MPs call for crackdown on ‘designer’ dog clinics and unlicensed breeders

MPs are calling on the Government to crack down on “designer” dog clinics and unregulated breeders.

The number of canine fertility clinics rose from 40 in 2020 to more than 400 in 2023, according to findings from the Environment Committee’s (Efra) pet welfare and abuse inquiry.

A report outlining the inquiry findings has linked this increase to a rise in demand for “designer” dogs bred with extreme characteristics, such as flat faces, which leave animals likely to suffer a lifetime of health issues.

Health problems with French Bulldogs
MPs said that social media had a role to play in popularising breeds like French bulldogs, which often experience health issues due to their flat faces (Royal Veterinary College/PA)

The group of cross-bench MPs pointed to the influence of social media and celebrities in popularising breeds like French bulldogs and pugs.

A trend for the breeding of “designer” cats has also emerged in recent years, while cat welfare and cat breeding remain unregulated, according to the report released on Friday.

Elsewhere, the committee noted that “ethically abhorrent” practices that cause ongoing pain and suffering to animals, such as ear-cropping, cosmetic tail-docking in dogs and declawing in cats, are banned in the UK.

But it identified a major legal loophole that allows their importation from abroad.

It is now calling on the Government to urgently close this loophole as well as introduce legislation to end the sale of DIY dog ear-cropping kits in Britain.

National Cat Awards
MPs also called for cat welfare and breeding to be brought under the same legislative safeguards awarded to dogs (Ciaran McCrickard/PA)

The group of MPs added that cat welfare and breeding needs to be brought under the same legislative safeguards awarded to dogs.

Sir Robert Goodwill, Efra committee chair, said: “Our inquiry found that the current trends for designer features in dogs and cats are causing lifelong suffering to these pets and we ask the Government to promote greater public awareness about this to counter the influence of social media and celebrities who encourage these trends.”

Elsewhere, more than half of the puppies entering the market come from unlicensed breeders, the inquiry found.

The committee said ministers should publish a list of licensed breeders and change licensing regulations to include breeders of two or more litters a year as part of efforts to tackle low-welfare practices and provide assurance to buyers.

It also warned that “unscrupulous” canine fertility clinics have benefitted from a disjointed rule enforcement system.

This has allowed them to operate without vets so that laypersons have unlawfully performed surgical procedures, including caesarean sections.

The committee urged the Government to reform veterinary surgeon laws dating back to 1966 to include the clinics.

“The current £100 fine for performing acts of veterinary surgery illegally is a derisory deterrent,” the report noted.

The MPs also warned that local authorities, which have the statutory responsibility to enforce the laws, often find themselves under-resourced.

Pug helps nervous mastiff
Despite being banned in the UK, there are loopholes that allows dogs with cropped ears and cosmetically docked tails to be imported. Fraser, a large Cane Corso at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has cropped ears and a docked tail (Battersea Dogs & Cats Home/PA)

This has resulted in an inconsistent approach nationally that may also “embolden” unscrupulous breeders to flout the rules, they added.

Overall, the Government needs to address local authorities’ funding and resource needs and provide “greater clarity over where the enforcement and accountability responsibilities lie,” the committee warned.

Sir Robert said: “As a nation of animal and pet lovers, we place a high importance on the welfare of animals.

“We are concerned about the huge rise in the number of canine fertility clinics and the lack of regulatory oversight of these clinics, which may employ unqualified staff to perform veterinary procedures, and which may encourage the breeding of dogs with extreme features and dogs bred for aggressive traits.”

The inquiry also examined issues around the imports of pets, including the import of mutilated animals, very young puppies, heavily pregnant animals and pets bred in low-welfare environments.

To clamp down on the smuggling of animals, the committee said the Government should implement a ban on importing puppies and kittens under six months, and reduce the number of dogs and cats that can be imported by an individual into the UK.

It comes after the Government withdrew its Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill last year, which included measures to protect pets in, imported into, or exported from Great Britain.

But the committee is urging ministers to bring forward these welfare measures as soon as possible through Private Members bills.

A Defra spokesperson said: “The UK has a long history of leading the way on animal welfare and we are absolutely clear that cruelty to animals must be stamped out.

“This is why we are supporting the Private Members Bill which will bring forward new powers to tackle the unscrupulous trade of pet smuggling – including banning the movement of animals with mutilations such as cropped ears.

“We will also carefully consider the EFRA committee’s recommendations alongside our own review of the animal activity licensing regulations to consider whether further action is needed.”