The last few years have been tough for us all. That’s why it’s no surprise that many people have turned to the comfort of pets to help get them through it. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a huge surge in pet ownership. One statistics site estimated the percentage of homes with a pet jumped almost 20% during 2020-21! With such a huge demand, where have all these new dogs and cats come from?


Due to the surge in demand, pet breeding (dogs especially) boomed in lockdown. Prices skyrocketed as well, particularly in the most popular dog breeds like French bulldogs and cockerpoos. Anyone who breeds from an animal to sell the offspring is a breeder, regardless of the number of litters. However, depending on the number of litters, they may or may not have to be registered.

UK law regarding dog breeding is quite stringent. 

If a breeder has more than three litters a year, they must register as a licensed breeder. This requires them to only sell puppies they have bred themselves, and only from the place the puppy was bred and reared; only sell puppies 8 weeks and older; show the puppies with the mum to prospective breeders; and provide a ‘socialisation and habituation’ plan to ensure the new owners can care for the puppy. These laws should mean that licensed breeders provide healthy, well-adjusted and happy puppies, and fully comply with Trading Standards laws. 

The big loophole with the law is the number of litters 

If a person breeds two litters a year (potentially up to 20 puppies or more), they do not have to register. A person can make a lot of money while still being on the side of the law. Trading Standards will have no knowledge of this, so cannot inspect their homes to ensure the animals are well kept for. There has been a big increase over lockdown in ‘first-time breeders’, or people wishing to have just one litter before spaying their bitch. There are no benefits to the dog to have a litter before being spayed. Casual owners having just one litter often don’t appreciate the time and effort it takes to care for a pregnant bitch and then newborn puppies. 

Though legal, this practice also results in reduced welfare and increased risk of disease in new puppies. It also furthers the risk of introducing genetic defects into the pet population, such as short noses or deformed legs. Unless you know what you are doing and are guided by a vet, please reconsider having a litter or two from your pet, just for the fun, profit or belief that it benefits your dog.

The worst of the bunch are illegal breeders, also known as puppy farmers

These ‘businesses’ profit from breeding as many litters as possible year on year. Selling them for huge profits, while remaining illegally unregistered. These animals are often malnourished or sick, full of worms, poorly socialised and habituated, and can even be dangerous. These pets usually need frequent visits to the vets before they are even adults. Life expectancies in these pets can be dramatically shorter. 

Unfortunately, there are no specific laws regarding cat breeding beyond basic animal welfare laws

As a result, anyone can legally sell as many kittens as they want a year, provided they are healthy and bred themselves. This may make purchasing healthy cats from breeders even more risky.

We encourage anyone wishing to buy from a breeder to check they are registered first 

Of course, even registered breeders may not follow the law and may sell unhealthy puppies. Always fully inspect the property, puppies and mum first. Never buy animals somewhere public, like car parks. A genuine breeder will want to match up their animals with the perfect parents. Trying to rush you into a quick purchase is a bad sign. If you have any suspicions regarding a breeder, contact the police or the RSPCA.

Despite breeding surging, there clearly weren’t enough animals in the UK to go round, so many people looked overseas. Many countries in Europe, notably Romania, Cyprus and Spain, have stray dog problems. As animal lovers, the British people have been heartbroken to see dogs starving on the streets or kept in cruel pounds. This has created a market where charities ‘rescue’ street dogs and adopt them into the UK. In 2020, the number was over 60,000 from Romania alone. This practice has a number of issues.

Firstly, the dogs imported are often very badly abused, mistreated and damaged

They frequently come with a slew of behavioural problems that their new owners may not be prepared for. Stray dogs that never interacted with humans properly may struggle to be kept inside a small British house. Some charities work to socialise the dogs before sending them to the UK. But it can be hard to teach an old street dog new tricks.

Many of these dogs come with health issues as well

By breeding on the street, many carry genetic health issues that are difficult to manage. Furthermore, the countries these dogs are commonly imported from tend to have diseases we see little of. Horrible diseases like leishmania are common in these dogs, often requiring life-long treatment, if they can be treated at all. Some get very sick and may have to be put to sleep soon after arriving in the UK. The media is full of sad stories like these.

There is also an issue with the origin of these dogs

Often, there is little history to go alongside the dogs. There are reports that many are illegally bred, treated poorly to look like street dogs, and sold to generous Brits as strays, despite never having lived on the streets. There are also rumours that local pet owners are having their dogs stolen to be sold to UK owners as street dogs – one paper interviewed a man who claimed they stole dogs from Europe, cut out their microchips and inserted UK chips so they could be sold on. 

Finally, there is the issue that importing dogs from abroad both increases the demand for street dogs and does nothing to solve the welfare problems in that country

If you care about dogs in Romania and elsewhere, support charities that work with local people to educate pet owners on the benefits of neutering, improve the condition of pet shelters, and campaign to change welfare laws. We in the UK are lucky to have some of the best (though plenty of room for improvement) welfare laws in the world – instead of just taking dogs from countries with poor welfare laws, work to raise the standards worldwide, so no dog has to suffer wherever it was born.

