Counting the Cost of the Illegal Puppy Trade

The illegal trading of puppies is a practice which not only proves incredibly damaging to the animals involved, but can also severely impact consumers, carrying a significant financial and emotional toll.

Scottish Government figures estimate that almost half (45%) of people who bought a puppy in 2019 purchased the animal online, an increase of 25% from the previous year. This is a clear indication that the illegal puppy trade in Scotland is a booming one – fuelled by online sales, social media, and the lack of awareness around the real costs that consumers can face.

The illegal trade in puppies is substantial and profitable, with the Scottish Market alone estimated to be worth approximately £13 million annually.

Puppy farms breed dogs too often and many are unhealthy, living in shockingly poor conditions. Animals from these types of environments are generally removed from their mothers far too early and transported by rail, van or ferries to illegal dealers or pet shops to satisfy an increased public demand.

Puppies are bred en masse with scant regard for the animals’ welfare or the behavioural impact. They are thought of in terms of monetary value only and are exploited to maximise profit margins. Illegal breeders are rearing pups in dirty conditions, without food or water, leading to serious medical issues, and in many circumstances the pups may only live for a matter of weeks.

Findings from a study conducted by the Scottish SPCA and the University of Edinburgh concluded that:

  • The intensive breeding environment causes increased levels of stress in puppies and their mothers.
  • Dogs from puppy farms are more likely to have behavioural problems than dogs from other breeding environments, with an increased risk of the animal feeling fear, anxiety and aggression.
  • The harsh environment and breeding process often means animals will require treatment from a vet soon after leaving the puppy farm for a new home.
  • Farmed puppies are more likely to have genetic disorders and are more at risk from deadly infectious diseases such as parvovirus.
  • Many will not have received vaccinations or treatments, such as worming.

The special investigations unit at the SSPCA investigate hundreds of puppy farms each year, but the practice of illegal puppy farming continues to remain an issue, largely due to the increasing demand for more household pets. However, increased consumer awareness of these issues is key in ensuring that puppy farming does not continue.

Illegal puppy farmer will often seek to make money as quickly as possible, offering puppies to take home immediately. In contrast, the process of buying a puppy from a reputable breeder can last months.

There are also instances of illegal dealers renting out new homes before inviting buyers to meet the puppies there. This is to give the impression that the pups have been reared in clean, safe environments.

Many shelters across Europe launch online appeals via social media for homes in the UK to adopt street dogs and puppies. Adopting a pet can be a responsible and ethical approach, but adopting one from another country carries its own risks. Young puppies can be brought into the UK for sale and rehoming with falsified information, fake test results, and fraudulent microchips.

The process of transporting the animals from outside of the UK can be extremely stressful for the animals too, sometimes leading to higher anxiety levels and aggressive behaviour.

In the latest phase of the Scottish Governments Buy a Puppy Safely campaign, they are asking potential buyers to #LookBeyondCute and make three ‘Pup Checks’:

  • Look for the puppy’s mother.
  • Ask for paperwork, such as vaccination and microchipping certificates.
  • Walk away if something doesn’t feel right.

Last year’s campaign contributed to a 37% increase in the number of calls on suspected puppy farms to the SSPCA’s helpline.

If you would like to report a puppy farm, or have information for Trading Standards on the illegal sale of pets, you can contact on 0808 164 6000. We are open 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday.

You can follow us on social media – Twitter: @advicedotscot and Facebook at, Instagram:, or get ahead by visiting our knowledge centre at

The Scottish Government, working in conjunction with the Scottish SPCA, launched their own site to tackle puppy farming and provide guidance on the correct process of finding a new puppy at

Trading Standards Scotland are working with the Scottish SPCA to tackle illicit puppy farming and puppy dealing. You can sign the pledge against illegal puppy farms at

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