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Don’t get “Petfished” this Christmas: Chief Veterinary Officer warns the public about deceitful pet sellers

Defra recently launched its Christmas Petfished campaign, warning the public against unknowingly buying puppies, kittens, cats and dogs from unscrupulous sellers ahead of Christmas

A recent survey of UK cat and dog owners found over a quarter (27 percent) came across a seller or advert that made them feel suspicious of the welfare of the pet, while purchasing their last cat or dog. The research further reveals the public are at risk of purchasing puppies and kittens from deceitful sellers, otherwise known as being “Petfished”, finding:

  • Less than half (43 percent) of UK dog or cat owners visited the seller in-person in the animal’s home when researching their recent pet purchase
  • More than 1 in 10 (12 percent) pet buyers didn’t do any research at all before visiting their puppy or kitten for the first time
  • Under a third (31 percent) of dog and cat owners feel very confident they could spot the signs of a low welfare puppy or kitten seller

In addition, a survey of British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) members found nearly two thirds (68 percent) of pet owners were unaware that the clinical and behavioural signs of their pet may be linked to low welfare breeding practices.

Veterinary professionals and Defra’s Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) are urging the public to think twice before they buy, and look out for deceitful sellers who take advantage of increased demand for pets ahead of Christmas.

Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said: 

“Christmas can be a difficult time to settle a pet into a new home and it’s vitally important that people not only research the breed of animal they want, but also the person selling it to them.

“Puppies and kittens bred in low-welfare conditions can often be separated from their mother too soon which can lead to severe health and behavioural problems, heartache and high vet bills for their new family. We urge people to remain vigilant and to always thoroughly research pet sellers before getting in touch.”

Bill Lambert, Health and Welfare expert at The Kennel Club, said:

“Buying a puppy is a huge decision and all prospective owners should do the proper research and have all the facts available so that they can make an informed decision.

“We know there has been a surge in demand for puppies during the pandemic. The current mismatch between supply and demand can lead to more people being duped by rogue breeders and scammers, and inadvertently fuelling low-welfare breeders.”

To avoid being Petfished, the public are being urged to spot vital red flags when researching sellers, with the help of the acronym S.P.O.T.

  • Seller – Put the seller’s name and details including phone number into a search engine – avoid those with multiple adverts. 
  • Parent – Make sure you see puppies and kittens in their home with their mother
  • Old enough – Check puppies and kittens are at least 8 weeks old before you take them home 
  • Treatment – Ask to see the animal’s health records and avoid sellers who can’t provide them

Defra’s Petfished campaign includes a film warning the public of the dangers of purchasing puppies or kittens from low welfare breeding practices during the Christmas period. The film features familiar furry friends and urges the public to research the person behind the pet.

More information on what to do before contacting a seller and what to ask when you do get in touch can be found on the campaign’s website or by searching “Get your pet safely”. 

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