious or if you know someone who has been a victim of the illegal puppy trade, let us know by filling in our online reporting form. Together we can end this cruel trade.

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Animal Charity - Joana

Joana Fernandes

UK Investigations Consultant

Joana supports the UK investigations Team by managing illegal puppy trade cases reported to the FOUR PAWS UK. She also liaises with the Communication Team helping to raise awareness about this issue. She has over five years experience as a researcher and project assistant in wildlife conservation and animal welfare, both in the UK and internationally.   

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