Buying a puppy safely during the pandemic

The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has led to a huge increase in demand for puppies across the country.  Whether you’re working from home or looking for a canine companion, it might seem like the perfect time to buy a puppy. However, reputable breeders can’t meet the demand for puppies right now, so you’re more likely to buy an illegally bred puppy than you think.

It can seem very tempting to buy a puppy online and get it quickly, but you should never purchase a puppy impulsively. Illegal puppy farmers are taking advantage of the surge in demand for pups and are cashing in on the back of the pandemic. No matter how quickly you want a puppy, it’s essential to learn the signs of an illegally bred puppy as most illegally bred puppies are sold online through social media or small ad sites. Sadly, 2 in 5 of those pups bought online die before their fifth birthday and more than 1 in 6 get sick or die in the first year.

Think you're ready to buy a puppy?

Take the quiz below to test your knowledge and see if you can spot an illegally bred puppy.

Warning Signs of an illegally bred puppy

#LookBeyondCute

Now more than ever, it’s important to #LookBeyondCute and be aware of the three ‘Pup Checks’ to buy a puppy safely.

Look for the mum

Many illegal breeders are using coronavirus as an excuse for you not to come to the place where the puppy was bred and see it with its mum. Given the current Government travel guidance, you should either source your puppy from a reputable breeder within your local authority area or wait until you can travel safely outside your area. This might mean meeting the puppy and its mum isn’t possible just now, but it’s important that you wait until the travel guidance allows you to do so. This will let you to see the puppy in its home environment and meet the mum safely. Never agree to meet halfway due to current travel restrictions, in places like a car park, lay-by, any other unusual place, or have the puppy delivered directly to your door. Reputable breeders will always work within the current Government guidelines.

Look for paperwork

You should always receive the puppy’s paperwork for vaccinations, microchipping, anti-worming medications and check-ups. Some dealers might use the current lockdown restrictions for not providing these essential documents or provide fake paperwork that doesn’t look right, or which doesn’t have the name, number and address of a real veterinary practice.

Look beyond cute

Even if you are desperate for a pup right now or overcome by strong emotion to rescue it, if something doesn’t feel right, walk away and report your concerns to the Scottish SPCA on 03000 999 999.

Read on to find out what to look out for when buying a puppy and remember if there’s no mum and no paperwork, then you need to #LookBeyondCute and walk away.

When you’re searching online

Many dealers are running huge operations, selling multiple litters at the same time, or even smuggling dogs to the UK from abroad. Look out for these signs online that can reveal if the advert has been posted by an illegal seller.

Covid tactics

Many illegal breeders are using coronavirus as an excuse for you not to come to visit the puppy before you buy. Reputable breeders will always allow you to see the puppy in its home environment and meet the mum safely. Given the current Government travel guidance, you should either source your puppy from a reputable breeder within your local authority area or wait until you can travel safely outside your area, even if that means having to wait a bit longer to get your puppy.

Phone numbers

Many illegally farmed puppies are sold online, and dealers may create many adverts providing the same mobile number and descriptions of puppies. Try googling the number and descriptions to see if they’ve been used on lots of other adverts.

Stolen descriptions

Illegal dealers often copy and paste advert descriptions, and re-use them for selling multiple litters. To find out if the description of the puppy you’re thinking of buying is real or not, copy and paste it into your search engine. Again, if various adverts come up, it’s likely that your advert hasn’t been written by a verified seller.

Passports

If your puppy is advertised as having its own passport, this could be a sign that the puppy has been farmed overseas and brought to the UK to be sold.

Vaccinations

Puppies can’t be vaccinated until they are over four weeks old. If the advert claims that the puppies have been vaccinated already and they are said to be younger than four weeks old, this claim is untrue.

Multiple litters

If your seller is advertising multiple litters from different breeds of dog, this is a giveaway that they may be dealing puppy farmed dogs on a large scale. Verified sellers will mostly only trade in one breed of dog.

The safest way to find a puppy is not to source your puppy through an online advertising website. Seek recommendations from your local vet, approach local dog clubs, look for established breeders with a proven history and good reputation, or consider getting your puppy or dog from a re-homing centre.

With the current restrictions on travel due to coronavirus, you should look for a local breeder or wait until you can safely travel outside your level if you’re not buying a puppy within your local authority area. Find out more about coronavirus protection levels here.

What to look for when you go meet your puppy

When you’re ready to meet your puppy, there are signs to look for so you don’t get tricked into buying an illegally bred puppy. You should also make sure you comply with the current Government coronavirus guidance for your local area.

Take our ‘Are you puppy-ready?’ Quiz to test your knowledge and find out if you are all clued up on the signs and ready to go meet your puppy.

Meet at their home

Always visit the puppy in the place where they’ve been bred and reared. It’s important that you follow the current coronavirus travel guidance and don’t travel outside your local authority area if advised not to. Don’t agree to meet halfway due to current travel restrictions, in places like a car park, lay-by, any other unusual place, or even have the puppy delivered directly to your door. Dealers may use the pandemic as an excuse to meet you somewhere and will often rent houses to sell puppies from, so it’s important to look out for all the warning signs.

Meet the mum

Make sure you see the puppy’s mum. Due to coronavirus and the current travel guidance in place, meeting the puppy with its mum may not always be possible. You should wait until you can safely travel outside your area if you’re not buying a puppy within your local authority. Meeting the mum with her pups and having a chance to discuss matters with the breeder are vital steps to buying a puppy safely. Remember, some dealers will use an unrelated fake mum, but if she isn’t showing the puppies any attention, or watching you when you interact with her pups, she isn’t their mum.

