RSPCA shocked at staggering numbers of animals trafficked into UK from EU

The RSPCA has called for Westminster Government to tackle the illegal trade in puppies after new figures revealed an increase in the number of dogs being imported into the UK from EU countries.

DEFRA announced on Thursday (21 January) the number of dogs trafficked into the country for commercial and noncommercial reasons in 2015. And the statistics reveal that imports from Ireland, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, and Romania – all countries identified as having large scale puppy farm operations – have risen by 75%.

In October 2015, the RSPCA launched its Scrap the Puppy Trade campaign to tackle the unscrupulous puppy breeders and traders operating in the England, as well as those importing from overseas.

The charity is concerned about the way many puppies are bred and sold like commodities with little or no regard to their future well-being. Some puppies die prematurely or develop behavioural or health problems as a result of poor breeding.

The Society is calling on the Westminster Government to develop legislation which tackles the root causes of the problem, including cutting off the trade in illegally imported puppies from Europe with increased enforcement at our borders and with increased accountability and monitoring for anyone breeding puppies.
The figures show that while imports of dogs from non-UK EU countries rose by 7%, imports from those five counties rose by 75%. And 38% of all dogs imported to the UK come from the five countries where puppy farming operates on a large scale: Lithuania, Hungary, Romania, Poland and Ireland.

That means of the 93,424 dogs imported to the UK in 2015, 33,249 came from one of these five.

David Bowles, the RSPCA’s head of public affairs, said: “We are appalled by the figures released by DEFRA, which show the shocking scale of this problem.

“What is particularly concerning is the number of animals coming into the UK from countries such as Romania and Ireland, where we know puppy farmers and breeders are trying to cash in on the demand for certain dog breeds here in the UK.

“Many of the thousands of dogs coming into this country every year may well have started their life in appalling conditions on a puppy farm.”

David added: “While there is a demand for cheap, pure-bred and fashionable crossbreed puppies, breeders, dealers and traders will find a way to sell them.

“Puppy trafficking is big business, with dealers exploiting the current lack of enforcement at our ports and making huge profits bringing in large numbers of highly sought after puppies.

“Many buyers won’t be aware in what conditions their puppy has been bred and raised nor where their puppy has come from. They are effectively buying blind.

“Many of the puppies being imported are too young to have been removed from their mothers and have not been vaccinated against disease. Some puppies die in transit and many fall sick or die shortly after purchase, leaving their owners heartbroken and lumbered with huge vet bills.

“We believe that if we are to seriously tackle the poor breeding and illegal trade in puppies, the tap needs to be switched off. We need to see an overhaul of current legislation and improved enforcement which tackles the root causes of the problem.”

Commercial and noncommercial imports from Romania in 2015 rose by a staggering 88% from the previous year. The country is the largest exporter of dogs to the UK, with 10,800 coming into the country last year.

Imports from Ireland are now finally being declared and are at their highest, with more than 10,000 entering the UK in 2015.

Meanwhile, non-UK EU imports have risen by 7% and commercial imports also rose by 7%.

The RSPCA is asking members of the public to support our Scrap the Puppy Trade campaign and sign our petition at to tell Westminster that puppies are more precious than pieces of metal and to bring in new legislation to tackle puppy imports and the puppy trade in England.

Notes to editors

  • 93,424 animals were imported into the UK in 2015 for commercial and noncommercial reasons.
  • 85,730 animals were imported into the UK in 2015 from within the EU.
  • 33,249 animals were imported into the UK in 2015 from Ireland, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland and Romania – that’s up 75% (14,339) from 18,910 in 2014.