You may have heard of ‘Catfishing’, where a stranger creates a fictional online persona to lure someone into a relationship.

Deceitful pet sellers use a similar tactic to ‘Petfish’ unsuspecting buyers. These unscrupulous sellers pretend that the puppy or kitten they’re selling you comes from a happy home.

In reality, the animal may have been bred or kept in poor conditions.

Don’t get caught out

Buying or adopting a pet is an exciting time. But do you really know the person behind the advert?

Sadly, when you’re looking for a new cat or dog, you’re more likely to come across deceitful sellers than you might think. These sellers mistreat animals to line their pockets.

Welcoming these pets into your home can have tragic consequences. Some have severe health problems. Often, they won’t have been socialised with other animals or people. It’s important to do your research so you know your new pet has come from a responsible seller.

Watch this film to hear real-life stories from people who bought from deceitful sellers

"We found Max on a popular website that advertises different animals. It seemed like a normal family home."

Rebecca Reed, dog buyer

You can report any sellers who you think might be deceitful to the RSPCA Cruelty Hotline 0300 1234 999.

The introduction of ‘Lucy’s Law’ [external link] means that anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten in England must now buy direct from a breeder, or consider adopting from a rescue centre instead.

If you’re thinking of getting a cat or dog, here’s an essential checklist of what you need to do. By following these tips, you can make sure your new pet is healthy and happy.

Buying: What to consider when purchasing a pet

A brown puppy grins at the camera

Buying a puppy or dog

If you are buying a dog from a breeder, start by checking the Kennel Club’s Assured Breeder Scheme [external link], or look for for a commercial dog breeder, whose licence number must be shown in any advert. You can check with the local authority that these details are legitimate.

Use the Puppy Contract [external link] (PDF, 1.3MB, 17 pages) to help you get the information you need when buying a puppy. A good breeder will be happy to sign the Puppy Contract for you.

A doctor holds a cat, who looks forward

Buying a kitten or cat

For kittens or cats, search The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) Breeder Scheme [external link] to search for breeders, by location or type of cat.

Use the Kitten Checklist [external link] (PDF, 2.4MB, 13 pages) to help you get the information you need when looking to buy a kitten.

 

 

 

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If you see a puppy or kitten advert that you think looks suspicious, you can report it to the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG).

A step-by-step guide: Checklist for buying a cat or dog

1. Before you contact the seller

 

Puppies and kittens should never be sold under the age of 8 weeks old. Research the breed so you know roughly how big the animal should be at that age.

 

If a puppy or kitten is advertised as having a pet passport, it may have been imported.

Puppies and kittens need to be at least 15 weeks to travel from the EU and certain other countries, or seven months old from unlisted ‘third’ countries. If they are advertised as younger than this but with a pet passport, this is a red flag (warning sign).

 

Are they advertising lots of litters from different breeds for sale? If so, then they may be a deceitful seller. Copy and paste the phone number and advert description into a search engine. If the same phone number is being used on lots of different pet adverts, or multiple adverts come up on different sites with different dates, this is a red flag.

 

Make sure you understand what medical treatment your puppy or kitten will have had and how it will be socialised for the first few weeks of its life.

Low welfare sellers often won’t socialise animals, which can lead to behavioural issues for your new pet.

2. When you contact the seller

 

Once you’re comfortable that the puppy or kitten seller looks reputable, make sure that you ring them before arranging a visit. If they don’t provide a phone number, this is a red flag.

 

You should never feel pressured to buy a pet. Does the conversation feel rushed, or are they pushing for a quick sale? If so, this is not a good sign and you should look for a different seller.

A responsible seller will want the puppy or kitten to go to a good home. The seller should be engaged and asking you questions to assess your suitability as an owner. If they are not doing so, this should be a warning sign.

 

Ask the following:

  • Which vaccinations has the animal had?
  • Which vaccines or boosters are still required, and when are they needed?
  • Has the animal been neutered?
  • Does the animal or its parents have any health issues?
  • Is the puppy or kitten microchipped?

 

Ask the following:

  • Do the parents or the animal have any behavioural issues?
  • How have you socialised the puppy or kitten?
  • Will the animal’s mum be present?
  • Can I see where the animal was bred?

3. When you visit the seller

 

You should always meet the seller, the mother and the litter in their home before agreeing to a sale.

 

Deceitful sellers often suggest meeting in a location that’s convenient for you – such as your own home, somewhere nearby, or a halfway point – to avoid showing you the animal’s living conditions.

 

Unscrupulous dealers often separate the puppy or kitten from their family. You should see the animal interacting with its mother and siblings. You should also be able to see and handle the rest of the litter.

If you are given the chance to buy your pet without seeing the mother, or where it was raised, it suggests that it was reared in a low-welfare setting like a puppy farm.

 

When you meet the puppy or kitten, they should be sociable and alert, with bright eyes and no visible health issues. They should not look nervous or dirty.

 

If the breeder claims the animal has been vaccinated and/or microchipped, ask to see records of these. Puppies must be microchipped and registered to the seller before sale. Kittens may not be.

Records include vaccination certificates and evidence of worming and flea treatments. A good breeder will share these with you before sale, and will not claim that they have misplaced the records or that they will send them later.

 

For puppies, if they are advertised as Kennel Club registered, make sure you get a copy of their Registration Certificate before you buy the puppy. Similarly, for kittens advertised as GCCF registered, make sure you get a copy of the Registration Certificate before you buy the kitten.

Adopting: What to consider when rescuing or rehoming

When rescuing or rehoming a cat, dog, puppy or kitten, keep the following in mind:

 

If you’re rescuing a cat or dog, you can start by checking if the rescue organisation is a member of the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes (ADCH) [external link] .

A good rescue and rehoming organisation will check your suitability first and usually use an adoption contract. They will help you choose the right dog or cat for you and give you advice on caring for your new pet.

 

Some dogs and cats are illegally imported, and could carry diseases that are harmful to other pets. There is also a higher risk of behavioural and welfare issues due to poor breeding and rehoming.

If you’re buying or adopting a cat or dog from abroad, they need to be fully vaccinated, including against rabies.

 

If a puppy or kitten is advertised as having a pet passport, it may have been imported.

Puppies and kittens need to be at least 15 weeks to travel from the EU and certain other countries, or 7 months old from unlisted ‘third’ countries. If they are advertised as younger than this but with a pet passport, this is a red flag.

A litter of brown Labrador puppies

Lucy’s Law: The ban on third-party sales

Commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens were banned in England from 6 April 2020. Known as Lucy’s Law [external link], the law means anyone looking to buy or adopt a puppy or kitten must deal directly with the breeder or with one of the nation’s reputable rehoming centres.

Knowing the signs of unscrupulous sellers can help to tackle illegal or low welfare supply of puppies, kittens, cats and dogs. If you buy a pet from these sellers, you may not only end up with huge vet bills, but you will also help this cruel trade continue. Following these guidelines helps stop animal exploitation, so you can welcome a happy and healthy pet into your home.

Want to support the campaign?

We’re always keen to hear from potential supporters who want to get involved in the ‘Petfished’ campaign, to help to end the cruel practices of unscrupulous breeders.

If you want to find out more about how you can help, get in touch with the campaign team at getyourpetsafely@defra.gov.uk.

You can report any sellers who you think might be deceitful to the RSPCA Cruelty Hotline 0300 1234 999.

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Photo credits for ‘step-by-step’ guide: Benjamin Dada, Madfish Digital, Ramiz Dedaković / Unsplash