Owning a pet is normally an expensive long term commitment and unfortunately there are far too many internet adverts that encourage impulse buying. A photo of a cute cuddly animal with as little information as possible is geared to encourage impulse buying. The Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) minimum standards mean that those websites who make their money out of displaying adverts have the opportunity to take responsibility for what can be found on their site. By agreeing to the standards a website is committed not to host an advert that have been framed in a way that may encourage the gullible to make a purchase they are likely to regret.
PAAG compliant sites will have agreed to provide the necessary information to allow a buyer to make an informed choice about whether or not to view the animal. Purchasers will be able to know such vital information about the animal as its age, behaviours, or physical condition.
It is our hope that the minimum standards will help to address some of the problems that we identified with the online advertising of pets, such as poor standards of welfare, lack of information on its history, the offloading of sick or potentially, dealers masquerading as private sellers, and pets being swapped or ending up in the hands of unsuitable owners such as dog fighters.
A ban on the advertising of pets online is an unrealistic solution to the problem. We have to accept that many people now choose to look for their pet online. In much the same way as the internet is the first choice for finding a job, a home and a partner. It would be short sighted to suggest that a complete ban on the sale of pets over the internet would deal with the problem of people ending up with the wrong pet. In fact it is more likely to push the problems underground and onto sites which are owned and based outside the UK and would not be willing to comply with any standards.
Many responsible breeders of pets choose to advertise online, this is the reality of the situation and it is unlikely to change. Welfare organisations also use the internet to advertise the animals they have for rehoming. This is an important outlet for rescue and rehoming organisations to show potential rehomers the animals they have in their care that are looking for forever homes. Welfare organisations use the internet to advise potential pet owners to consider adopting a rescue animal rather than going to a breeder.
The internet also provides the opportunity to circulate information for potential pet owners on what to look for and factors to consider when buying. This is in the best interests of both the animal and the owner. We feel dedicated consumer awareness campaigns and the implementation of minimum standards for online adverting will be much more likely to encourage more responsible purchase and sale in the longer term than an outright ban on online advertising.
The cooperation of websites is key to the success of the PAAG minimum standards. We feel that the best way to ensure that websites comply is through public demand for higher standards and better adverts. As the pet owning public become more aware of the standards they can begin to move away from those sites which do not insist on minimum standards for the adverts they host. It is hoped that this will lead to a decrease in traffic to the worst sites which should provide an incentive to improve and ensure that all adverts comply with the PAAG minimum standards.
As well as consumers choosing to use the best sites, which only host advertisements which meet the minimum standards, we also believe that engaged members of the public will proactively report adverts which do not meet the standards. A number of welfare organisations have in place a dedicated group of volunteer moderators who look at adverts (of all pet species) and report those that don’t meet the standards directly to the websites concerned. The trade association representatives on PAAG will also deal with questions about adverts that potentially infringe good welfare standards.
All members of PAAG are committed to educating the public about the online pet sales environment, and encouraging consumer awareness and cooperation to improve animal welfare.
There is still more work to be done by PAAG to identify sites that provide classified pet advertising and to encourage them to adopt and meet the PAAG minimum standards. As the leading sites improve it is likely that a proportion of the bad adverts they host will move onto other, smaller sites. It is important that PAAG continues to identify and reach out to all sites.
Educating the public is a key element of PAAG’s work and the individual charities that are members of PAAG remain committed to educating and informing the public about the online pet sales environment.
The minimum standards are only one element of a much wider project. We have to ensure that consumers know what to look for and are aware of the best practice guidelines when looking for a pet online, or elsewhere. Informed consumers will be a powerful force in driving up standards of pet advertising and sale across the board.
Primates are not suitable as household pets and are suitable only for zoos and experienced specialist private keepers. Keeping primates within the family home is unlikely to fulfil the animals’ Five Freedoms which would likely place keepers in contravention of the Animal Welfare Act and liable to potential prosecution. A DEFRA Code of Practice for Primates Kept in Private Hands can be accessed here.
