Vets in London say they are treat dozens of young dogs every year that have come from irresponsible breeders. The animals suffer illnesses associated with unhygienic conditions and genetic disorders linked to inbreeding.
Farms typically house up to 200 bitches which are used to breed puppies as quickly as possible. The litters are often transported at too young an age, from as far as eastern Europe as well as from sites in the UK and Ireland.
They are exploiting demand for breeds such as Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, teacup Yorkshire terriers and West Highland white terriers.
Jerry Dunne, a vet at Medivets in Hendon, said: “There is poor hygiene in puppy farms. Sixty per cent of puppies brought to us die or are put down because of poor husbandry, inbreeding and because they are malnourished. They often have genetic illnesses.”
TV vet Marc Abrahams has been lobbying ministers to ban pet shops from selling puppies supplied by farms and set up an e-petition that received 100,000 signatures and led to the issue being debated in parliament.
He said: “Puppy farms will house up to 200 breeding bitches in an agricultural shed, not socialised, well fed, or vaccinated. They rarely go outside. They’re kept on shavings in the dark. They are bred on every heat and the puppies are removed about every four weeks because there’s an urgency to sell them while they’re cute.”
How to buy a healthy puppy
- Never buy a puppy that is under eight weeks old.
- Don’t buy from someone who offers to deliver or meet you with the puppy.
- Visit it more than once with its mother in the place where it was born.
- Check for signs the adult dog has recently given birth such as enlarged mammary glands and for items to suggest the puppy was born there, like a whelping pen, food bowls and bedding.
- Choose a puppy that’s alert and happy interacting with you and its litter-mates.
- Check for symptoms of illness such as runny eyes or nose, weakness or hunching.
- Examine vaccination records carefully.
Stefano Skert, 45, who works out of hours at South London Emergency Veterinary Centre, said he suspected about one in 10 puppies he treats comes from a farm, and the figure soars in the daytime: “There are trucks coming from east Europe with hundreds of puppies. They are eight or 10 weeks of age. They cannot even walk. You cannot breed puppies like growing potatoes.”
To open a puppy farm, a breeder must apply to the council for a licence under the Breeding and Sale of Dogs Act 1999.
The site must be inspected by a vet and council officer. Breeders must ensure dogs do not give birth to more than one litter a year. But campaigners claim these rules are regularly breached.
Mr Abrahams said: “Official advice is to always see the puppy with its mum; never buy under eight weeks old; and always see the conditions in which it was bred. But the Government’s own legislation is preventing that from happening. We need to ban third-party sales.”
Puppies are often younger than eight weeks old when they are sold, which is legal but not recommended.
The TV vet, who has appeared on The Paul O’ Grady Show, This Morning and BBC Breakfast, added: “A lot are crossbreeds posing as pedigrees and they have to sell them while they’re young enough so the owner doesn’t realise.”
One of the most common illnesses is Parvo virus, a digestive condition. Many dogs were given medication to ensure they do not show symptoms until new owners have taken them home.
“When the puppy is found in a pool of bloody diarrhoea and taken to vet often it’s too late unless you spend £3,000 or £4,000 to put it on a drip.”
Mr Abrahams — who runs the annual PupAid charity event in Primrose Hill — advised that if a dog is being sold as a pure breed for £600 or less, it is likely to have come from a puppy farm.
Joan Kennedy, 57, of Stoke Newington told how she paid £600 last month for a teacup Yorkshire terrier for her granddaughter. The puppy, named Bo, was bought from a seller in London and died within 10 days after falling ill.
Ms Kennedy found the animal came from a puppy farm in Wales. She complained to the local council and an investigation is under way. “My granddaughter is distraught,” she said.