Dog breeding regulations

Puppies sat in a line together

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, unless they can show that none of the puppies have been sold.


Under regulations in Wales, breeders will require a licence if they keep three or more breeding bitches on their premises and:

  1. breeds on those premises three or more litters of puppies in any 12-month period;
  2. 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;
  3. supplies from those premises a puppy or puppies born from three or more litters of puppies in any 12-month period; or
  4. advertises a business of breeding or selling puppies from those premises.

Read the legislation.

March 2021 update: The Senedd has passed new regulations which we believe will unintentionally introduce a pet vending licensing threshold for one and two litter breeders. We will be engaging with the Welsh Government to gain further clarity on this issue.


Currently, a breeder in Scotland is defined as anyone in the business of breeding and/or who has bred five or more litters in a 12-month period (as long as at least one puppy is sold). However, new legislation has passed (March 2021) which reduces the litter threshold from five or more litters to three or more litters in a 12-month period.

The new licensing threshold will come into force on 1 September 2021. Read the legislation.

Northern Ireland

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:

Licensing threshold

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.

Star rating
The regulations also include a star rating system, which was designed to both reward high-performing breeding establishments and to give further help to the puppy buying public to identify good breeders.

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.
Welfare standards

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.

Risk rating
Alongside welfare, the breeder’s compliance history is also assessed to determine whether the breeder is either a low-risk or high-risk operator - i.e. whether it should be expected that the breeder will maintain their standards for the duration of their licence period.

To obtain a low-risk rating, breeders will need to demonstrate they have been maintaining acceptable standards for a minimum of three years. 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 three years 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”.

Read the note issued to local authorities in England.

Frequently asked questions

This frequently asked questions document applies to those breeding in England only.

The regulations came into force on 1st October 2018.

1. Do I require a dog breeding licence?
A breeding licence is required for anyone breeding three or more litters in a 12-month period, unless they can show that none of the puppies have been sold. This is a reduction from the previous litter test of five or more litters.

There are exemptions for breeders of assistance dogs and breeders breeding three or more litters in a 12-month period if the breeder can provide evidence that none of their puppies have been sold (either as puppies or adult dogs).

2. 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.

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 is determined by HMRC’s nine badges of trade, which are applicable to everyone and not just dog breeders.

DEFRAhas 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. 

3. 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.

The guidance document states that those who fall under a threshold of £1,000 of trading income will by default be considered not to be running a business. However, this does not mean that everyone who makes more than £1,000 of trading income will be classified as a business and need a licence.

This £1,000 of trading income is a tax threshold. It applies to anyone regardless of whether they’re selling dogs, lemonade from a stall, homemade arts and crafts etc. Those who bring in less than £1,000 of income (ignoring any costs involved) have no obligation to declare this income to HMRC. Once the £1,000 trading income threshold is crossed, then income should be declared to HMRC, at which point the costs incurred will also be assessed to determine whether tax is payable or not.

For illustrative purposes, let’s consider a dog breeder who has two litters producing four puppies.

Costs incurred as a result of breeding (figures are for illustrative purposes / tending to lower end of scale):

  • Stud fee x 2 - £1,000
  • Food, whelping box, toys, vaccination etc - £450
  • One caesarean section - £600+
  • Kennel Club registration - £68

Total costs: £2,118 (illustrative approximation)

The breeder keeps one puppy for themselves, and sells the other three puppies for £700 each, therefore £2,100 of ‘income’ is generated. Based on this illustrative example, the breeder has actually made an £18 loss.

The breeder would have crossed the HMRC £1,000 trading income threshold, so they would need to inform HMRC. However, as they made a loss there should be no tax to pay. Additionally, despite exceeding the £1,000 threshold, it is clearly not a business operation and so no breeding licence would be required.

4. How do I get a dog breeding licence?

To get a dog breeding licence, you must apply to your local authority. Most have online application forms available and a fee will be payable. The fee varies depending on the local authority and the star rating of the breeder (see questions 6 and 7). Upon receiving an application, the local authority will appoint an inspector along with a vet to attend your premises to ensure that you meet the licensing requirements.

5. What are the licensing requirements?

Read the licensing requirements.

It is important to note that although the guidance relating to the licensing requirements is lengthy, it is similar to the 49-page model licensing conditions which have long been in use by local authorities.

The star rating system, although a relatively new requirement since 2018, should be better for responsible breeders.

6. How often will I have to renew my dog breeding licence?

A local authority may grant a licence for a period of one, two or three years as part of a star rating licensing model – i.e. a one-star breeder will be inspected more frequently than a five-star breeder. A one-star breeder will need to renew their licence annually, while a five-star breeder will only need to renew their licence every three years.

The scoring matrix can be found at the bottom of this page.

7. 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 three or more consecutive years should be classified as a ‘low-risk’ breeder and be given a three-year licence period.

8. 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.

10. Do I need a licence number to advertise my puppies and do I need to provide a photo?

Only licensed breeders' advertisements are required to include their licence number, the issuing local authority, a recognisable photograph of the dog being advertised and the dog's age. There is no requirement to include any of this information if you do not require a licence.

11. I breed from home and I am concerned that my house and garden might not suit the licensing criteria. What do I do?

The licensing conditions have been drafted to differentiate between those breeding within their home and those who have purpose-built breeding facilities. DEFRA recognise that an assured breeder will be achieving standards that are higher than those required by the new law and so if you are a member of the scheme or breed to those standards you will already be satisfying the new legal requirements.

12. Is The Kennel Club still going to register my puppies after three litters?

When registering a litter with The Kennel Club, a breeder must declare that they accept our rules and regulations, which already include reference to the breeding licence, and so this will simply continue. The breeder is also asked to declare that they have checked and understood the legislation required by law, with the emphasis being on the breeder to check and ensure they are compliant.

13. I breed over three litters, but I don’t sell any of the puppies. Will I require a licence?

If you don’t sell any of the puppies, then you will not require a licence.

14. I have heard that I will now require my home to be changed into a commercial property and that I will be required to have planning permission from my local council if I am to get a licence. Is this true?

We have been informed that licensing and planning are totally separate regulations and one does not require or alter the other and a licence should be issued regardless. Please be advised to contact your local planning office for further information on whether you may or may not need planning permission.

15. I am an assured breeder. When will I be required to show my licence?

As an assured breeder who is breeding three or more litters and selling at least one dog within a 12-month period, you will be required to provide a copy of your licence at the point of your assessment visit. If a licence is not available at the time of your visit, your report will be graded accordingly, and the licence can then be provided via email as part of the improvements process.

If you have any further questions please contact DEFRA or your local authority.

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)

Low Risk

1 star

1-year licence

Min. one unannounced visit within 12-month period

3 star

2-year licence

Min. one unannounced visit within 24-month period

5 star

3-year licence

Min. one unannounced visit within 36-month period

Higher Risk

1 star

1-year licence

Min. one unannounced visit within 12-month period

2 star

1-year licence

Min. one unannounced visit within 12-month period

4 star

2-year licence

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.