Two dogs on a sofa

New Rules for the Welfare of Cats and Dogs in the EU Proposed

A great foundation to better regulate the online trade of companion animals


In December 2023, the Commission proposed new EU rules on the welfare and traceability of dogs and cats, which are bred, kept and traded as companion animals, for economic purposes, for the first time ever.

FOUR PAWS is delighted by the Commission’s intention to act against illegal puppy trading, and we believe the proposal sets good standards for the objectives it seeks to achieve.

A few items in the proposal should nevertheless be improved to ensure its desired impact, and to close the loopholes used by unscrupulous puppy dealers.

Feedback on the proposal

More than 500 feedback submissions to this regulation, including one by FOUR PAWS, have been provided to the European Commission on 14th March, 2024.

FOUR PAWS’ objective is – among other things – to reach a safer and fully traceable online trade of companion animals, by ensuring only identified and registered dogs and cats can be advertised by their registered keeper. This concept provenly works and is showcased with the VeriPet pilot project.

Please find FOUR PAWS’ summarised points specifically regarding the regulation of the online trade of dogs and cats below. If you have expertise in this topic we invite you to contact the relevant ministry in your country and forward our message.

FOUR PAWS' Feedback

1. Identification & Registration

Proposal: The proposal addresses the need for identification and registration for dogs and cats, which is highly welcome. However, it only applies for animals seen as currently traded for an economic purpose, and thus does not apply uniformly to all dogs and cats.

Needed Improvements:

Any cat or dog could become part of an economic activity at some point in their life. As this cannot be always established at birth, it would be an oversight to only start recording key information at the time when they are traded, which might be months or years after birth. EU law has always aimed at eliminating present and foreseen obstacles to trade, so failing to apply microchipping and registration to all cats and dogs uniformly risks perpetuating such barriers. Thus, FOUR PAWS call for:

  • Expand the duty for microchipping and registration to all dogs and cats, and not only to those intended to be 'supplied' to a new owner. A mandatory registration of all dogs and cats ensures reliable data and traceability in any case, for example when an animal is sold only later in their life, but also when a lost animal needs to be reunited with their keepers, or when the source of a contagious disease needs to be identified. After all, it must be noted that stray animals are also part of economic activities, when their management is assigned through public competitions to companies compensated per capita the animals captured, collected and transported.
  • The information in a pet registry about the animal and identity information about their keepers must be verified and reliable, and starting with the breeder (e.g. age, breed, sex, veterinary information on the animal, ID-verified information on the keepers). The first registered keeper must be the breeder of the animal, and each keeper of the animal needs to be identity-verified in the database, also when ownership changes. It is crucial that individuals cannot register key information about themselves or the animal, to avoid having fake information in the databases, as this would provide a loophole to be used by illegal breeders and traders.
  • Traceability of animals entering the EU shall start at their country of origin, with their verified identification and registration in databases there.

2. Online Trade 

Proposal: The proposal addresses the problem of online trade of dogs and cats by requiring sellers to provide proof of the identification and registration of the cat or dog to the acquirer, including provisions for the acquirer to verify of the registration of the animal. 

The proposal suggests that online platforms ensure their interface is designed and organised in such a way that allows the suppliers of dogs and cats to comply with their obligations, namely, before supplying a dog or a cat in the Union, the supplier shall provide to the acquirer of the animal proof of the identification and registration, and specific information on the animal, namely its species, sex, date and country of birth, and where relevant, its breed. 

The providers of online platforms shall, according to the proposed regulation “inform acquirers, in a visible manner, of the possibility to verify the identification and registration of the animal through a weblink to the system referred to in paragraph 6”. This system performs automated checks of the authenticity of the identification and registration of dogs or cats supplied.

Needed Improvements:

While FOUR PAWS highly appreciates the proposal's intentions, we recommend the following to ensure the desired impact:

  • For the verification of a companion animal’s registration onto the supplier in the online trade happening in all platforms irrespective of their size, FOUR PAWS strongly recommends that a verification of the pet’s registration to the supplier must have happened before any ad can be posted live. This ensures that each dog or cat advertised, is definitely, verifiably registered to a traceable seller.
  • FOUR PAWS trusts that a system that would be integrated in online platforms, such as a software, which verifies registrations when a seller creates the advertisement, would be an effective, non-burdensome and user-friendly measure that would guarantee to platforms and consumers that the animal about to be advertised is registered at a traceable seller. Such a system already exists and provenly works. An integrated registration verification system does not impose a general monitoring obligation duty and is in line with the Digital Services Act (Regulation (EU) 2022/2065, DSA).

While we believe that an external validation website would likely operate on the same principles for the registration validation checks comparable to VeriPet, an integrated version would provide classified ad sites with more means to better control the trade.

