UK Government Takes Major Step To End Puppy Cruelty & Illegal Smuggling
United Kingdom

UK Government Takes Major Step To End Puppy Cruelty & Illegal Smuggling

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UK Government seeks public and industry views on plans to safeguard welfare of imported puppies and dogs.

New plans to crack down on puppy smuggling and ban the import of dogs with cropped ears or docked tails have been set out by the UK Government today.

The new powers, which also include raising the minimum age for importing a puppy from 15 weeks to six months and banning the import of heavily pregnant dogs to help protect puppy and mother welfare, are aimed at safeguarding the welfare of the thousands of puppies and dogs that come into Great Britain from overseas each year.

More than 66,000 dogs were commercially imported into the UK last year according to Animal and Plant Health Agency figures. However, evidence shows a recent rise in low-welfare imports and smuggling activity, with border authorities seeing around a 260% increase in the number of young puppies being intercepted for not meeting the UK’s pet import rules – from 324 in 2019 to 843 in 2020.

The proposals are part of a raft of measures included in an eight-week GB-wide consultation which seeks views from the public and stakeholders on government proposals to tackle puppy smuggling and low-welfare imports by unscrupulous breeders and traders.

In addition, the consultation asks the public and stakeholders for views on new penalties for breaching these rules, changes to the detention and rehoming process and whether the proposals should be extended to cover cats and ferrets.

“Puppy smuggling is a grim trade, and we are determined to clamp down on it. Raising the minimum import age for puppies will help protect thousands of animals that are brought into the country each year and stop criminals looking to profit from the rise in demand for pets.

We already have one of the toughest pet travel border checking regimes in the world and as an independent nation outside the EU we are going even further by preventing anyone from bringing in dogs which have undergone inhumane procedures such as ear cropping or tail docking.

These new measures build on our plans to raise animal welfare standards across the board as part of our Action Plan for Animal Welfare.” Said Animal Welfare Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith

Puppies that are imported too young face a significantly higher risk of developing illnesses or even death.
Raising the minimum age for bringing puppies into the UK will therefore ensure that they are not separated from their mothers too early and will allow them to develop further ahead of being taken on potentially long and stressful journeys which can have a lasting impact on their temperament and behaviour.


The RSPCA has also recently reported a 620% rise in reports of dogs found to have had their ears cropped, covering from 2015 to 2020. Ear cropping is a painful process where a dog’s outer ears are surgically altered or removed altogether to make them look more aggressive. The surgical procedure, which has been illegal in this country since 2006, can hinder their ability to communicate with other dogs and their owners.

The majority of these dogs are suspected to have undergone the procedure overseas and under the new rules set out in the consultation launched today they would be banned from entering the country. Last year the Dogs Trust 
warned the public about the risk of buying dogs online after rescuing dozens of puppies that were illegally imported into the country. Victims of this cruel trade included a group of six underage puppies seized at Dover port after being found covered in sticky oil and suffering from diarrhoea. The puppies had been illegally imported from Romania and were travelling in the back of a van for more than 24 hours. They had to be shaved to remove the oil from their fur.

In September 2020, four beagle puppies were also found in the back of an abandoned vehicle in Greater London. At eight weeks old, they weighed just two kilograms each and were very hungry and dehydrated. They are believed to have been illegally imported from the Republic of Ireland, to be sold onto prospective buyers in the UK. After spending three weeks in the care of the Dogs Trust, they went on to loving new homes.

The proposals launched today build on the UK Government’s commitment to end the cruel practice of puppy smuggling and low welfare imports, as set out in the Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare and Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. The responses to the consultation will inform future government policy in this area, helping to deliver a manifesto commitment made in 2019.

The consultation can be found here.

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