Illegal Importation

Unfortunately, not all pet importation is legal – puppy smuggling has increased during lockdown too. The RSPCA reported over 800 puppies were illegally imported from abroad in 2020, many of them in poor condition. UK law states that dogs must be 15 weeks or older to be imported, but many are younger. These dogs are easy to sell online from shady businesses, resulting in them being registered by the new owner’s vet and becoming a legal puppy. Furthermore, many dogs have their ears cropped or tails docked illegally before being imported. We have seen an increase in the number of pets with these deformities. 

The RSPCA is trying to get the laws changed to prevent puppy smuggling, but nothing has been done yet. Once again, always purchase puppies from a registered breeder and report any with cropped ears or docked tails (unless they have paperwork to prove it was done legally for medical or work purposes). 


There have been plenty of stories online about people having their beloved pets stolen – we’ve even written an article about it before. This horrible practice has only increased during lockdown, likely as a result of the increased demand. Pedigree dogs and certain breeds are most at risk, particularly puppies as they are easier to sell on. The penalties for this crime are generally only small fines. There have been petitions to make this an imprisonable offence but Parliament has not yet acted.

Dogs that are stolen are usually sold on by illegal means, such as online or via fake breeders if they are puppies. Once again, you can avoid this by ensuring the sellers are licensed. Our previous article discussed how to prevent your dog being stolen, so look there for more advice, but the most important is to ensure your dog is microchipped and the chip is registered to your name (remember this is a legal requirement for dogs and soon cats as well).

Stray and Accidental Breeding

This next one is a little less concrete in evidence, but may well play a part in providing new lockdown puppies and kittens. During the early lockdown, many vets stopped offering routine services to avoid spreading coronavirus. Neutering was sometimes included – notably, the PDSA stopped offering routine neutering. The UK has had a historically high rate of neutering among the pet population, but it may be the case that reduced neutering has led to increased rates of puppies and kittens being born accidentally. 

Whether this is among the stray animal population, or pets that accidentally mate (possibly leading to the increased numbers of first-time breeders, as mentioned above), it stands to reason reduced neutering may play a part in this. Again, we haven’t seen any evidence for this, but entire dogs and cats do tend to be quite successful breeders… 


Again, particularly early on in the lockdown, shelters became the go-to place for families looking for a dog or cat they knew would have been well cared for. We wholly support shelters and the great work they do in rescuing and rehabilitating animals UK wide, so it was lovely to see the shelters becoming so popular. So popular, in fact, that many started running out of pets to give away! In the first week of lockdown in March 2020, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home reported they had rehomed double the amount of pets as the week before, while the RSPCA said their website had a 600% increase in traffic on its dog fostering pages. Even now, with things returning to normal, waiting lists for pets are huge.

Unfortunately, things are starting to swing in the other direction. As people return to work and realise a lockdown puppy isn’t suitable for a 9 to 5, more and more pets are being returned or given up to shelters. It is heart-breaking to see pets given a ‘forever home’ that turned out to just be for a few months. We understand that life is unpredictable and circumstances do change, but we urge people to think think think before purchasing a puppy or kitten from anywhere. It isn’t fair for these animals to be traded back and forth like objects. If you are going to get a pet, be prepared for the costs and challenges their 10-plus years of life will require.

Where Should You Get a Dog or Cat From?

To summarise all of the above:

Before you decide where to get a new pet from, please think long and hard about if you should. Looking after a pet is a lifetime commitment. Some dogs and cats can live to be 16 or even older. That is a long time to be caring for them. As their owner, you have the responsibility to feed, shelter and provide veterinary care for this entire time. Having a pet is a huge time and financial commitment, and should never be done on a whim. Do your research, consider fostering first to decide if pet ownership is for you, and please think in the long-term, not just for lockdowns.

If you’re happy a pet is for you, then here is our advice:

  1. Never purchase a pet from abroad – they are likely to be unhealthy, poorly socialised and may contribute to illegal business practices. There will be a pet for you in the UK if you are patient. 
  2. Look in shelters or charities first. For a nominal (or even no) fee, you can have a pet that has been properly assessed, socialised and treated by a vet. Furthermore, you are supporting a charity that helps rescue more pets from abuse or abandonment. 
  3. Avoid buying dogs from websites like Facebook, Gumtree or local buy and sell pages – look on the Kennel Club website, dog breed sites, or ask your local vet. 
  4. If you buy from a breeder, always buy from a licensed breeder
  5. Ensure your licensed breeder is legitimate. Check their property, insist on seeing mum (and dad if possible), do not be pressured into a quick sale, ask for plenty of opportunities to see the puppies or kittens first, and ensure they are treated for worms, vaccinated and microchipped 
  6. Avoid breeding yourself unless you know what you are doing. We would also encourage you to register as a breeder, to ensure welfare standards are maintained. 

This article is likely to come across as quite critical of many business practices, certain industries or even of your own lockdown pet. Please do not take it to heart – as always, we strive to educate people so that animal welfare is the best it can be. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in exactly the opposite. With our advice in mind, we hope that new pet owners can be confident their new best friend is healthy, happy and will stay in a forever home.

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