Booming online puppy trade: Illegal, fraudulent and heartbreaking for dogs and buyers

Booming online puppy trade: Illegal, fraudulent and heartbreaking for dogs and buyers. 


The illegal dog trade is a booming industry all over Europe. Eight million puppies are annually needed to supply demand, making the online trade worth over more than one billion euros. The online trade has not only a huge impact on the welfare and health of the animals involved, but also on the internal market through unfair competition and tax evasion, as well as on consumer rights and public health.  Fraudulent sellers creatively exploit online platforms to get in touch with unsuspecting consumers, leading to high financial costs and emotional suffering. Today’s conference called for full-spectrum solutions including greater transparency through harmonised identification and registration, the registration and licensing of breeders and sellers as well as better regulations for online platforms as the key gateways to tackle the illegal online trade.

Today, the Austrian EU Presidency, Eurogroup for Animals and Four Paws International gathered over 120 experts and stakeholders from across the industry at a conference entitled ’The Illegal Online Puppy Trade: towards a safer EU for animals and people online’. Throughout the day, veterinarians, breeders, lawyers, politicians and NGO representatives examined the challenges raised by the illegal online trade of dogs and showcased solutions from Member States and the online classifieds market, while pointing to political opportunities for regulation in the EU.

This conference is timely, as the European Commission is starting to unfold its plans for specific regulations under the Animal Health Law, which could restrict the space for this illegal trade to operate. The review of European consumer legislation also creates opportunities to better regulate online platforms and protect consumers.

"The issue of the illegal puppy trade has been high on the political agenda at EU and national levels for several years now, and it is something that has been raised amongst the Chief Veterinary Officers on a number of occasions. Tackling this trade is a priority for the Austrian Presidency, and the conclusions from today’s conference will be outlined to my fellow Chief Veterinary Officers at our next meeting in December. It is important that we look at how further actions can be taken, both at European and national levels to combat this illegal trade, and today’s conference is key for exchanging ideas and best practices of how this can be done."

Dr Ulrich Herzog, Chief Veterinary Officer of the Republic of Austria 

The numbers of dogs being smuggled has grown exponentially over the past decade, fuelled by consumer demand for certain breeds, an increase in online classified advertisements, and a pet passport system which currently does not work. It has never been easier to buy or sell a puppy online –more often than not, at emotional cost to the buyer. Transported for long journeys, newborn puppies suffer from heat and cold, thirst and stress, are at high risk of transmissible disease, and those surviving often becoming poorly socialised and unmanageable for their new owners, leading to the puppy’s swift abandonment.

As the European Parliament already stated in February 2016, the illegal puppy trade is not only an animal welfare issue. It is the third most profitable sphere of organised crime within the EU after narcotics and weapons, and a massive public health risk. The puppies are produced under appalling conditions and usually not vaccinated. Many, if not most, carry severe diseases and therefore pose a real threat to animal and human health.

"Through the #thankseBay campaign, FOUR PAWS has been calling on online platforms to strengthen their policies and restrict the anonymous pet trade taking place on classified ad sites. Experience shows, however, that self-regulation cannot solve the problem of illegal online puppy sale. This needs to be completed with a solid legal framework enhancing the traceability of operators and animals."

Helmut Dungler, CEO of FOUR PAWS International 

Quite symbolically, the conference date coincides with the first-year anniversary of a joint declaration by several Member States showing their willingness to act together. In the Declaration, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden had called on the European Commission to undertake measures to stop the illegal trade in pets across the EU – particularly with regard to the smuggling of dogs across Member States. Meanwhile, the Netherlands has set up a dedicated sub-group under the EU Animal Welfare Platform on the health and welfare of pets.

"The conference outcomes clearly show that we are dealing with multifaceted and cross-border problems. Although Member States have an important role to play, the issues involved in the illegal and legal online trade can’t just be solved at national level. The good news is that there are crucial EU opportunities like the review of consumer legislation and the implementation of the animal health law which both have the potential to protect animals. What we now need is the political will to act." 

Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals 

Georgia Diamantopoulou

EU Companion Animal Policy Coordinator

+32 2 74 00 888

Rue Ducale 29, 1000 Brussels

FOUR PAWS - Animal Welfare ASBL

FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, orangutans and elephants – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in twelve countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. 

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