The problem with puppy farms

Last month saw the start of the #SeeThemSuckling campaign against the production and sale of farmed puppies. Puppy farming is one of the big challenges in companion animal welfare at the moment, so today’s post looks at what it is, why it’s a problem and what can be done to tackle it.

What is a “puppy farm”?

The name refers to businesses commercially producing pet dogs. It’s commonly used to describe fairly intensive breeding and implies profit being put before the welfare of the animals. BBC Panorama filmed a great documentary about these “farms” which shows footage from inside some commercial dog breeders’ kennels. It’s still available here on iPlayer and I’d definitely recommend watching as I hadn’t realised the set up and scale of some of these breeders until I saw the film.

So what’s the problem?

Although it’s possible in theory to raise lots of dogs well to sell as pets, puppy farms can often pose the following problems:

  • Puppies are not socialised during crucial periods of their development, leading to future behavioural problems with other dogs and humans.
  • Puppies are not habituated (used) to experiences they will have in later life, such as going for a walk outdoors or riding in the car, which can lead to fear and more behavioural problems.
  • Dogs are kept in small kennels on inappropriate bedding so not get the level of care that pet dogs in the home should ideally receive.
  • Dogs are bred too often with no time for bitches to recover from a litter.
  • Puppies may be weaned too young.
  • Lack of hygiene and disease controls in large, multi-dog operations cause health issues.
  • The dogs may not all get prompt veterinary attention when required.
  • Some breeders are known to use inhumanely small or closed cages for dogs, especially when they are about to give birth to puppies.
  • Long distance transport is required to supply puppies to dealers and buyers, sometimes crossing borders illegally – which has huge repercussions for health and disease control.

Several of these problems are caused by obviously illegal actions, such as the tiny boxes some breeders use for bitches giving birth to puppies. Others are roughly within the law – although neglect and abuse are legislated against, whether or not a dog is sufficiently socialised and exposed to stimuli as they grow up is much harder to prove.

Another huge problem is wilful deception by dealers claiming that their stock of farmed puppies is home bred. Misled customers buy these dogs without realising the health problems they could have and the industry that they are supporting. No one advertises that their puppies are farmed but the dealers go further than omitting this key fact and may claim that the puppies’ mother is out for a walk, that they are an accidental litter from a family pet or that you can’t come to their home for an innocent reason like renovation work so need to collect the puppy elsewhere. The BBC even uncovered breeders supplying a “show bitch” to dealers, of the same breed as unrelated puppies, to convince buyers that they were buying a homebred pup.

What’s the legal position?

To “keep a breeding establishment for dogs” (described as producing 5+ litters per year) businesses must be licensed by their local council under the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999. Breeding and selling dogs without a license can lead to fines, imprisonment and disqualification from keeping dogs, but that’s not the whole problem – as well as unlicensed breeders, welfare at licensed outfits is also an issue.

Each year to renew their license a breeding establishment must have an inspection by a vet to ensure that the dogs are well cared for. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 sets the standards for this care but as with all the animal welfare scenarios I write about, sometimes these are allowed to slip even if they were in place during the annual vet inspection. In these cases, the RSPCA can inspect and prosecute if a crime (such as neglect, which the Act above lists as a criminal offence) has been committed, but only if they have enough evidence to do so. Gathering evidence takes a lot of resources, so the problem with poor welfare on puppy farms continues.

What can be done?

Puppy farms remain because there is a huge demand for puppies. The popularity of certain breeds, such as pugs and bichon frise, plays a part in pushing would-be owners to buy these puppies rather than adopt a shelter dog or mongrel. But ignorance on the part of buyers and wilful deception by puppy farmers and dealers means that demand for puppies in general is often met by “farmed” dogs.

With the problem attracting more and more media attention, there are few excuses left for would-be owners who buy a farmed puppy. Somehow though a big, profitable market for breeders and dealers remains so sharing the message and educating your friends is important. I was really shocked to learn about Dogs4Us which is literally a puppy shop in the North of England. Make sure your friends and family know all about farmed puppies and how to ensure they never buy one!

The simplest advice if you are buying a puppy is from the #SeeThemSuckling campaign, that if you can visit your pup with his/her mum and see them interacting the chances your new companion has been farmed are much lower. Never agree to have your pup delivered alone or collect him/her from a location like a car park or motorway services. If you have any doubts, it’s better not to buy the puppy – although it feels like rescuing it, you might be supporting the neglect and abuse of his/her family. You can report someone you think may be selling dogs from puppy farms here. Of course, you could decide not to buy a dog at all and instead take one of the thousands who are awaiting homes in rescue centres!

The government are currently reviewing feedback on their plans to update several types of animal establishment license in England. This would modernise licensing of pet shops, kennels and dog breeders amongst other business, so it will be interesting to see what changes are made.

It’s horrible to think that many dog lovers are unwittingly supporting abuse of the species we all agree is “man’s best friend”. Through educating dog buyers and cracking down on the breeders and dealers who supply the dogs, there’s a huge opportunity to make a change. Spread the word to your friends and family, #PoutforPuppies and adopt your pets from shelters whenever you can. Thanks for reading!

