The EU needs around 8 million puppies annually to meet consumer demand – far beyond the capacity of legitimate breeders. By filling this gap, illegal operators profit from an unregulated and booming market worth around 1 billion euros a year. Animal suffering, risks to animal and human health, fraud, tax evasion and unfair competition are all elements of this industry. Puppies too young to be effectively socialised and vaccinated against rabies, and equipped with fake documents, represent a real threat to healthy animal populations and could trigger the re-emergence of this disease in Europe. Bred at the lowest possible cost, mainly in central and eastern Europe, many of these young dogs die in the first months of life. The new owner is often left with a sick or dying animal and high veterinary bills, aside from the emotional strain. It is almost impossible to track down the breeder.
Illegal traders use online platforms as their preferred selling channels because they ensure anonymity and direct access. Consumers – sensitive to price and susceptible to 'cute' images – appear to spend less than 20 minutes on deciding for a pet, according to a 2015 FOUR PAWS survey. In addition, unregulated trade leads to market distortion as unlawful traders are able to operate with high profit margins (75 % on average, according to a FOUR PAWS report), while responsible breeders must meet financial requirements.
The FOUR PAWS European Policy Office advocates measures to combat the illegal pet trade. These include the mandatory and harmonised EU-wide identification and registration (I&R) of all cats and dogs, the registration and licencing of all breeders and sellers, a ban on third-party sales and the regulation of online classified platforms (model solution for full traceability). EPO is also an active member of the 'voluntary initiative subgroup on improving the health and welfare of pets in trade' at the European Commission’s Animal Welfare Platform. This subgroup brings together EU member states, veterinarians and animal welfare organisations with the aim of defining measures to curb illegal trade.
- Make a well-informed decision when getting a pet.
- Consider adopting a rescued pet rather than purchasing one.
- If you decide to buy a pet, make sure to go to a reputable breeder, insist on seeing the puppy’s mother, check that the puppy is healthy, vaccinated and dewormed, and is at least eight weeks old before it is weaned from its mother.
- Do not buy pets at animal markets, pet shops or via online classified ads.
- You think you’ve spotted a dubious trader? What you can do.
- Raise awareness about this cruel industry.