Animal Charity

Is the UK the top destination for European puppies?

Over the years, the number of puppies coming from other countries into the UK has been rising in response to the public desire for a furry companion.


The movement of dogs in and out of the UK is governed by two regimes: the Balai Directive for Commercial Movements and the Pet Travel Regulations for dogs that comply with pet requirements.

But, what do these complicated sounding regulations really mean?

Dogs imported under the Balai Directive includes commercial puppies, rescue dogs, research dogs and unaccompanied pets.

Pet travel on the other hand is people like you and me who move between countries with our pets in tow, whether for holidays or to emigrate.

The global pandemic had a big impact on the European puppy trade, which saw a shift from dog imports under the Pet Travel Regulations to the Balai Directive (commercial imports), due to lockdown travel restrictions.

Puppies transported this way aren’t checked at the border and post import checks were suspended during lockdown (Dogs Trust).

This brings up one major concern - how many dogs and puppies cross the border without being checked?

We’ve seen the number of commercial dogs imported to the UK spike, with 70,154 dogs imported in 2021 alone.

Below you can see this pattern during the last four years:

Animal Charity

Figures provided by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

These figures are just a snapshot of the issue as they only represent the known figures of the trade and do not include dogs under the Pet Travel Regulations.

Besides, many puppies continue to be smuggled illegally to the UK.

According to Dogs Trust, since the ban on commercial Third-Party Sales (aka Lucy’s Law) came into force in April 2020, many pregnant dogs are imported in the late stages of pregnancy.

This tactic ensures buyers can ‘see mum’ with the young puppies before the female is then returned to her country of origin to be bred from again and again.

FOUR PAWS received over 600 puppy trade reports in 2021 of dodgy breeders and adverts and many people ended up buying a sick puppy without knowing it.

Sadly, countless puppies come from illegal breeding facilities out of the UK with no veterinary care provided.

That’s why we are working hard to raise awareness of unscrupulous breeders and investigate as many cases as we can.

If you too have been a victim of the puppy trade, or know someone who has, let us know:

Animal Charity

report illegal puppy traders

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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