THE British public’s increasing demand for “designer” dog breeds is fuelling the unethical puppy trade, an RSPCA report has revealed

Puppy trade image of French BulldogOn February 19, the RSPCA UK published its first comprehensive report on the puppy trade.

The annual market for the puppy trade in the UK is impossible to determine, but the RSPCA places its worth between 700,000 and 1.9 million. The charity believes that 20 percent of puppies are provided by neighbours or friends who breed accidentally or to increase their income. Just three to five percent are thought to be sold via commercial pet stores.

Large numbers of pets are imported to take advantage of the lucrative market. 30,000 puppies are thought to come from the continent per year. A further 40,000 may be brought in from Ireland.

The RSPCA reports that the growing fashion for breeds such as French bulldogs, Pomeranians, shih-tzus, Yorkshire terriers, and pugs, has led to a rise in the number of these puppies produced by licensed breeders and registered by the Kennel Club. Unlicensed breeders are believed to be cashing in by targeting these growing markets.

Pups from further afield such as Lithuania, Poland and Hungary – usually entering the UK through Dover and the Channel Tunnel – are thought to top figures of around an extra 30,000 young dogs a year.

Once in the country the puppies are typically stored in pods until buyers are found – as the RSPCA found in Manchester after a five-year investigation.

The dogs are then advertised on the internet and once a buyer is found, they are taken to a fake home to make it appear as if the animal had been bred in that environment.

Fake documentation has also been observed being used by one gang as a way to reassure buyers that the dogs were from healthy and genuine breeders.

Some dealers are thought to have been raking in £2 million a year, or £35,000 a week through the unlicensed trade.

But it is not just the number of puppies coming into the UK and those being reared by unlicensed traders that is causing the RSPCA concern. The charity has seen a marked increase in health problems affecting pups.

In 2015 they received 3,500 calls about puppy farms – a 122% increase on five years ago. Many of these complaints were about puppies becoming ill after purchase, often suffering from conditions such as parvovirus.

One case study in the report notes that of 39 puppies seized by the RSPCA from a commercial dealer, six had to be euthanised immediately, and 25 had congenital defects.

It is thought that around 20% of puppies bought on the internet will die within six months.

Behavioural problems can also occur in farmed dogs by being removed from the mother too soon and exposure to long-distance travel.

The RSPCA hope the findings will cause potential dog owners to pause for thought before purchasing a puppy – and consider sourcing their new animal responsibly.