Regulations on dog breeding differ in all constituent parts of the UK. Please read the sections below to find out which regulations are in place across the country.
A breeding licence is required for anyone breeding three or more litters in a 12-month period and/or anyone that breeds dogs and advertises a business of selling dogs.
Per the Government’s guidance for licensing in England, when determining whether a breeder is ‘advertising a business’, a local authority must consider the number, frequency and/or volume of sales; whether high volumes of animals are being sold or advertised; and whether low volumes of animals are being sold where high sales prices or large profit margins are involved.
See below for more detailed information regarding England’s dog breeding regulations.
Under regulations in Wales, breeders will require a licence if they keep three or more breeding bitches on their premises and:
- breeds on those premises three or more litters of puppies in any 12-month period;
- advertises for sale from those premises a puppy or puppies born from three or more litters of puppies for sale in any 12-month period;
- supplies from those premises a puppy or puppies born from three or more litters of puppies in any 12-month period; or
- advertises a business of breeding or selling puppies from those premises.
November 2021 update
In March 2021 the Senedd passed new pet vending regulations, which may result in some breeders who breed and sell one or two litters of puppies in a 12 month period to obtain a pet vending licence.
The new pet vending regulations stipulate that those selling animals as pets in the course of a business require a pet vending licence. This includes the sale of puppies by the breeder, if it is deemed those puppies are sold in the course business.
There is no requirement for those breeders who hold a dog breeding licence under the Animal Welfare (Breeding of Dogs) (Wales) Regulations 2014 to additionally obtain a pet vending licence to sell the puppies they’ve bred.
The guidance that accompanies the pet vending regulations is clear that genuine hobby breeders should not require a licence. The guidance states that ‘the infrequent sale of a small number of surplus offspring/excess stock by a private individual who breeds animals as a hobby, for pleasure, exhibition for prize’ is out of scope and should not be subject to licensing. Breeders who are generating large revenues and profits are likely to require a licence.
Read the guidance.
Breeding regulations in Scotland stipulate that dog breeders will require a licence if they breed three or more litters per year – a reduction from the previous five or more litter threshold. The regulations came into force on 1 September 2021 – read the legislation.
In Northern Ireland, a breeder must apply for a licence if they have three or more breeding bitches on the breeding establishment and meet at least one of the below criteria:
- Breed three or more litters of puppies in any 12-month period;
- Advertise three or more litters of puppies for sale in any 12-month period;
- Supply three or more litters of puppies in any 12-month period;
- Advertise a business of breeding or selling puppies
The legislation came into force on 1 April 2013.
Regulations in England
A number of significant changes have been made to English breeding regulations since 2018, which are summarised by The Kennel Club as follows:
In 2018, the litter threshold for which a dog breeding licence is required was reduced.
- Anyone breeding three or more litters and selling at least one puppy in a 12-month period will require a dog breeding licence
- A breeder can breed as many puppies as they like without a licence “if the person carrying on the activity (breeding) provides documentary evidence that none of them have been sold (whether as puppies or as adult dogs)”
- For those breeding one or two litters in a 12-month period and selling puppies, a licence may be required if you are deemed to be “breeding dogs and advertising a business of selling dogs”. The government has provided guidance on what local authority inspectors should consider when assessing whether a breeder meets the business test. Read the full guidelines.
- There are certain factors that would trigger the need for a breeding licence, such as “high volumes of animals sold or advertised for sale could indicate a business; and low volumes of animals sold or advertised could indicate a business where high sales prices or large profit margins are involved”
Conversely, “breeders who breed a small number of puppies (i.e. fewer than three litters per year) and sell them without making a profit” are deemed to be out of the scope of licensing.
It is important to note that a similar ‘business test’ has been in place since 1999 for those breeding under the previous five litter threshold. When the regulations were passed in 2018, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) informed The Kennel Club that, as with the existing business test, it is not their intention to be catching out hobby breeders.
