The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has warned the public against buying pets this Christmas with their new campaign to highlight ‘petfishing’ - where people unknowingly buy animals from unscrupulous sellers.

A recent survey of cat and dog owners in the UK revealed that over a quarter (27%) had seen a seller or an advert when looking to buy their own pet that made them suspicious about the welfare of the animal. The research also found that the public are at risk of purchasing puppies and kittens from deceitful sellers who ‘petfished’ them. The research revealed that:

Less than half (43%) 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%) pet buyers didn’t do any research at all before visiting their puppy or kitten for the first time.

Under a third (31%) 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%) of pet owners were unaware that the clinical and behavioural signs of their pet may be linked to low welfare breeding practices.

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.

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.”

Defra’s ‘petfished’ campaign film, published on You Tube, reinforces the 'petfished' message, and gives invaluable advice on what to look out for (and avoid) when buying a pet.