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It’s time to end puppy smuggling and bring back the Kept Animals Bill

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4 min read

Despite long-standing government commitments to tackle puppy smuggling, huge numbers of puppies continue to be smuggled into the United Kingdom.

As the only veterinary surgeon in the Commons, I am passionate that we address this important animal welfare issue, and quickly.

Through research and undercover investigations, Dogs Trust has exposed the widespread abuse of the Pet Travel Scheme. This scheme, intended for use by people taking their pets on holiday, has long been used as a cover by unscrupulous traders, who have taken advantage to illegally import thousands of puppies from Central and Eastern Europe into Britain for onward sale. As a result, thousands of underage pups and, more recently, increasing numbers of heavily pregnant dogs, have been smuggled into the country every year, often enduring horrific journeys. These puppies are also frequently unvaccinated, and sometimes with cropped ears and docked tails (practices banned in the UK), resulting in significant detrimental effects on their welfare.

The large number of smuggled puppies entering the UK also poses significant threats to biosecurity

The Kept Animals Bill offers a vital opportunity to address the puppy smuggling trade head-on. Its commitment to reducing the number of pets entering the UK to five per vehicle offers hope for the vulnerable animals at the centre of this abhorrent activity. However, with the bill yet to return to Parliament, this unscrupulous trade continues unhindered. In addition, the bill provides provision to tackle pet theft, an horrific crime that takes place all too often. I would also like to see these measures expanded to include other animals such as farm livestock and horses.

I am proud to be working with Dogs Trust in sponsoring a drop-in event in the Commons on 26 October, to encourage colleagues to come together to learn more about the impact of puppy smuggling.

This will also raise awareness of the action required to tackle the trade beyond the Kept Animals Bill. Despite the bill proposing significant action to address puppy smuggling, there is still much more to be done. Dogs Trust’s work has exposed the tactics smugglers use to avoid detection, worsened by the lack of visual checks on animals entering the UK. At present, only a “document and identity” check on imported pets is required by the rules of the Pet Travel Scheme. The lack of a visual check of the animal when going through border control means greater illegal importation of underage and undeclared dogs and cats. The secondary legislation being proposed under the bill does not currently include provisions to require visual checks at the border, which will continue to provide a significant loophole for smugglers.

Crucially, the large number of smuggled puppies entering the UK also poses significant threats to biosecurity. I have spoken on this repeatedly in the Chamber, on the Kept Animals Bill Committee and on the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee. It is crucial for disease screening of threats, such as brucella canis, to be introduced. Brucella canis, a zoonotic disease, is not considered endemic in the UK, and reports of this were rare and sporadic in the UK until recently.

Since July 2020, the Animal and Plant Health Agency in liaison with human health protection agencies in Great Britain, have noted an increase in cases. Most cases have been associated with imported dogs. With the increase in importation of pregnant mums, and birth fluids being a significant risk of infection, it is imperative we address these threats, particularly since there is no curative treatment for brucella canis.

Even following antibiotic treatment, infected dogs are considered infected for life and could be a continued potential source of infection of both people and other dogs. As a result, the recommended treatment for dogs with the disease is euthanasia – a devastating consequence. Animal welfare unites us across the House, and I firmly believe cross party parliamentary working can help address these significant animal health and welfare issues and tackle puppy smuggling head on.


Neil Hudson, Conservative MP for Penrith and The Border and veterinary surgeon.

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