Royal Veterinary College says huge puppy welfare crisis is unfolding in the UK

·3-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Extreme demand for puppies over the course of pandemic has led to an increased risk to puppy health and welfare, a study has found.

Research by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) revealed that some people who bought a “pandemic puppy” over lockdown were less likely to have sought credible breeders, less likely to have seen their puppy in-person before taking it home, and more likely to have paid in excess of £2,000.

The study was the RVC’s largest ever into the impact of the puppy purchasing throughout the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, surveying more than 5,500 dog owners and comparing their responses to the responses of owners who purchased puppies during the same period in 2019.

The buying behaviours of new “pandemic puppy” owners “heighten the threats to puppies”, warned the RVC. This is because the animals were more likely to be sourced from poor welfare environments, bred or raised on puppy farms, and illegally imported.

“Therefore, enhanced support mechanism for owners and greater welfare efforts for this vulnerable puppy population are needed now more than ever,” said the study.

People who purchased a puppy during lockdown were also more likely to be first-time dog owners and have children in their household. They were also more likely to buy a puppy younger than the recommended guidance of over eight weeks.

The RVC asked owners a set of questions exploring the specific impacts of Covid-19 on puppy ownership, and found over 10 per cent of them had not considered buying a dog prior to the pandemic.

A large majority of puppy owners (86 per cent) felt their decision to buy one was influenced by the pandemic, with the most common reason being they had more time to care for a dog.

The researchers also warned that greater levels of support and education for first-time dog owners may be needed to maintain the welfare of the puppies.

Vets in practice and canine behavioural professionals could therefore need to play a greater role in helping to reduce factors such as behavioural challenges, health problems and relinquishment risk,” said the RVC.

Support for owners of “pandemic puppies” should be focused on training and raising awareness of day care and dog walking services as people return to the office over the coming months, added the college.

Dr Rowena Packer, lead author of the study and lecturer in companion animal behaviour and welfare science at the RVC, said: “The unprecedented demand for puppies combined with social distancing restrictions during the pandemic has led to the perfect environment for unscrupulous breeders and puppy dealers.

“This also includes desperate buyers willing to pay above the odds for puppies, and an easy excuse to conceal poor conditions puppies were raised in. From our results, we are concerned that many well-meaning owners who were looking to add a puppy to their family to improve their mental health during the pandemic may have fallen into this trap, and inadvertently encouraged this deplorable industry.

“For worried owners of ‘pandemic puppies’ – all is not lost. If you are concerned about your puppy’s health, behaviour or wellbeing, please contact your vet or a qualified behavioural professional who will be able to support you and your puppy to address any problems that have arisen in their early life.”

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