Illegal Puppy Trade

The organised, large-scale illegal puppy trade is flourishing across the globe.

Our Intelligence Unit has experienced staff that possess years of experience in investigating the illegal puppy trade, having achieved high conviction rates.

Illegal Puppy Trade: Third party sales

Photo by David Clarke on Unsplash

Illegal puppy farming involves breeding puppies in poor conditions and selling them through various means, often involving third-party dealers. These criminal networks prioritise profit over the welfare of the animals, leading to significant cruelty and health issues for the puppies.

Puppies bred in illegal farms often suffer from numerous health and behavioural issues due to the poor conditions they are raised in. They are frequently kept in cramped, dirty environments with inadequate food, water, and medical care. The breeding dogs, especially the mothers, endure constant pregnancies with little rest, leading to severe physical and psychological stress.

These puppies are often separated from their mothers too early, depriving them of essential maternal care and socialization. This early separation can cause long-term behavioural problems and anxiety. Additionally, many of these puppies are sold without proper vaccinations, leading to serious illnesses that can sometimes be fatal.

In response to these issues, the UK introduced “Lucy’s Law” in April 2020. This legislation bans the third-party sale of puppies and kittens, meaning that prospective pet owners must buy directly from breeders or adopt from rescue centres. This law aims to improve transparency and ensure that animals are bred and raised in humane conditions​.

Despite these laws, illegal puppy farming continues to be a significant problem. Enforcement is challenging, and illegal breeders often find ways to circumvent regulations.

Illegal Puppy Trade: Smuggling and importation

Illegal Puppy Trade
Undercover footage of international puppy smugglers taken by Animal Welfare Investigations Project at Polish puppy markets

Puppy smuggling into the UK from Eastern Europe and other countries has become a significant issue, exacerbated by high demand for certain dog breeds. Smugglers often exploit legal loopholes and abuse pet travel schemes to bring in puppies in poor conditions, leading to severe welfare concerns for the animals and unsuspecting buyers.

Puppies smuggled from these countries often endure horrific conditions. They are typically separated from their mothers at an extremely young age, often younger than the legal minimum age of 15 weeks. These young puppies are transported over long distances in cramped, unsanitary conditions, leading to significant stress and health issues. Many arrive in the UK unvaccinated, suffering from diseases, and in poor overall health. There have been cases where puppies were found covered in oil or suffering from severe dehydration and malnutrition upon arrival​.

Unscrupulous sellers deceive consumers by presenting these puppies as being bred in the UK. They often use fake documentation and staged environments to mislead buyers into believing they are purchasing a healthy, well-cared-for pet. This deception results in many buyers taking home sick puppies, leading to emotional distress and significant veterinary costs​.

The Animal Welfare Investigations Project has specifically investigated puppy markets in Poland, uncovering the grim realities of how these puppies are bred and transported.

Illegal Puppy Trade: How to report puppy farming

Local councils are responsible for enforcing animal welfare laws, including those related to breeding and selling dogs. They issue licenses to breeders and conduct inspections to ensure compliance with welfare standards. Councils also have the power to investigate complaints and take action against illegal puppy farms. You can find your local council using the Government website.

The Animal Welfare Investigations Project plays a significant role in investigating and prosecuting cases of animal cruelty, including those involving puppy farming. Our Intelligence Unit responds to allegations of illegal puppy trade and liaises with statutory agencies to rescue animals and bring prosecutions. You can share information about the illegal puppy trade with the Animal Welfare Investigations Project by sending an email to our Intelligence Unit. The email address is