Puppy imports

Spaniel running
Alice Loder © / The Kennel Club

Importing young puppies into the UK raises a number of important concerns regarding animal welfare and exploitation, including transporting conditions, puppy farming, and illegal smuggling.

Recent changes to English law regarding dog breeding have reduced the number of domestically bred puppies by an estimated 50,000 to 75,000 a year. In turn, this has significantly enlarged the gap in the market for puppy smugglers to fill.

Current regulations

There are currently two legal importation routes for puppies into the UK. Click below to find out more.

Pet Travel Scheme (PETS)

The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) regulates the non-commercial movement of certain animals, including those relocating to the UK or holidaying in Europe with their pets. PETS requires puppies to be a minimum of 15 weeks of age upon importation.

The number of dogs entering the UK under PETS rose from 287,016 in 2017, to approximately 307,300 in both 2018 and 2019.

174,128 pet passports were accepted in 2015, with 105,054 of these for British pets returning to the country.

Unfortunately, it is well established that commercial importers are illegitimately using PETS as a route to import dogs and puppies under the 15 week age limit. This raises serious implications for both the welfare of the puppies and the risk of diseases, including rabies.

The Balai Directive

Commercial movements of animals are covered by the Balai Directive. This includes, for example, when a puppy is imported for onward sale. The Balai Directive also requires puppies to be a minimum of 15 weeks of age and to meet national pet travel rules. This legislation must also be taken into account if there are more than five pets per traveller within a party or when a pet is being moved and can’t be joined by its owner within five days.

Under the Balai Directive, 39,997 dogs were commercially imported to the UK in 2017. The number of dogs imported under this legislation increased to 44,563 in 2019.

The Kennel Club’s view

There are legitimate concerns regarding the importation of puppies which must be addressed holistically in order to take into account those currently importing puppies or travelling legitimately. Any solution must recognise that, in order to halt the importation of puppies, the supply of domestically bred puppies needs to generally meet the levels of demand. As long as the domestic puppy supply is unable to meet the demand, there will be a gap for importers to fill.

In light of the continuing and significant suffering of puppies caught up in the illegal import trade and the potential disease risks, the status quo cannot be allowed to continue. It’s clear to us that existing regulations are not providing adequate protection for our dogs.

Protection of legitimate movement

While PETS has undoubtedly been exploited by unscrupulous puppy dealers, it has also provided considerable benefits for pet owners across the UK by allowing them to easily take their dogs on holiday to Europe with them. It is essential that any reform of pet travel rules is carefully considered in terms of its impact on legitimate pet owners.

A blanket ban on the importation of all dogs under the age of 6 months, whilst appealing, would cause undue impact on a significant number of people who legitimately enter the UK with their puppies under the age of 6 months. Such a measure would enable border officials to easily identify whether a puppy met the age restrictions and could effectively restrict the ability of puppy smugglers to import puppies at around the 8-10 weeks mark. However, this would also impact those relocating for work purposes or breeders seeking to import a single puppy with a view to diversifying or improving the genetic line within their dog breed, and thereby improving breed health.

Our proposals

Reduce numbers of imported puppies

Currently, under PETS, an individual can bring up to five puppies into the UK. In theory, this gives potential for four individuals in a single vehicle to import twenty puppies between them to sell on to puppy buyers at a huge profit. We propose that this should be reduced to one or two puppies per vehicle, rather than per individual. This subsequently reduces the financial viability for importers seeking to misuse the Pet Travel Scheme to commercially import puppies.

Tougher penalties

Tougher financial penalties for those that violate the Pet Travel Scheme would serve to increase the risk for those willingly abusing it and remove the financial incentive to continue. We propose heavier fines for those found commercially importing under PETS and even tougher punishment for those found to be in repeated violation. This solution would ensure that families and other legitimate users of PETS would be taken fully into account and could continue to move freely with their puppies and dogs.

Border controls

It is clear that existing border checks are insufficient, with widespread puppy smuggling ongoing. New legislation must be properly enforced in order to ensure it achieves the desired impact. We maintain that it is essential that there are sufficiently tough border controls in place, regardless of which restrictions are imposed, to prevent puppy smuggling and illegal commercial imports. More stringent controls should include requiring border officials to thoroughly and visually check all consignments of dogs entering the UK.

Review of domestic breeding regulations

Alongside reviewing legislation governing the importation of puppies into the UK, the Government must also review the impact of recent legislation regarding domestic supply. As long as domestic supply is unable to meet domestic demand, there will be a gap in the market for importers to fill. We are calling on the Westminster Government to review the impact of the Animals Activities (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals (England) Regulations 2018 in relation to dog breeding.