PAAG is convinced that the best way to promote responsible advertising of pets is to work with online companies, not against them. Our long term vision is for online advertising websites to self-regulate to the point where more and more member charities can confidently use them to reach potentially millions of new people who may be looking to rehome a rescue animal.
Banning is not realistic and would not achieve the aim of improving cat welfare where cats need homes. There will always be a surplus of cats and kittens that need good homes. The internet is just the modern way of advertising, replacing free papers and even the old postcard in the post office. Banning the sale of pets on the internet would simply drive the sale of pets underground and potentially deny good homes to thousands of cats. We need responsible pet advertising online.
Photos – Gumtree and Preloved now insist on a photo of a cat or kitten. Photos are important as they help spot any suspicious adverts, for example where there is repeat use of a stock photo of a cat or kitten or the photo shows a welfare issue.
Prevention of the sale of under-age kittens – this is by far the most common issue. As a result of the minimum standards sites are now insisting on age being mentioned on the face of the adverts. It is especially important that kittens are not sold under 8 weeks. Some sites already insist on the vendor confirming that the kittens will not be sold until they are at least 8 weeks old as part of the posting rules.
There is always an influx of unwanted dogs coming into rescue centres after the festive period. Rehoming centres are all too aware of the consequences of dogs that end up as unwanted Christmas presents. Buying a dog should be a carefully considered decision for the whole family. It is a big commitment.
PAAG does not believe it is appropriate for pregnant bitches to be sold because of the potential welfare implications. Changing a dog’s environment can be stressful for the dog, particularly so if a dog is pregnant. Offering a pregnant dog for sale could also be seen as a money making opportunity and could also lead to individuals with no knowledge of breeding ultimately being responsible for the dog and its subsequent litter.
There are some indicators which could suggest a disreputable breeder, for example advertising more than one different breed or using stock photos from Google or other advertisers. Ultimately if you are suspicious ALWAYS look elsewhere. NEVER buy a dog because you feel sorry for it as this money just lines the pockets of the breeder to continue breeding.
In the case of puppies, the seller should always allow you to see the puppy with its mother in its home environment. You should never agree to meet at a neutral location or have a dog delivered as it is essential to see the dog where it was reared. With older dogs it is still helpful to see any vaccination certificates or pedigree information if it is available. It is also very important to be able to see the dog in its normal environment.
A Kennel Club registration means that you know you’re getting a genuine pedigree with the predictable characteristics and care needs you expect from the breed you have researched. It also means that you can be sure that certain rules have been followed by the breeder, particularly regarding the welfare of the bitch (the minimum age she can be bred from and the maximum number of litters she can have etc.). It also means if the breeder breeds 3 or more litters per year, they will have had to supply the Kennel Club with a copy of their local authority licence, which is a requirement by law for breeding. Under the requirements of a local authority licence the breeder will have had their premises inspected to ensure that their puppies are being reared in the correct way. It is also important to remember that Kennel Club registration papers may not be genuine, so always check with the Kennel Club on 0844 463 3980.
Kennel Club registration is a record of the birth of a puppy and it’s parentage. Anybody registering with the Kennel Club must follow Kennel Club registration rules, such as registering no more than four litters to a breeding bitch in her lifetime, not registering litters from a bitch under one year old at time of mating or over eight years old at time of whelping. People can also find important information, such as parent health test results, for all puppies registered with the Kennel Club, on its website, so that puppy buyers can make informed choices.
However, in addition to keeping a record of puppy births and lineage, the Kennel Club also registers breeders under its Assured Breeder Scheme. All those who are part of it have committed to best breeding practice, which includes giving their dogs the required health tests and undergoing inspections from the Kennel Club, among other requirements. It is the only scheme of its kind in the UK that sets and monitors standards for breeders and the Kennel Club has UKAS accreditation to certify members of the scheme. Full details of the scheme and its rules may be found here - https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/breeding/assured-breeder-scheme/
Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 it is illegal to sell, advertise, abandon, give away or breed from any dog of the following breed or type (including crossbreeds):
- Pit Bull Terrier
- Japanese Tosa
- Dogo Argentino
- Fila Braziliero
Advertising a banned breed for sale is an offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Online advertising websites who continue to allow banned breeds to be advertised on their sites could also be found guilty of aiding and abetting a criminal offence. It is therefore important to notify the site as soon as possible so that they can remove the advert and also notify the relevant police department.
