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Importing puppies and dogs to the UK: what you need to know

Since the UK went into lockdown in March 2020 demand for puppies has soared and stayed high.

This demand means puppies have reached eye watering costs, with some popular breeds being sold for over £2500 for each puppy. Sadly, this demand has been seized upon by those looking to cash in, leading to a surge in puppies and dogs being imported to the UK.

Whilst there are some circumstances where it may be acceptable to import a puppy or dog, in most cases it’s something that prospective dog owners should steer clear of. This is because there has been a flurry of illegal importations meaning dogs and puppies are being smuggled across the border from puppy farms based overseas. 

What are puppy farms?

Puppy farms are run by unlicensed, illegal breeders who have many litters at once from multiple dogs, often in cramped, dirty, and inhumane conditions. Puppies are often removed from their mothers far too young and she is bred again shortly after with no thought for her welfare or the welfare of her pups.

These puppies will commonly end up with health issues due to poor breeding and a lack of early life care, and behavioural issues due to being separated from their mother early and not having appropriate socialisation.

When can puppies be imported?

There are certain laws that govern the way puppies can be imported into the UK. These have been put in place to prevent unscrupulous breeders whilst still allowing certain legal puppy imports to continue. However, buyers should proceed with caution – the illegal imports of puppies are often hard to spot, with importers even recruiting veterinary professionals to provide fake documentation to make everything look above board. In most circumstances, it’s better to buy or adopt a dog in the UK from a reputable breeder or rescue.

Of course, there may be some situations where it makes sense to import a dog or puppy. This might include:

  • Breeders of rare dog breeds who are importing a puppy or dog destined for breeding, thus improving genetic diversity and general health for the breed as a whole.
  • Legitimate, registered dog rescue organisations (see below for more info on spotting fake rescue organisations).

If you do decide to import a dog or puppy, whether for purchase or adoption, there are certain requirements that the importer must be able to prove. This includes:

  • That the dog is at least 15 weeks old.
  • That they have had all relevant vaccinations required by law for the dog to enter the country, including a rabies vaccination.
  • That they have been microchipped.
  • That they have an animal health certificate demonstrating all of the above .

How can you spot a puppy being imported illegally?

Unfortunately, it can be really difficult to spot when a puppy is being imported illegally, but there are a few steps you can take to try and check if they are legitimate:

  • Ensure you’re able to view the puppy with its mother via a video call on multiple occasions.
  • Consider travelling to collect the puppy yourself – this will give you the opportunity to see the environment it has been raised in with your own eyes.
  • Check the pedigree papers (if they have them) of the dam, sire and puppy with the registering body.
  • Ensure the puppy is aged at least 15 weeks at the date they are imported.
  • Familiarise yourself with pet passports and animal health certificates, and make sure you receive a copy of your puppy’s papers signed by an official vet.
  • Steer clear of adverts for puppies where there are no pictures of the mother interacting with the puppies – ideally you want to see the puppies being fed by her.
  • Steer clear of sellers who have multiple adverts running for different breeds, especially when those breeds are popular or ‘designer’ breeds.
  • Never pay a deposit directly to the seller. If they insist on a deposit, use a third-party deposit holder.
  • Don’t allow yourself to feel pressured to buy the puppy – be prepared to walk away.

How can you spot a fake rescue organisation?

Fake rescue organisations prey on people looking to rehome dogs. They usually claim to have strays in their rescue that they will ship to the UK for adoption. 

However, unlike legitimate rescues, fake rescues are often running puppy farms or keeping the dogs in very poor conditions.

So how can you distinguish a fake rescue from genuine organisations rehoming dogs from abroad? Here are some signs that the rescue organisation isn’t a legitimate operation.

  • They don’t have a registered charity number, or you’re unable to verify the charity numbers you’ve been given or that are on their website.
  • They advertise lots of puppies for adoption, but not many adult dogs.
  • They require upfront payment or a deposit.
  • They offer you a dog for adoption without asking questions about your family, home, and lifestyle, (or they offer to let you adopt a dog that is clearly incompatible with your lifestyle).
  • They refuse, or claim to be unable, to show you the premises where the dogs are kept over a video call.
  • The adoption fee seems particularly pricey and they are unable to justify the costs.
  • Dogs up for adoption are not neutered or vaccinated when they come to you.
  • They do not carry out any fundraising besides charging the adoption fee for the dog.
  • Every advert for their dogs claims the dog is good natured and in great health – none seem to have more detailed information on any behavioural or health issues.
  • When researching their organisation, you find little information from third parties, or you find negative information.

Sadly, it’s clear that the importation of puppies and dogs is fraught with crime and misinformation. That’s why, for most people, it makes sense to buy or adopt a dog in the UK from a reputable breeder or rehoming centre. You’ll have the peace of mind that they’ve had their health, socialisation and training needs met, so your pup or rescue is off to a good start.

Once they’re home with you, it’s up to you to keep them feeling great, and it all starts with a PitPat dog activity monitor. Just pop it on their collar and you’ll be able to find out how much running, walking, playing, resting and pottering around they’ve done – so you can rest assured you’re giving them the very best (and whether they earned an extra treat today!)

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