Further examples are provided within the government’s guidance document: The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018, Guidance notes for conditions for breeding dogs.
Licensed breeders will receive a star rating from one to five stars. Those with a five-star rating will receive a three-year licence, pay a lower fee, and will be inspected less frequently. Those at the other end of the spectrum will only receive a one-year licence, will pay a higher licence fee, and will be inspected with greater frequency. The star rating that is awarded will be based on two factors: the welfare standards against which the breeder is operating (i.e. whether the breeder makes use of health tests etc), and their risk rating, which is based on whether the breeder has a history of meeting these standards.
Breeders operating to higher welfare standards and who have a history of maintaining these standards should receive a higher star rating, whilst those who are operating to the minimum standards and have no compliance history should be awarded a two-star rating. A one-star rating will be awarded to breeders who have minor failings.
The Government’s guidance document sets out the minimum standards that all licensed breeders are required to meet. These are based on the current model licensing conditions for dog breeders that have been in use for a number of years. These conditions include housing, exercise, feeding, health, socialisation and provision for emergencies. There are also a number of ‘higher standards’ that will enable breeders to obtain a better star rating with the associated benefits.
The minimum and higher standards are listed within the government guidance document.
To obtain a low-risk rating, breeders will need to demonstrate they have been maintaining acceptable standards for a minimum of one year. Factors that will be considered include history in meeting licensing standards, nature of complaints received and how they were dealt with and the quality of record keeping. Only compliance history which has been obtained either through local authority licensing or through a UKAS accredited scheme, such as The Kennel Club Assured Breeders, will be considered.
Breeders who haven’t held a dog breeding licence before or haven’t been a member of a UKAS accredited scheme, such as The Kennel Club Assured Breeders, for a minimum of one year will automatically be categorised as high risk and will not be able to gain the highest star rating at first and benefit from a three-year licence duration.
Our Assured Breeders scheme
Breeding licence regulations update – April 2019
In 2019, DEFRA issued a note to local authorities in England stating that any member of our Assured Breeders scheme of at least three years’ standing should be awarded a five-star breeding licence valid for three years. Our Assured Breeders scheme members who have fewer than three years' membership to the scheme, or have had a licence for three years, should receive a four-star licence valid for two years. The only exception would be where significant evidence of poor animal welfare standards or non-compliance is found during a local authority inspection.
DEFRA has also provided further clarification regarding the £1,000 trading income licensing exemption. The £1,000 income exemption has caused considerable confusion for all parties, with many believing that this is a threshold for which anyone that exceeds would require a dog breeding licence. DEFRA has now made it clear that the “£1,000 trading income as referred to in the guidance documents should be used as an indicator and not a ceiling, as someone with over £1,000 trading income may not be a commercial dog breeder or pet seller and they may not be making a profit”.
Frequently asked questions
This frequently asked questions document applies to those breeding in England only.
The regulations came into force on 1 October 2018.
1. What is defined as a business that breeds and sells dogs?
The circumstances which a local authority must take into account in determining whether an activity is being carried out in the course of a business include, for example, whether the operator (a) makes any sale by, or otherwise carries on, the activity with a view to making a profit, or (b) earns any commission or fee from the activity and/or advertises a business of selling dogs.
HMRC badges of trade indicate that a profit-seeking motive is not the only marker set as to whether someone is operating a business, and DEFRA has made it clear that they do not intend to target hobby breeders under the regulations. It is important to note that the test of whether or not a breeder is running a business should be determined by HMRC’s nine badges of trade, which are applicable to everyone and not just dog breeders.
