Buying a pet from a low welfare breeder could cost owners an extra £ 5, in vet bills over just 24 months, a new study has found.
More than half ( (%) of vets surveyed said the poor conditions of puppy or kitten farms often lead to illnesses and complications, which can incur treatment costs of more than £ 1, in the first year of the animal’s life and up to £ 5, in severe cases, sometimes resulting in the pet being euthanized.
The figures come as a new government campaign is launched urging the public to spot “red flags” in pet sellers before buying a puppy or kitten.
The campaign introduces the phrase ‘petfished’ – much like ‘catfished’, when someone is lured into a relationship by a fictional online persona – and refers to deceitful pet sellers who use a similar tactic to trick buyers, mistreating animals and selling them at high volume to line their pockets.
In a bid to disrupt the demand for these animals and further suffocate the trade, the campaign urges the public to follow simple steps in spotting warning signs that a puppy or a kitten has been raised in low welfare conditions.
- (Research. Have a look at the seller’s profile and search their name online. If they are advertising many litters from different breeds, then this is a red flag
- Check contact details. Copy and paste the phone number into a search engine. If the number is being used on lots of different adverts, sites and dates then this is likely a deceitful seller
- Check the animal’s age. Puppies and kittens should never be sold under eight weeks old – do not buy from anyone advertising a puppy or kitten younger than that
- Check the animal’s health records.
Amy Heathcote unwittingly bought her kitten, Marley, from a third-party seller. He became very sick just a few hours after arriving home and was taken to the emergency vet where Amy was told that Marley was actually just four weeks old rather than eight weeks, as the seller had told her.
“By that point it was too late and the vet said he had little chance of survival after being separated so early from his mother,” she told Sky News.
“I found out that the seller had been advertising multiple litters online – a clear indicator of low-welfare conditions – and I can’t stress enough how important it is for someone looking for a pet to do their research beforehand. “
Due to further complications, Amy had to have Marley put down after just days.
The poor conditions suffered by puppies and kittens include early separation from their mothers, huge numbers of animals cramped in unhygienic spaces, and the likelihood of long journeys from the place they were bred to their new home.
All of these can contribute to an increased risk of disease and behavioral issues.
Michael Lazaris, veterinary surgeon at the RSPCA Putney Animal Hospital in south London, told Sky News: “We often see puppies coming in that are severely ill, with vomiting, diarrhoea , often infectious diseases that they may catch.
“Also, if they’ve been brought up incorrectly, away from their mother, or been sold to a third party, usually you have b ehavioural issues which will then carry on for the rest of the pet’s life and make it quite a difficult relationship between the owner and the animal.
“At the RSPCA, the most common cases that we see are usually severe vomiting and diarrhoea. It’s often quite life-threatening and we have had many puppies die just because we can’t save them. “
Dr Lazaris showed Sky News a recent online advert for a pair of French bulldogs priced at nearly £ , each.
“A lot of people don’t know that French Bulldogs are actually predisposed to a lot of health issues,” he said .
“One of the most common being Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome. That’s because of their really flat faces, they can’t breathe properly. And a lot of them end up having surgery to open up their airways.
“They also get skinfold infections, they have issues with their tails, many of them need caesarean sec tions when the females are pregnant. So you end up buying these puppies for £ 20, , and then you’re paying another £ 20, for veterinary fees. “
Christine Middlemiss, UK Chief Veterinary Officer said: “Vets see the tragic effects of ‘petfishing’ first-hand but so too do the public who may be put through the pain and cost of looking after, and even losing, a sick puppy or kitten due to the conditions it was bred in. “
The government has already changed the law to ban commercial third party puppy and kitten sales. It is supporting a Private Member’s Bill to raise the maximum penalty for animal cruelty from six months to five years, and is consulting on tackling excessively long journeys for live animals.
Animal welfare minister, Lord Goldsmith said: “Our campaign will help raise awareness of the dangers associated with buying pets online and deceitful sellers.
” The animals reared on puppy farms are often in awful conditions which can lead to chronic health problems, behavioral issues, and, in the most tragic cases, death. This simply has to stop and the public can do its bit to help.
“We urge anyone thinking about getting a pet to do the right thing. Do thorough research and ensure you go to a reputable breeder in the UK – don’t get ‘petfished’. “
On 6 April , the ban on commercial third party puppy and kitten sales – known as Lucy’s Law – will come into force in England. It seeks to crack down on puppy farms by disrupting the supply chain of low-welfare breeders which relies on third party sales.