Puppy farmers can be defined as volume breeders who have little regard or consideration for the basic needs and care for their breeding bitches and puppies. PAAG is wholeheartedly against any breeding in which profit is prioritised over the health and welfare of the puppies or parents.
There are basic requirements anyone breeding dogs must comply with under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in terms of basic welfare. Anyone breeding must also comply with the relevant legislation for their area, this information is available on our Selling a Pet page, and have their premises inspected. Not upholding welfare standards – often a criticism of so called puppy farms – could lead them to be in breach of the law, however it is notoriously hard to prosecute suspected puppy farmers.
The following advice can help you avoid purchasing a puppy farmed dog:
- Ask to see the puppy’s mother
- See the puppy in its breeding environment and ask to look at the kennelling conditions if they were not raised within the breeder’s house. If you suspect the conditions are not right, then do not buy the puppy
- Visit the puppy more than once before taking home with you
- Ask to see the relevant health test certificates for the puppy’s parents
- Be prepared to be put on a waiting list – a healthy puppy is well-worth waiting for
- Ask if you can return the puppy if things don’t work out. Responsible and reputable breeders will always say yes, provided that the return of the dog does not present a health risk
- Be suspicious of a breeder selling several different breeds, unless you are sure of their credentials
- Consider alternatives to buying a puppy like getting a rescue dog or pup
- Report your concerns to the relevant authority if you suspect the breeder is a puppy farmer
- Never pick your puppy up from a ‘neutral location’ such as a car park or motorway service station
- Don’t ever buy a puppy because you feel like you’re rescuing it. You’ll only be making space available for another poorly pup to fill and condemning further puppies to a miserable life
Local councils, animal health officers and the police have the power to enforce the law. If you suspect somebody is a puppy farmer report them to the RSPCA, the police, or your Local Authority. You can find your local authority contact here.
If somebody who you also suspect of being a puppy farmer, is registering their dogs with the Kennel Club, then ensure that you tell the Kennel Club (on 0844 463 3980) about your suspicions. The Kennel Club would never knowingly register puppies from a puppy farmer and will tell the relevant authorities to try and ensure that the person is brought to book.
The following paperwork is recommended when buying a puppy:
- A contract of sale – it is recommended that the breeder provide you with this. Amongst other things this should detail both the breeder and your responsibility to the puppy
- Written advice on training, feeding, exercise, worming and immunisation
- A pedigree detailing your dog’s ancestry (where applicable)
- Copies of any additional health certificates for the puppy’s parents
- Any health or DNA tests results
- Information on which vaccinations your puppy has had and which ones are still required
A puppy should not be advertised as being suitable to be homed younger than 8 weeks old. This time with its mother and the rest of the litter is crucial for its future development.
A bitch should not be bred from until she is a minimum of one year old.
The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) was updated in January 2012 making it much easier for dogs to be imported into the UK at a much younger age. Since the Pet Travel Scheme’s introduction, there has been an increase in the number of illegal pets being brought in to the country. There has also been a criminal element to puppies being brought in illegally for sale to the public. For full information click here.
Always take any new dog to the vet for a health check – the vet may be able to find signs of the dog being from overseas. Generally the dog should be microchipped to come into the UK. It should therefore have a foreign microchip if it has been imported from another country. Make sure the vet scans the dog and checks the microchip with Petlog (www.petlog.org.uk) who are members of the European Pet Network (a network of 32 databases working together across Europe).
Your vet may be able to tell if your vaccination records etc are genuine; however, it is often very difficult to identify fake documentation.
If you were unaware that your dog was from overseas and suspect foul play, notify your local authority trading standards department. You can find your local authority contact by clicking here.
Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, docking was banned in England and Wales. However an exemption was put in place for Spaniels, Terriers and Hunt, Point and Retrieve breeds that are used to work. Under the Regulations, a dog is officially a working dog if a vet has certified that the dog is likely to be used for work in connection with the following:
- Law Enforcement
- Activities of the armed force
- Emergency Rescue
- Lawful pest control
- Lawful shooting of animals.
Puppies of these types of dog may be docked by a veterinary surgeon providing this is done within the first five days of life, and that the owner (breeder) can prove that the puppies have been bred to work i.e. they must be able to show the vet either a gun licence or a letter from a land occupier which verifies that the owner’s dogs work on his land.
In 2010, the Northern Ireland Assembly introduced the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) which bans the docking of dogs’ tails and includes an exemption for certified working dogs of the Spaniel, Terrier and Hunt Point Retrieve Breeds.
In 2017, the Scottish Parliament introduced an exemption allowing for spaniel and hunt point retrievers to have their tails docked.
Local councils and the police have the power to enforce the law. If you suspect somebody has illegally docked a puppy's tail report them to the relevant police constabulary or local authority. You can find your local authority contact by clicking here.
Dogs can only be used as guard dogs if their owner obtains a licence under the Guard Dogs Act 1975 and are generally only handled by specialists such as the police or private security companies. Dog should not be advertised as guard dogs in the pet sections of online advertising sites.
PAAG does not see a place for the advertisement of dogs specifically for their ability to hunt or work in pet sections of advertising websites and as such does not believe that they should be included amongst pet adverts, which we consider to be for companion pets only. Specific assistance dogs such as hearing or seeing dogs should also be dealt with by professional organisations and are not suitable in online advertiser’s pet sections.
Notify the relevant online advertiser and request that the advert is taken down or moved out of the pet section.
PAAG is not opposed to working activities as hobbies such as field trails and working trials which the owner and their dog may choose to take part in during their free time – we simply do not agree with dogs being sold for their working capacity, rather than as pets.
Some species, such as adult domestic poultry, and pet birds such as budgies and canaries, have relatively simple needs and generally make good pets. Also, those selling them are often knowledgeable and can advise a new owner on the bird’s requirements. Those that are considered unsuitable to be advertised on the internet are ones that are either too young, such as chicks and ducklings, or which are only suitable to be kept as pets by experienced bird keepers, such as the larger parrots.
In theory, yes. But there is no guarantee that those advertising in such journals are any more knowledgeable than those advertising on the internet.
If in doubt, responsible website owners are encouraged to contact PAAG for advice.
By law birds must be slaughtered in a humane manner, and this cannot be guaranteed when selling to unknown buyers over the internet.
The internet creates the impression that there is a market for horses, encouraging unscrupulous breeders to continue to breed for profit. The reality is that overbreeding and overpopulation of horses in the UK is a huge and rapidly growing problem, this has created a situation where horses are off loaded for very low prices - often by sellers that have little or no interest in providing for the welfare needs of the animals.
It is our hope that the minimum standards will help to address some of the problems that we identified with the online advertising of horses, such as poor standards of welfare, lack of information on the history of the horse, the offloading of low value horses, dealers masquerading as private sellers, and horses being sold in foal as ‘two-for-one’ bargains.
A number of horse welfare charities including World Horse Welfare, The British Horse Society and Blue Cross provide information for potential horse owners on what to look for and factors to consider when buying a horse or pony. We are keen to ensure that consumers have the necessary knowledge to make an informed purchase that they will not regret. This is in the best interests of both the animal and the owner. We feel dedicated consumer awareness campaigns and the implementation of minimum standards for online adverting will be much more likely to encourage more responsible purchase and sale in the longer term than an outright ban on online advertising.
There are a number of equine- specific websites that we wish to engage with in the future. We also want to tackle the problem of people buying cheap horses or ponies online because they want to ‘rescue’ them without fully considering the long term commitment both in terms of time and financially.
The Sale of Goods Act 1979 applies if you buy a horse from a dealer. It is the dealer’s responsibility to make it clear that they are a dealer when they place the advert, however some will still advertise and act as private sellers. Potential buyers must be vigilant of this. The minimum standards include a requirement for all adverts to be clearly marked as a private sale, a commercial sale, or a rescue/rehoming advert. This is to assist consumers whilst they are searching for an animal.
