The Government is considering banning puppy sales by pet shops and other third party dealers.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said a ban will be explored as part of a package to drive up welfare standards alongside enhanced licensing conditions for breeders due to come into force later this year.
The possible ban would mean anyone buying or adopting a dog would deal directly with the breeder or an animal rehousing centre.
Last year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) concluded that a ban on third party sales would lead to the creation of an illegal market following evidence from Dogs Trust and Blue Cross.
Paula Boyden, veterinary director for Dogs Trust, welcomed Mr Gove’s announcement, saying: ‘We are delighted that the Government is exploring a ban on third party puppy sales and implore them to fast track crucial steps before a ban is implemented.
‘If a ban was introduced now, puppy farmers could exploit loopholes such as setting themselves up as unregulated re-homing centres or sanctuaries. Licensing and inspection of dog breeders and sellers must also be stronger to ensure that everyone involved in the trade is on the radar of local authorities.
‘The Government must tackle these loopholes now, so we can be confident a ban will be the success we all want to see.’
RSPCA deputy chief executive Chris Wainwright said: ‘We are delighted that Defra is considering a ban on third party sales of puppies. We believe that cracking down on unscrupulous traders, who put profit ahead of animal welfare, will provide much-needed protection for prospective pet owners and puppies.
‘We have always said that an end to third party sales alone would not be enough to end the puppy trade crisis, and we are pleased that this is being looked at alongside enhanced licensing conditions for breeders which will come into force later this year.
‘Together, we hope these moves will offer better protection to puppies and their parents and also reduce the number of families duped by rogue traders in this illegal multimillion-pound trade.’
Mr Gove said: ‘We need to do everything we can to make sure the nation’s much loved pets get the right start in life.
‘From banning the sale of underage puppies to tackling the breeding of dogs with severe genetic disorders, we are cracking down on sellers who have a total disregard for their dogs’ welfare.’
Under new rules to take effect later this year, anyone who breeds or sells dogs must be licensed and will be banned from selling puppies and kittens under eight weeks old.
They must also show puppies alongside their mother before a sale is made, and sales must be completed in the presence of the new owner in order to prevent online sales where prospective buyers have not seen the animal first.
Defra’s call for evidence on the ban on third party sales of puppies closes on May 2.