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Illegal pet trade: what is it and why should you care?

Illegal pet trade: what is it and why should you care?
The illegal pet trade results in poor animal health and welfare standards and it’s responsible for animal suffering all across Europe
The illegal pet trade industry

The illegal pet trade is a booming industry that makes money from the mistreatment of animals, whilst avoiding paying taxes at the same time. Several animal welfare organisations witnessed and reported a growth of the industry since 2003, after the EU regulation that allowed pet owners to travel across national borders with their pets. This law was quickly misused by opportunistic criminal organisations looking to make a quick buck from animals and unknowing consumers. The illegal pet trade (covering dogs, cats, exotic animals) is the third most profitable illegal trade after firearms and drugs.

Animal cruelty

The illegal pet trade only cares about making a profit and not about the welfare of the animals, leading to:

1. Continuous suffering for female dogs giving birth
2. Ongoing suffering for studs used to breed
2. Terrible living conditions
3. Weak immune systems
4. Poor socialisation
5. Dumped and euthanised animals
6. Transport under dire circumstances
7. Public health risks, like rabies
8. Unpaid taxes
9. Consumer fraud


Animals are bred at low costs in dire factory-like facilities and kept in dank sheds afterwards. They often don’t receive the correct vaccinations (vaccinations can only be given after they’re 12 weeks old and the vaccinations take 15 weeks to actually take effect) and are transported with false documents and health certificates in the most horrible conditions that are not good for their physical and/or psychological health. The animals are often not socialised which can lead to aggressive and sometimes dangerous behaviour towards other dogs and humans. The animals often suffer from illnesses and health issues, which cause suffering to the animal and sorrow to the unsuspecting new owners who then have to take care of an ill, suffering animal. Being sold a sick animal a consumer is exposed to high veterinary costs. Some of these diseases are deadly, such as rabies, and pose a threat to the health and life of other animals and humans.
Resulting issues

Whereas unsuspecting owners will be stuck with high veterinary bills, illegal traders can reach profit margins up the 73%. Online classified ads provide the ideal circumstances for the illegal pet trade, the sellers can remain anonymous and sell the animals directly. The majority of websites such as eBay or Facebook leave users with the responsibility to identify fraud, turning these websites into safe havens for the illegal trade and consumer deception, apart from the fact that it promotes irresponsible ownership from buyers who might not be fully aware of the time, money, and energy it takes to care for an animal companion. Just to name an example: blockbusters such as Twilight and Game of Thrones caused a major spike in people buying huskies and other wolf like dogs only to leave them in a shelter once they got too big or too much work. Poor regulated websites and breeders enable people to buy a cat or dog in impulse, without ever having seen the animal in real life. Animals like these are often brought to shelters because they were too hard to handle, which only adds to the number of animals stuck in a shelter looking for a forever home. The shelter costs are then often covered by taxpayers money leading to overcrowding and high euthanasia rates in some countries.

Solutions at EU level

The EU is setting legislation in place that will help to tackle and regulate the breeding, handling, and selling of cats and dogs through the Animal Health Law (AHL) that will be enforced in 2021. The law addresses the mandatory registration of all breeders and sellers, and the harmonisation of Identification and Registration (I&R) systems throughout the EU. A registered breeder is traceable and can be held accountable for the way they treat their animals. But it’s not just the breeder that needs to be registered, the dogs or cats need to be registered too, a regulation that’s already enforced as a mandatory requirement for having dogs in the majority of EU countries. However, the lack of an interconnected database that allow access to all EU pet registry databases forms a major loophole for illegal traders, as well as countries that don’t enforce mandatory I&R for dogs and cats. In these countries, dogs and cats can easily be trafficked and sold from one country to another country because there's simply no way to trace their origin once they’re in a new country. The current EU legislation, including the pet passport scheme, is not sufficient to fully tackle the loophole. Another element that needs addressing in order to make the illegal pet trade history is more legislation and tougher regulations on platforms and websites selling animals.

The EU is now working towards regulating the pet market and the European Council has acknowledged the risks involved in letting the pet trade remain as it is.

What the EU needs now is I&R legislation that is thoroughly implemented at country level, an EU-wide I&R system with an interconnected database, and commitment from platforms and websites to control who sells online in order to end the suffering of thousands of animals.

What you can do

1. Share our content on the illegal pet trade
2. Never buy an animal from online platforms and advise your families and friends to do the same
3. Adopt don’t shop
4. If you know or suspect to know about an illegal breeding facility or trafficker, rapport it to a competent authority, tax collector, local animal shelter or police
5. Write a letter to online platforms demanding they stop selling animals


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