Want to take action?

  • The Puppy Love Campaign suggest writing to your MP and letting them know your view. They provide a letter template to show your support for an updated Pet Animals Act, preventing the sale of puppies in pet shops.
  • The RSPCA see the next step as being compulsory licensing of everyone selling a puppy and if you want to sign their petition, you can find it here.
  • Post your #PoutforPuppies selfie on social media (if that’s your sort of thing!) to promote the #SeeThemSuckling campaign.

References/further reading:

The Kennel Club – resources on puppy farming

RSPCA page “Scrap the Puppy Trade”

RSPCA report “Sold a pup? Exposing the breeding, sale and trade of puppies.”



RPSCA Volunteering

Today I thought I would write about the RSPCA volunteering I started doing back in May to improve my understanding of kennels, cattery, small animal care and how rescue centres work. Whilst this “work experience” ticks lots of boxes, it’s also pretty fun and rewarding – and hard work of course but then we already knew I’m a sucker for punishment.

I started out doing 9-5 every Sunday but last month I asked if I could reduce this to once a fortnight. It’s a shame but I haven’t had any real time off work since Christmas last year and I felt like continually working six days a week plus evening experience wasn’t a good idea for my health. As my visits are quite spaced out it’s taking me a while to learn the ropes but now I sometimes have responsibility for a block of kennels which is the hard work I mentioned nice.

Depending on staffing I get assigned to kennels or cattery first thing. Although the animals, feeds, toys and layout are different the routine is pretty similar. Before the public can come visiting at 11AM we feed and water, clean all the kennels or cat pods, disinfect anything contaminated with urine or faeces, remove feeding equipment, wash floors and make the place tidy.

Lots of cleaning but for a good cause!

I don’t know a lot about other places but the centre seems to have a pretty good set up, there are five blocks of kennels and 30 cat “pods” all with inside and outside access, isolation facilities, three pens for dogs to play in, kitchens, a bathing/grooming room, laundry, a meeting room which can also be used to socialise cats, several dog walking routes, reception, offices and lots of storage for donations, cages, food, cat litter and other supplies.

One of the lovely dogs I’ve walked, rehomed several weeks ago now.

Once things are set up for the day volunteers can start walking dogs whose names are on the walkers’ boards. Each dog is graded red, amber or green for behaviour and we can only walk grades we’re trained for. The board also has notes on the dogs – for example, whether they can have treats, should wear a harness, need grooming after their walk or shouldn’t go in public spaces due to being from a prosecution case. In the cattery we spend time socialising kittens or take adult cats into the meeting space to stretch their legs and be made a fuss of.

Throughout the day there are also a variety of other tasks like sorting donations, cleaning and tidying, animal health checks, assisting with vaccinations or microchipping, laundry, feeding animals on multiple daily feeds, grooming, bathing, assisting in giving medication, sweeping, taking out rubbish, washing up… No it’s “not all puppies and kittens” as people like to say but it’s still 100% more puppies and kittens than my average day! We also help with enrichment materials for the animals such as frozen food, toys or time outside their cages. Being in kennels with a changing rota of carers, no matter how dedicated, is stressful for the animals but varied enrichment can help reduce this and prevent boredom issues.

Some dogs are easier to photograph than others…

Once the public go home at 4 there is another round of feeding, watering and cleaning before the centre is locked up and the staff go home. Several of the team live on site so there’s sometimes scope to give the animals some extra time with outdoor access. You’d hope it would also deter people from abandoning pets but sadly there has been a spate of dumped cats recently. This means that pets on the waiting list who need to come to the centre and whose owners have followed the proper process have to wait even longer and it also puts the team in a really awkward position. However, to avoid ending on a sad note, here is a short clip of Mia who I last saw two weeks ago on the day she was ditched in a taped-up box. Then she just sat and dribbled from the stress – look how friendly she is now!

I’m going to keep at this volunteering for as long as I can until another type of animal experience takes over my weekends. It’s a great centre and open 11AM-4PM every day except Tuesday, so you should definitely go visit and put some coins in the donations jar! You can also donate pet food, cat litter, beds, blankets, towels, toys or treats – it will all go to a very good use.

Cat family  ❤  one of many!

Thanks for reading and “see” you again next week!

Routine treatments: Dogs

This is the first in a series of posts I’ve put together really for my own reference. My aim is to consolidate what I’ve seen of routine companion animal medicine in my placements so far. Although I don’t imagine I’ll be tested on it at interview, I think it’s probably a good idea to keep it fresh in my mind!

Routine treatments – dogs


The RSPCA recommend vaccination against four diseases:

  • Canine parvovirus
  • Canine distemper virus
  • Leptospirosis
  • Infectious canine hepatitis

Puppies are usually vaccinated via two injections at 8 and 10 weeks old, followed by a booster 12 months later. Most practices then recommend annual boosters although there is some debate on whether this is suitable for every dog. These injections must all be given by a vet.

Continue reading “Routine treatments: Dogs”