Tricks of the trade! Our new report exposing how cruel illegal breeders take advantage of online loopholes

With almost half of all puppies sold on Gumtree found to be illegally imported into the UK, our new report exposes just how online platforms are helping cruel breeders to thrive


The UK is reportedly home to 13 million dogs, and sadly it is hard to know how many of these beloved companions were illegally imported into the country.

Our brand-new report ‘Tricks of the Trade: the truth about the illegal puppy trade in the UK’ reveals clear evidence of the cruelty many puppies endure before reaching their new ‘forever’ home - exposing the many ‘tricks of trade’ that breeders use to dupe unsuspecting families.

During COVID-19, (from June 2020 - June 2021) 732% more online adverts for pets popped up across the internet than had been previously recorded. This equated to over 24,000 adverts, many of which advertised puppies who had been bred in poor conditions and then transported thousands of miles in cramped conditions, onto British shores. Sadly, the cute advert that promised families a quick delivery often hid a sick and suffering puppy. 

Almost a third of puppies sold below the age of just seven weeks were advertised through Instagram, compared with a tiny 7% of puppies who were aged nine weeks or older.

If being imported a dog should be at least 15 weeks old, meaning puppies are taken from their mothers far too soon. The strains that puppies undergo during these long journeys at such young ages can be devastating to a puppy’s health and development, and this early separation from their mother is exactly what causes a number of health and development issues further down the line.

Importantly, this new report aims to educate and support families and individuals looking to introduce a furry friend to their family and reveals the tell-tale signs people can be vigilant for when recognising a potential illegal breeder.

Tell-tale signs of an illegal breeder

The seller suggests meeting in a public place

Although it may feel safer to some buyers to meet in a public setting, this tactic means the seller’s true location can never be known and the puppy’s true background is obscured. As per Lucy’s Law, the sale must take place on the premises in which the puppy is bred and must be seen interacting with its mother before the sale is finalised.

 The puppy advertised in advance of its arrival in the UK

Sellers of imported puppies will advertise puppies before they have arrived in the UK, enabling them to list the puppies and sell them from a much younger age. This would mean that unsuspecting buyers could pick up a much too young puppy straight after a lengthy journey from Eastern Europe, with the animal having received no health care or veterinary checks.

No photographs or video of puppies with their mother

Sellers may provide photos of the parents rather than of the puppies with the parents – a strong indicator of illicit sales.

No documentation

Prolific sellers may state that the puppies had a ‘full health check’ before leaving their country of origin, but often do not provide any documentation to prove this. Many puppies are sold without having UK veterinary checks before being advertised, and therefore the health status of the puppies remains unknown at sale.

Last minute change of location

Imported puppies being sold from a location different from the one stated in the advert indicates suspicious activity. Illegal puppy sellers can change the viewing location, which reduces their transparency and traceability as well as obscuring the background of the puppy.

We hope this report can support families who are searching for their perfect companion and inspire them to make better choices while looking online.

In revealing the ugly truth behind the ‘cute’ adverts online, we hope we can secure a safer future for animals caught up in this trade.

Read the report


Sophie Miller

Digital Marketing Specialist (Maternity Cover) FOUR PAWS Australia

Sophie works in the Communications Team at FOUR PAWS Australia. She has a background in Marketing, PR and Communications across the charity sector. Sophie is passionate about animal welfare and utilises her skills and experience in communications, marketing and PR to bring about change.

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