The Illegal Puppy Trade

What You Need to Know Before Buying a Puppy

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The Illegal Puppy Trade 

The online puppy trade is booming, and cruel puppy traders are profiting from people like you.

Almost 2.4 million dogs are traded each year across three of the major European classified sites that advertise dogs. This amounts to a market value of almost 1.5 billion euros per year for the dogs traded online on these big platforms.

Unscrupulous dealers can earn a significant amount of money from selling puppies that have been bred in deplorable conditions. These puppies, often sick and unvaccinated, are then taken hundreds of miles across borders with forged or non-existent identification and vaccination documents, posing a risk to both human and animal health.   

The demand for puppies is higher than ever, profit margins for illegal traders enormous, the risk of prosecution low, and punishments inadequate.

Puppy Farms

Puppy Farms 

Conditions for the animals are intolerable: lack of vital vaccinations, poor hygiene, stench of chemicals and inadequate care. 



Torn from their mothers far too young and transported across borders. For too many, this journey ends in death. 

Breeding Dogs

Breeding Dogs 

Treated as breeding machines, mother dogs are repeatedly impregnated. When they are unable to 'perform' well, they are disposed of. 

Cruel Origins 

Most of the puppies from Eastern European countries are offered via the internet, with cute photos and fake details which hide the depressing reality for these animals. 

In the mass breeding business dogs are generally not housed or treated in a manner adequate to their needs. Nor are the mothers or puppies provided with the medical care they require. Dogs languish under the worst conditions confined in basements, sheds and garages. The puppies and their mothers are kept in small, cramped spaces, with little lighting, ventilation or heating. The breeding dogs are sometimes chained and are not given any exercise, often underfed and mistreated.

Health risks

The online puppy trade presents risk of disease to both humans and animals. Across the EU the main zoonotic diseases of concern are rabies, echinococcosis, leishmania, Toxoplasma gondii and Giardia duodenalis. Much of the illegal breeding occurs in Eastern Europe, where occasional cases of rabies are still reported. Leishmaniasis is present in countries around the Mediterranean Sea where the insect vector is present, but cases of canine leishmaniasis are regularly reported in northern Europe where there are no endemic vectors. Visceral leishmaniasis can be fatal in humans if left untreated. 

Online anonymity

Anonymity drives the illegal online puppy trade. Anyone, anywhere in the world, can create an account on a classified ad site and sell a puppy, then disappear without a trace, leaving buyers with sick animals and hefty veterinary bills. Due to a lack of traceability brought about by inadequate regulation of the online pet trade, there is currently no way of knowing the exact origins of any puppies sold online in Europe. 

Our Work

FOUR PAWS’ goal is to transform the online pet trade into a transparent and accountable one, by making the breeders and sellers who sell online traceable, and therefore accountable for their businesses. The changes we are campaigning for will facilitate the improvement and enforcement of animal welfare standards across Europe.    

To achieve this, we have developed a Model Solution which helps to verify seller’s identities and we conduct investigations to demonstrate why this solution is needed. We also lobby the EU Commission and national governments to introduce legislation to regulate the online trade to help improve traceability online. 

Find out more about about how we are #TracingtheTrade in partnership with Governments and industry leaders: 

How you can help:

  • Have you been victim to or witnessed illegal puppy traders? Report your experience.
  • When bringing a new dog or puppy into your home, always choose to adopt a rescue dog.
  • Never buy a puppy online when traceability of the seller cannot be assured. This means never buying a puppy via social media, unless from a reputable rehoming organisation.

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