To ensure that the seller is being truthful any potential buyer should check the horse passport for previous owners and if in doubt, contact the previous owners for the animal’s history. If the seller does not have the passport or does not let you see that document then do not continue with the purchase.
Selling a horse can be very emotional. People sometimes sell a horse or pony cheaply as they think it will be going to a good home or they need a quick sale for personal reasons. There are unscrupulous individuals that will take advantage of such situations and buy the animal to sell on very quickly for a profit. This is not good welfare. Blue Cross advises sellers to be careful, to make enquiries into the buyer, and to consider contacting a rehoming organisation such as Blue Cross for advice.
To find out more information on buying a horse see:
Animal welfare charities may not like it, but the internet is the first port of call for many people searching for pets, or trying to rehome them.
Currently this is unregulated and unmonitored and we felt it vital that this be addressed. The minimum standards are there to give websites a marker firstly to aim for, and then hopefully improve upon as they develop.
Just as importantly the standards give some level of protection to both the animals that are sold and the consumers that buy them. If standards on websites are increased it may give rescue centres the confidence to make use of this powerful tool to find good homes for the animals in their care (although home checks would still apply) and in turn that this would raise awareness of rescue centres to the public as a first port of call for taking on a pet.
This is a very complicated issue which would need legislation to be put in place, which is very unlikely. Even if there were the appetite for legislation, simply pinning down the terminology would be extremely difficult.
For example there would also be an impact on rescue centres that advertise on line and people that are genuinely looking for new homes for their animals. In essence this is unrealistic and could possibly drive advertising of this nature underground and cause the situation to worsen.
Minimum standards are addressing the issues that internet advertising can cause now, and they are pragmatic, realistic and achievable for every website.
We would like to see more websites sign up to the minimum standards recommended by PAAG and endorsed by Defra, and awareness raised within the general public only to use websites that have done so. PAAG would also like to see commercial rabbit breeders being licensed and inspected. This could impact on other animals as well as rabbits because at present only dog breeders require licensing.
Yes, there is a leaflet for consumers and ‘pop ups’ for consumers too. Educating the public is the key to making this work so that consumers have confidence in the websites on which they look for pets and only use those that have signed up to the minimum standards. For rabbits, we would like to see owners thinking about the situations their pets have come from and satisfy themselves that they are healthy and from conditions that catered for their welfare, as well as being able to meet the complex welfare needs of their pets before they take them on.
Those websites who adhere to the PAAG minimum standards should exclude any advert where there is a reasonable concern for the health and welfare of the animal involved. If you spot an advert that should be brought to their attention notify them straight away.
Always notify the website provider to alert them of your concerns and ask them to remove the advert until further investigation can take place. If in doubt always contact the RSPCA, SSPCA or USPCA to set your mind at rest. Take a note of what you’ve seen and call the relevant number, all are available here.
Particularly poor conditions living conditions, animals in excessively small enclosures, chained or tied up, malnourished or injured pets can all be tell-tale signs of possible welfare issues.
The EU Wildlife Trade Regulation (WTR), Council Regulation 338/97 controls trade in CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) specimens in the EU and sets out infringements under the Regulation at Article 16. The UK applies this through the COTES Regulations. Defra has let a contract to UK NWCU which aims to assess the level and nature of the illegal trade taking place or being facilitated over the internet. Illegal activities undermine legitimate trade, and thus undermine traders that are acting legally. Once the assessment has been made a clearer impact of the scale of the “black market” and its impact on the legitimate sector will be known, together with tools developed to monitor the illegal activities. This aim can be broken down into the following four objectives:
- To establish the baseline of the scope and volume of legal and illegal wildlife trade over the Internet
- To identify emerging trends in illegal trade, e.g. for specific species
- To compare the scope and volume of illegal Internet trade with other illegal trade routes
- To establish a framework for future monitoring of the illegal trade.
The results of this analysis will be made publicly available via the Defra website once the project has completed.