Sick puppy lying on European pet passport

Research on ‘Pandemic Pups’ 

New FOUR PAWS report reveals how unprecedented demand during the COVID-19 pandemic fueled the illegal puppy trade in Europe


Vienna, 5 October 2022 – The COVID-19 pandemic saw an unprecedented demand for puppies across Europe and a surge in pet sales. To better understand consumers’ motivations for purchasing a puppy, global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS commissioned a survey in early 2022 on puppy buying trends and experiences during this time.

Findings published in the ‘Pandemic Pups’ report on 5th October show a clear link to the illegal puppy trade, which causes the suffering of millions of puppies every year in Europe alone. The findings indicate that the majority of puppies was advertised on social media, almost half of the puppies were sold when they were too young, and a third became sick after purchase.

Several lockdowns as well as limited social activities led to many people buying puppies during the pandemic. This was confirmed by the survey, with 72 per cent of puppy buyers agreeing that spending more time at home over the pandemic influenced their decision. Survey results indicate that many of the purchases can be linked to the illegal or unscrupulous online puppy trade:

  • While most buyers conducted some form of research prior to purchase, 40 per cent of respondents conducted this research via the seller’s online advertisement, leaving them vulnerable to biased claims and false information.
  • The majority (72%) saw their puppy advertised on social media or on a website, including classified ad sites. 39 per cent saw their puppy on social media, primarily Facebook (20%) or Instagram (12%). Advertising animals for sale is against both platforms’ rules, however, this was widely disregarded.
  • 49 per cent of puppies were brought home when they were eight weeks or younger.  25 per cent of the puppies were six weeks old or younger, which is in breach of the legal requirements in the surveyed countries, and with animal welfare requirements in general.
  • The survey reveals that one in three of all purchased puppies had health issues. More than half (55%) of the puppies with health problems were advertised on social media, with the largest percentage on Instagram (23%).
  • 40 per cent of puppy buyers chose a breed based on appearance, which may result in puppy buyers having a dog who does not match their lifestyle. Appearance was also the top reason why respondents chose a particular breed compared to lifestyle suitability, personal familiarity, or their reputation with children.

“The results of this survey clearly show that the sky-high demand for puppies caused by the pandemic, combined with insufficient research conducted by puppy buyers, has allowed puppy dealers to sell underage puppies, some of whom were sick and many without the necessary documents, microchip and registration details."

Julie Sanders, Director of the Companion Animals Department at FOUR PAWS

"To help combat the illegal puppy trade online, the seller of the puppies being sold must be verified along with the puppies’ microchip details by the classified ad sites. In addition, social media platforms must properly enforce their bans of animal sales, and legislation is needed to protect animals sold online in all the surveyed countries. We urge all those involved to play their part in curbing the illegal puppy trade online,” says Julie Sanders, Director of the Companion Animals Department at FOUR PAWS.

The dangers of buying a puppy online

Buying a puppy online is quick and easy, however, a significant number of puppies sold online are illegally imported. They are often bred on puppy farms in Eastern and Central Europe – many of which increased production due to growing demand during the pandemic. The puppies are then sold to third party puppy dealers who sell them online pretending to be the breeder. Online selling enables puppy dealers to remain anonymous, untraceable, and therefore not accountable if things go wrong or the puppies are sick. Illegally imported puppies often come with fraudulent papers and falsified information. New owners also become victims in having to deal with not only the emotional but also the financial consequences in terms of high veterinary bills if a puppy is sick.

With its ‘Cute. Quick. Sick.’ Campaign, FOUR PAWS aims to raise awareness of the risks of buying a puppy online and help potential puppy buyers to stay alert and make the right choices when getting a puppy. “Doing the right research, asking the right questions, and getting the right documentation can help prospective new owners avoid the risks of the illegal puppy trade. Especially now with the costs of living rising, the financial risks related to impulse purchases of illegally bred puppies should not be underestimated,” says Sanders.

FOUR PAWS concludes from the findings that many puppy buyers are fueling the illegal and unscrupulous puppy trade unintentionally by not knowing how to buy a puppy responsibly so that they can avoid the risks of the trade. Risks such as buying a sick puppy or one that has been bred on a puppy farm, or is illegally imported or under the legal age to be sold.


The survey was conducted by the Savanta research agency at the beginning of 2022 and was carried out in seven European countries where FOUR PAWS has an office: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and United Kingdom. Respondents were people who had purchased a puppy between the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 and February 2022. 2,284 responses were collected across the seven countries. 50 per cent identified as male, 49 per cent as female and 1 per cent identified in another way. Most respondents (62%) were aged between 18 and 34 years old.

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Katharina Braun

Katharina Braun

Team Lead Public Relations

+43 (0) 664 885 33 270

VIER PFOTEN International 
Linke Wienzeile 236
1150 Vienna, Austria

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.

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