Please note: This article may contain images that some readers may find upsetting.
What are Puppy Farms?
A puppy farm (also sometimes referred to as a puppy mill) is a medium to large-scale commercial dog breeding enterprise. The emphasis of these “farms” is placed solely on numbers and profit with little to no regard for animal welfare. Meaning they want dogs to produce litter after litter to sell the puppies for as much cash as possible with the minimum amount of effort or investment.
Often this means dirty damp cages, very little, and low quality, food, cramped living quarters, no walks or fresh air or human/social interaction, no grooming, and left alone with disease, illness and injuries. This in turn means puppies are being born with all manner of health problems and behavioural problems.
Dog breeders must be registered with local authorities and kennel clubs. They are to be inspected and certified to ensure animals are being looked after. Most puppies mills are illegal, hidden away, and advertise puppies in free newspapers and free websites. People are becoming more educated about signs to look out for, so the “back yard breeders” are becoming smarter too. They know you will ask to meet the parents, so they will trot in freshly washed well behaved dogs for you to view. They will also fake registration certificates from kennel clubs and vaccination/anti-worming documentation. Meaning your new puppy is at even greater risk of contracting a fatal disease.
It is a horrible situation and many people may end up buying from puppy farms as they feel badly for the dogs. Puppy farmers thrive on this, you will not change their mind, they got the money in the end so they will just keep churning out more puppies. If you suspect a puppy farm, report it to your local SPCA as soon as possible and try get photographic or video evidence (without breaking the law or endangering yourself).
Sales figures of puppies sold by pet shops and dealers in the UK: Only 2% of pet shops sell puppies (around 70 UK outlets), of the current dog population of around 9 million, 16% were sold via pet shops, equating to approximately 1.5 million dogs. These dogs are most likely to have been bred by ‘puppy farmers’. In total 41% of people who bought a puppy in the last year did not see the puppy with its mother and 53% did not see its breeding environment, meaning those puppies are highly likely to have been bred by puppy farmers and sold by third parties (2014 Kennel Club PAW survey).
Health of puppies sold by UK puppy farmers: 20% of puppies (four times more than the average) bought from pet shops or directly from the internet suffer from parvovirus, an often fatal disease which can cost up to £4,000 to treat (2014 Kennel Club PAW survey).
A Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) study last year estimated about 70,000 puppies were produced by 895 licensed dog breeding establishments in Britain.
The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) reports that Puppy Farming is carried out at only 73 known Dog Breeding Establishments in the Republic. They conservatively estimate that they produce about 30,000 puppies, primarily for export, every year. These official figures alone suggest Irish puppy farms run at factory scale compared with their UK counterparts.
Unknown and unregistered establishments bring the number of dogs bred up to as high as 100,000 annually.
How to identify a puppy farm
It can be very hard for inexperienced first time puppy buyers to identify puppy mills. As mentioned above, puppy farmers know all the tricks to keep you fooled. Some people have inadvertently bought a puppy farm puppy without ever knowing what was going on until the puppy presents to the vet with all manner of health problems and forged documents. .
Some of the warning signs to look out for include:
A seller that regularly offers pedigree puppies for sale without any formal breed paperwork or certification. Some farmed puppies, however, will be offered for sale with Kennel Club registration, and so Kennel Club registration should not be taken as a sure-fire indication that a puppy has not been farmed.
Premises that contain a lot of outbuildings, temporary accommodation such as caravans and sheds, or closed off rooms that appear to have a lot of activity going on around them.
A seller that quickly offers an alternative puppy or litter to view if you find the one that you have gone to see is unsuitable.
A seller offering multiple different breeds and types of puppies for sale.
Puppies shown with a very young dam.
Puppies being shown to you one at a time, or without the dam or litter mates present.
The seller or breeder having only a superficial knowledge of the puppies they own or the breed in question.
A seller or breeder who appears uninterested in you; responsible breeders will wish to assess you and your knowledge and circumstances as deeply as you will want to assess theirs. If the seller you are visiting does not appear concerned about this, consider it a red flag.
Puppies that are caged or crated when shown to you.
A dam that does not appear to recognise or have bonded with their owner, and does not recognise their name. Few puppy farm dams and sires are genuinely named at all, although the seller may refer to the dam by a name in order to perpetuate the illusion of being a responsible, caring breeder.
How to Avoid a Puppy Farms
If you are looking to buy a full breed dog, contact the Irish Kennel Club or the UK Kennel Club for a list of responsible registered breeders. http://www.ikc.ie and www.thekennelclub.org.uk. Also consider adopting a dog as rescues often have full breed puppies too.
Be wary of classified ads on the internet and in newspapers especially those from breeders with multiple breeds for sale. Try to avoid buying from pet shops as you will have no idea of the history of the puppy.
Never buy a dog without seeing the premises where the mother and puppies are kept. Always ask to see the mother and if possible the father. Responsible breeders keep the mother and puppies well cared for so they should have nothing to hide. Farmers may bring out a decoy dog that is well looked after and groomed. Wait to see if the “mother” interacts with the puppies or feeds them (if they are really young) Watch how she acts around them. You will soon be able to tell if she is the real mother.
Don’t agree to meet at car parks, pubs etc or if they offer to deliver the pup to your home as this is common way for puppy farmers to avoid you seeing the conditions the pups have been breed in.
The breeder should want to know about you as well as they will want to ensure their puppies are going to be well cared for, if they don’t be wary. The IKC requires their members to ensure that their dogs are going to good homes and the buyer is aware of what it takes to look and care for a dog.
Kennel club registered puppies must have veterinary & kennel club papers, vaccination charts and be micro-chipped and registered on the IKC microchip database. A good breeder will want their dogs registered so be wary of breeders who offer to give you the dog without their papers for a cheaper price.
You should be provided with veterinary papers and vaccinations and flea & worming information from the puppy’s vet – these may some times be forged or photocopies or originals belonging to other dogs. If it is your first time buying a dog, ask a vet or a friend to show you what the documents should look like so you can better spot a fake. Only accept original documents.
Don’t take vaccines from the breeder. Bring your puppy to your own vet for this type of medicines.
You should be provided with details on feeding, vaccinations, worming, care etc. and they should offer an aftercare service.
Don’t buy any puppy because you feel sorry for it. If the Breeder tries to guilt you in anyway, do not fall for it. Make an excuse and leave.
Try and keep as many details as possible, phone number, car registrations, addresses etc.
If you are in any doubt about the validity of a breeder, the condition of the animal or see any suspicious advertisements, contact the local SPCA as soon as possible.
What to do if you suspect that a breeder is in fact a puppy farmer:
If you have any reason to suspect that you have stumbled upon a puppy farm, interim seller or unlicensed breeder in your search for a new puppy, the first thing that you should do is walk away. The first step to take in improving things is to not buy a puppy and support puppy farms.
If you have viewed an advert in a paper, online or on Facebook/other social media report that ad right away.
Report the seller and adverts to the local authority and RSPCA.
If you directly witness cruelty, abuse, dog fighting or any other criminal activity, contact the police and the RSPCA as an emergency matter. Gather any evidence you can if it is safe to do so.
Spread the word as many people still do not know the dangers of and truth behind puppy farms.