Those looking to bring a new puppy or kitten home this Christmas are being urged to research the person behind the pet to avoid being lured in by deceitful sellers.
The price of puppies has more than doubled during lockdown according to the online marketplace Pets4Homes.
This has led to the UK’s Chief Vet raising concerns about the risk posed by deceitful low-welfare sellers who breed and keep animals in poor conditions to take advantage of this spike in prices.
With the new national restrictions in place until December 2, prospective pet owners are being urged to be alert to the risks involved while they are not permitted to visit the animal in person in its home environment, and to think about additional checks they can undertake to ensure the seller is legitimate.
Animals bred in low-welfare conditions can often be separated from their mother too early in their development and this can lead to severe health and behavioural problems resulting in high vet bills.
Christmas has been a peak period for puppy sales for decades and research has shown this trend continuing. Last year the number of tweets mentioning buying puppies jumped by 435% in the lead up to Christmas.
Online retailer Preloved reported that the majority of what it considers to be "high volume" days for pet listings - when sellers post the most adverts for cats, kittens, dogs and puppies - occurred between late November and mid-December last year.
Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said:
“After a difficult year and with many of us spending more time at home, many people may be considering getting a new puppy or kitten.
However, the lead up to Christmas is a prominent time for unscrupulous sellers to take advantage of those looking to buy a new pet. That is why we are advising people to remain vigilant and to always thoroughly research sellers before getting in touch.
"Potential buyers should also note that Christmas might not be the best time to get a pet as it can be noisy and chaotic, which isn’t the best environment to settle in a new animal.”
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said:
“While the idea of a new pet joining your family around the tree may be a wonderful festive scene, the truth behind your Christmas puppy could be much darker.
Dogs used in the underground puppy trade lead miserable lives in horrific conditions and their puppies often have lifelong health and behavioural problems due to their poor start.
"We’re supporting the Petfished campaign to urge prospective buyers to always research the seller first. It is always much better to wait for the right dog than to rush into buying - and unwittingly support cruelty.
"If concerned, walk away from the seller and contact the RSPCA on: 0300-1234-999."