17th February 2021

TSS combats illegal puppy trade

A new Trading Standards Scotland campaign is urging people seeking to buy a new puppy to be aware of unscrupulous sellers.


By Diane Bryson
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Two out of five illegally bred puppies bought online die before their fifth birthday and more than one in six get sick or die in the first year

In light of the huge increase in public demand for puppies since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trading Standards Scotland (TSS) has partnered with the Scottish SPCA to urge consumers to buy puppies safely online, and to avoid illegal and low-welfare breeders who put profit over the health of the breeding dogs and puppies they sell.

TSS is also supporting the Scottish SPCA in its appeal for dog breeders to join its Assured Puppy Breeders scheme – a free and voluntary initiative open to any dog breeder in Scotland. It has developed a framework for responsible breeding and inspectors will assess applications and visit breeding premises annually to make sure high welfare standards are in place.

Prices for puppies have almost doubled due to high demand during the pandemic, with some popular breeds now costing more than £3,000. The increased demand has encouraged illegal puppy farming, with many puppies being taken from their mothers too early or catching infectious diseases due to lack of vaccinations or the unsanitary conditions they were raised in. Sadly, this has led to many puppies passing away in their new homes, or new owners having to pay for expensive veterinary treatment.

Research by the Scottish SPCA shows that two out of five illegally bred puppies bought online die before their fifth birthday and more than one in six get sick or die in the first year.

As part of the campaign, TSS has published a podcast with guests from the Scottish SPCA, Police Scotland, SCOTSS and Vistalworks to discuss the consequences of buying puppies from low-welfare farms or dealers, and to provide guidance to the public on how to buy a puppy safely.

In response to the growing number of problematic adverts for puppies on online marketplaces, tech firm Vistalworks has also updated its online checker to show a ‘high risk’ warning message on Gumtree URLs selling puppies. The message directs potential buyers to the Scottish SPCA’s Say No To Puppy Dealers website for more information about the signs of badly bred puppies and encourages them to walk away from the sale if they are in any doubt.

Advice to buyers

  • You can never do too much research before buying a new pet. Illegal dealers may use the same description and photo on more than one advert – try Googling the text of the description and photo to see if they have been used on any other puppy adverts;
  • Research the seller – is their phone number or email address linked to different profiles? Are they advertising several different breeds of dog? Are they reluctant to answer questions about the puppies’ mother or provide paperwork?
  • Don’t buy a puppy without seeing paperwork and certificates for vaccinations, microchipping and worming;
  • Insist on seeing the puppy with its mother in the home in which it was raised – be suspicious if the seller wants to meet in a car park or public space;
  • Don’t pay a deposit without seeing the dog in person – be suspicious if the seller tries to rush you into handing over cash.