DEFRA has provided guidance on how the HMRC badges of trade are to be applied to those breeding dogs. The following factors have been identified as indicators that a breeder may be operating a business:
- High volumes of animals sold or advertised for sale could indicate a business
- Low volumes of animals sold or advertised could indicate a business where high sales prices or large profit margins are involved
- The number, frequency and/or volume of sales - systematic and repeated transactions using the same means of advertising are likely to indicate a commercial activity
- Read the full DEFRA guidance on what factors may indicate a business
The regulations cover dog breeders, dog and cat boarders, pet vendors, those running horse riding establishments and those exhibiting animals in the course of a business. The litter threshold, as an addition to the business test, is unique to dog breeding. It has been included so that those who breed three or more litters and sell puppies, but who are not in the business of breeding and selling dogs, require a licence.
2. Is it true that I will need a licence if I make more than £1,000 selling my puppies?
We are aware of suggestions that there is a £1,000 threshold and that those above will require a licence and those below will not. This is only partially true.
Latest DEFRA guidance is explicit:
“If someone has a trading income below the HMRC trading income allowance, they do not require a licence for their activities. If someone has a trading income above the HMRC trading income allowance, they do not automatically qualify as a business.”
The current HMRC trading income allowance is £1,000. So if income received from the sale of puppies is under £1,000, over the course of a year, DEFRA guidance is clear that you do not require a licence (unless you are over the litter threshold).
Likewise, the guidance is clear that those with over £1,000 of income are not automatically to be categorised as a business and therefore subject to licensing.
It is perfectly possible to have generate an income of well over £1,000 breeding and selling puppies and still make a loss. Expenses such as stud dog fees, food, and veterinary costs can rapidly offset the income generated from the sale of puppies.
There is no income or profit threshold defined within either the dog breeding regulations or statutory guidance that indicates when a licence is required under the business test.
3. What are the licencing requirements?
It is important to note that although the guidance relating to the licensing requirements is lengthy, it is similar to the old 49-page model licensing conditions that had been in use by local authorities previously.
The star rating system, although a relatively new requirement since 2018, should be better for responsible breeders.
4. What factors will determine my star rating?
DEFRA’s guidance advises breeders on the steps they will need to take to achieve a five-star rating and be awarded a three-year licence. A lower star rating means that breeders will be inspected more often and pay a higher licence fee. Breeders who are members of a UKAS Accredited Scheme, such as The Kennel Club Assured Breeders, and who have been accredited under the scheme for at least one year should be classified as a ‘low-risk’ breeder and be granted a longer better star rating and longer licence period.
5. Will I need a breeding licence to sell my puppies?
If you meet the licensing criteria (see question 2), then you will need a breeding licence. An advertisement for the sale of a dog must include your licence number, the issuing local authority, a recognisable photograph of the dog being advertised, and the dog's age. Puppies must not be sold until they are a minimum of 8weeks of age. A different type of licence is required for those who are selling puppies they have not bred themselves.
6. Will I need a breeding licence to sell my puppies?
If you meet the licensing criteria (see question 2), then you will need a breeding licence. An advertisement for the sale of a dog must include your licence number, the issuing local authority, a recognisable photograph of the dog being advertised, and the dog's age. Puppies must not be sold until they are a minimum of 8 weeks of age.
The scoring matrix
Reproduced by kind permission from Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.
Welfare standards: Minor failings
(existing businesses that are failing to meet minimum standards)
Minimum welfare standards
(as laid down in the schedules and guidance)
Higher welfare standards
(as laid down in the guidance)
Min. one unannounced visit within 12-month period
Min. one unannounced visit within 24-month period
Min. one unannounced visit within 36-month period
Min. one unannounced visit within 12-month period
Min. one unannounced visit within 12-month period
Min one unannounced visit within 24-month period
Other canine business regulation changes
As well as changes to the breeding regulations, revisions have been made to the licensing regime for boarding kennels, home boarders and day boarding establishments. The same star rating system will be implemented for these businesses as well.
The performing animal regulations have also been amended and are now only applicable to those in the business of keeping or training animals for educational or entertainment purposes. The exemption for those keeping or training animals solely for military, police or sporting purposes has been maintained.