Campaign targets illegal puppy trade


Puppy buyers across Scotland are being urged to avoid illegal dealers following a surge in demand for pets during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The campaign #LookBeyondCute comes after the Scottish SPCA launched 78 investigations into reports of puppy farming last month and staff highlighted fears Christmas will further fuel demand.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a huge increase in demand for puppies as more people in Scotland work from home or look for a companion in these challenging times. As responsible breeders scale back due to the ongoing restrictions, prices have soared and unscrupulous dealers are cashing in[1].

More people than ever before are searching for and buying puppies online. Since lockdown started, online searches show that ‘buy a puppy’ is up by 120%, while a third (33%) of people said they felt that lockdown was the “perfect time to get a puppy”.[2]

With demand outweighing supply, established breeders’ waiting lists are even longer. But with many people wanting their puppy quickly[3] they inevitably look online and purchase impulsively[4].

Most illegally bred puppies are sold online through social media or small ad sites, but 2 in 5 of those pups (40%) bought online die before their fifth birthday and 15% get sick or die in the first year. It is important to recognize that if someone is buying from a puppy farm then they are buying from someone who has broken the law.

The Scottish Government’s Buy a Puppy Safely campaign is urging potential puppy buyers to #LookBeyondCute and make three ‘Pup Checks’ so they can spot the signs of an illegally bred pup. They are:

  • look for the puppy’s mother – they should always be seen together
  • look for paperwork such as vaccination and microchipping certificates
  • look beyond the cute puppy and walk away if something doesn’t seem right

Launching the campaign today (18 November), Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon said:

“During the current COVID-19 pandemic, regrettably we have seen an increase in illegal puppy sales and trading. We need to ensure that everyone understands the consequences of purchasing an illegally bred puppy and follow the important steps to buy their dog safely and responsibly.

“Puppy farms breed misery and public demand is fuelling the trade, which is being facilitated through online adverts and sellers. Last year’s campaign saw calls about suspected puppy farms to the Scottish SPCA’s animal helpline almost double compared to the two months prior. Now more than ever, we are urging people to do their research properly and to look for the signs that they are being tricked into buying an illegally bred puppy.

“There are key checks that can help ensure you are buying safely. These include meeting the puppy’s mother with her litter when restrictions allow, making enquiries about the breeder and ensuring all the correct paperwork is in place. It is also important to make sure that you understand the longer-term responsibility and commitment that comes with dog ownership and only take on a new puppy when the time is right.

“Remember if something doesn’t feel right, walk away and report your concerns to the Scottish SPCA.”

The drive comes on the back of the Scottish SPCA’s recent reports that they have had to launch 78 investigations into reports of puppy farming in October alone.

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said:

“It has never been more important to buy a puppy safely. Public demand for puppies has greatly increased over coronavirus restrictions and lockdown. This has seen a rise in not only the extortionate prices of puppies but also the number of puppies becoming sick or dying because they have been badly bred. Calls to our helpline regarding puppy farms and unwell pups almost doubled from September to October this year. We are concerned this will continue to rise due to people being sold unwell pups to satisfy public demand. These poor animals are being exploited purely for profit and scant regard is given to their welfare.

“We are concerned that sick puppies will be shipped into the country from Ireland to meet the Christmas rush. The only way for this despicable trade to stop is for public demand to stop. Don’t be rushed in to parting with money or putting down a deposit on a pup you haven’t met. You should insist on seeing the puppy with their mum. If you don’t see mum or any paperwork then you need to walk away and report your concerns to the Scottish SPCA as these are signs a pup has come from a low welfare puppy farm.”

Emma, Scottish Borders (*name of owner and puppy has been changed to protect their identity)

Looking for a new puppy, Emma* initially made contact through an online ad. She was told that the seller’s father had underlying health issues and was shielding due to Covid-19, so could they bring the puppy to her and her partner’s house where they would also check if the puppy was going to a good home. On the day, the seller was lost and asked to meet in the village main street.

“The first thing he said was “do you have the money”, but we didn’t. Then he said the puppy had had the first vaccinations and was due the second on the Monday. But Bella* soon fell ill and after taking her to the vet, we
found out she had parvovirus (a highly infectious disease that can be fatal). She was very seriously ill, she had fleas, worms, tested positive for campylobacter and parvo.”

“She was not microchipped and took ill so quickly, we did not have a chance to arrange insurance so also had to pay high vet fees.”

“It was a distressing time, and we were both incredibly upset. She is doing better now, but we are still very worried about what the future holds. No wee puppy should go through this.”

Emma’s advice to people is to ensure that they see the puppy with its mum and that they get the right paperwork including proof of microchipping, before they purchase their puppy.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to do your research and to see and visit the puppy with its mother. Illegal breeders don’t tend to produce paperwork or certificates to prove the puppy has had their vaccinations and been microchipped. So beware of excuses or paperwork that doesn’t look right or which doesn’t have the name, number and address of a real veterinary practice. 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.”

If you think you’ve come into contact with an illegal puppy dealer, you can contact the Scottish SPCA animal helpline on 03000 999 999 and they will help you.

Learn more about the warning signs of an illegally bred puppy at and remember – if there is no mum and/or no paperwork then you need to #LookBeyondCute and walk away!


[1] BBC News, September 2020
[2] Pets4Homes
[3] A recent Scottish SPCA survey revealed 43% of those questioned said it was important or very important to them to be able to buy a puppy quickly.
[4] Kennel Club research 2020 shows a quarter of new owners admit buying a puppy during the coronavirus pandemic with little research and 29% of people spent just two hours or less.