A stand-in mother

Remember, some dealers will use an unrelated fake mum, but if she isn’t showing the puppies any attention, or watching you when you interact with her pups, she isn’t their mum.

Check the age and health of the puppy

Puppies being sold before they’re at least eight weeks old is an immediate red flag. They need to stay with their mum long enough so that they can socialise and learn behaviours. Check that the puppy looks healthy with bright eyes and shiny fur. Any concerns you raise about the puppy’s health should not be swept aside and classed as ‘normal for the breed’. Healthy, happy and socialised puppies are naturally curious and will want to interact with you and their surroundings. If they are timid and not willing to interact, ask yourself why?

Check you get the right paperwork

Illegal breeders will make excuses or give you fake paperwork that doesn’t look quite right. You should receive paperwork and certifications of vaccinations, worming records, microchipping certificates, and results of any health tests. Ideally, you’ll get a puppy contract. Verified and safe commercial breeders will have a local authority licence, and evidence of Assured Breeder Scheme membership.

Take your time

If you feel like you’re being rushed to part with cash, pressured into buying a puppy or aren’t asked about your home situation, it may be an illegal breeder. Legitimate sellers won’t ever rush you and won’t mind you visiting the puppy more than once. Treat any dealer that can offer you a puppy within a few days with caution. Established, reputable dealers often have waiting lists, which can be even longer just now due to the pandemic.

Look at the price

The price of puppies has more than doubled since lockdown, according to recent news, so it’s important to be aware that many illegal puppy traders are trying to cash in by increasing their prices to meet demand. Also, remember that a reputable breeder will never pressure you to part with cash or pay the full amount upfront, and you should never be asked to pay for your puppy online.

Think long-term

As the saying goes, a puppy is for life not just for Christmas, or lockdown for that matter. Please consider all the long-term implications of owning a puppy, such as puppy training, veterinary bills and food. Also, think about your day-to-day lifestyle. Do you have time to walk your puppy regularly - even after lockdown? How will your puppy respond to any children in your household? Reputable breeders and re-homing centres will ask these kinds of questions, whereas illegal traders may not.

No mum. No paperwork. Walk away.

Watch our Film and learn how to Buy a Puppy Safely
H2 Physical signs to check for

It can be hard to tell the difference between a healthy puppy, and one that might develop conditions or become ill once you’ve brought them home. Click below to read about some of the physical signs and symptoms the Scottish SPCA advise you to look out for when visiting your puppy.

Signs of a healthy puppy
H2 Risk of buying an illegally bred puppy

Having been born and brought up in stressful and unhygienic conditions, with no traceable family history, puppies originating from illegal puppy farms are more likely to have health problems, disease and behavioural issues due to lack of socialisation. These might not be obvious straight away but could develop after you bring the puppy home. Here are some of the potential consequences:

Early death

Most illegally bred puppies are sold online through social media or small ad sites, and the terrible fact is that more than 1 in 6 (15%) of those puppies bought online get sick or die in their first year.

Disease

When you take your puppy home, it could develop severe illness straight away due to infection and the absence of vaccinations at puppy farms. Puppy farmed pups are more likely to have genetic disorders and deadly infectious diseases such as parvovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea amongst other symptoms and can cost up to £4,000 to treat.

Behaviour issues

Puppies from puppy farms are more likely to be more aggressive, anxious and show symptoms of trauma, as a result of being brought by in a stressful environment by puppy dealers. Unfortunately, these issues may never go away – they cannot always be solved through training or by a loving and caring home.

Increased vet bills

The cost of buying a dog from a puppy farm can rack up over its lifetime. Owners who purchased from an Assured Breeder spent nearly 20% less in vet bills during their dog’s lifetime, compared to those from puppy farms.

Fuelling the trade

Although it is a natural instinct to want to rescue a puppy from an unlikely situation, buying from an illegal dealer helps fuel a lucrative criminal industry that breeds dogs for profit, with no care for the welfare of the mum or puppy. This leads to further suffering in the long run.

The best thing to do if something doesn’t seem right is walk away and report your concerns of puppy farming to the Scottish SPCA animal helpline on 03000 999 999.

Report your concerns
H2 Rehoming from abroad

Many shelters based in Europe and abroad launch appeals online and on social networks for homes in the UK to adopt orphaned dogs and puppies. While the ‘adopt don’t shop’ approach is a responsible way of buying a dog, rehoming one from abroad can carry a number of hidden risks.

Disease

Young puppies carrying diseases can be transported into the UK for sale and rehoming - often by
illegal operations running commercial puppy farms abroad. These animals’ passports can contain
false information, carrying fake test results and fraudulent microchip numbers.

Vets in the UK have identified an increased number of cases of dogs rehomed or bought from abroad displaying signs of mistreatment, diseases and parasites. These diseases and conditions can worsen over time, causing long-term health issues and even premature death.

Stress

The transportation process can be extremely stressful for animals, with dogs brought over from abroad often being deprived of human contact or other dogs’ company. This can result in trauma and the dogs can show symptoms of anxiety, fear and aggression afterwards. The transportation and rearing environments of these dogs is often dirty too, leaving them with illnesses, ticks or mites.

H2 Adopting in the UK

Remember, there are lots of healthy dogs in the UK looking for a new home. Visit the Scottish SPCA website to find a shelter or a dog home near you:

Find a dog shelter
H2 Reporting your concerns

Do you think your puppy, or a puppy you have visited may be from a puppy farm? Or do you think you might have come into contact with an illegal puppy dealer? If so, you can report them to the Scottish SPCA below and help stop puppy farming for good.

Report Now
Show your support for our campaign by using the hashtag
#LookBeyondCute