Should the suggested regulation not demand a verification of the pet’s registration onto the advertiser before an ad can go live, the following must be considered: An external registration verification tool solely offered as an option for consumers to verify registrations is less likely to deter illegal traders from using online platforms. It also requires significant resources to communicate on its function, and might still not be considered by potential buyers.

An integrated version and a check of all dogs’ and cat’s registrations at the point of their advertising, efficiently provides for a safer trade, as it ensures traceability of all sellers.

Such an integrated registration verification concept provenly works. This is showcased with the “VeriPet” software, which FOUR PAWS and EUROPETNET developed. By connecting online platforms to pet registration databases, VeriPet can verify registration of the animal to the person offering it – across borders: When creating the online advertisement, the seller provides the animal’s microchip number, and the mobile phone number listed with it in the pet registry. If the data matches with the data in the pet registry, VeriPet sends a one-time code to that phone number listed in the registry, needed for the ad to be posted. Only the registered owner will receive this code. Before the ad goes live, it is ensured that the animal is registered onto the advertiser, in a GDPR-compliant way.

VeriPet is applied at online platform – in green check mark you can see the ads that were verified (on the usage of VeriPet is currently voluntary for advertisers). Also, clicking on the check mark next to the microchip number in the ad, reveals non-sensitive information on the animal, such as species, sex, date of birth, which is pulled and provided straight from the database. This provides further means for safer trade.

EUROPETNET can help bring transparency in trade through the VeriPet software.

EUROPETNET is a Europe-wide connectivity initiative of databases that operate across Europe, holding ownership information about microchipped and registered pets. EPN’s job is to re-unite lost dogs with owners, and its public search engine searches microchips internationally and shows which of its member databases holds the latest information on the microchip and the keeper, but also chronologically displays the registration history, which allows tracing the animal back to its origin. Its member databases just share with EPN the microchip numbers they hold and their registration dates.

EUROPETNET works with the model of centralized database interoperability, which means, that core meta data is stored centrally, and points back to the database where the details on the owner and the animal are stored. This is different from a system of database to database interoperability, which requires all databases to talk to each other, with requires direct integrated search capabilities at all times.

EUROPETNET is an example of international database interoperability, which provides EU-wide traceability and authenticity of pet registrations, in a secure way.

3. Interoperable databases between Member States

Proposal: Member States shall ensure that their databases are interoperable with the same databases of other Member States so that the identification of a dog or a cat can be authenticated and traced across the Union.

FOUR PAWS’ opinion:

  • While FOUR PAWS trusts the requirement for database interoperability is a non-burdensome one, as similar systems exist for the registration of other animal species, and for the exchange of veterinary information, FOUR PAWS would support consideration of a system that would provide a swift way of database communication. Such a system could be provided by EUROPETNET which has been operational for over 20 years, and ensures individual animal traceability, also in the online trade.

4. Breeder obligations

Proposal: We regret to see the proposal excluding small breeders from its obligations, notably the registration obligation. Registration with the competent authority is a simple, non-burdensome administrative process, not much different to a registration at a kennel club, which is already common practice among many small breeders. Two recent EU Enforcement Actions showed that a major problem remains the disparity between a breeder's stated status and real volume of activity – with traders claiming they sell their only litter when operating on a commercial scale and under the radar. This loophole must be closed, with registration, which will give an overview of the breeding landscape. Also, exclusion from the basic obligations of the proposal (i.e. general welfare requirements, health, feeding, housing, protection from painful practices) risks leaving thousands of traded animals unprotected. The same applies on small pet shops.

Needed improvements:

The registration obligation should be extended to all breeders of cats and dogs, along with the rest of the basic obligations foreseen in the proposal. Excluding breeders keeping up to three females and producing in total two or less litters per establishment and calendar year would keep the door open to unregulated, undeclared breeders that might produce and trade higher numbers of animals to that which would afford them the exception in the first place. This would also greatly compromise welfare protection for the animals supplied by these breeders.

The purpose of this evolving page is to accompany the work on the proposal until its implementation. We aim to provide links to facts, figures and arguments to decision takers and affected groups, as well as action points to stakeholders and the interested public. Here, we focus primarily on those elements of the proposal which are related to stopping the illegal puppy trade online, which are primarily:

  • Mandatory identification and registration for full traceability
  • Verification of a companion animal’s registration onto its advertiser in the online trade
  • Important for trade regulation, but not a prerequisite for verifying the registration of an animal to the advertiser: Registration obligation for all breeders and suppliers

Further Resources

  • The concept behind full traceability across the EU online puppy trade: FOUR PAWS Model Solution. Find a report describing how this system works here.
  • VeriPet: How the automated verifications of a dog’s registration onto their advertiser works.
  • Facts and figures on the illegal puppy trade

Share now!