Fertility Clinics and Licensing Regulations

In 2020 in England, and followed in 2021 by Wales and Scotland, legislation was introduced to prevent the selling of puppies by third parties11. Known as Lucy’s Law in England, the legislation stated that puppies and kittens should only be sold from the place they were bred and by the person who bred them. This and other legislation, including breeder licensing, aimed to prevent the unscrupulous breeding of puppies in poor welfare conditions.

Unfortunately, our findings show poor awareness of the regulations among owners. 35% of pet owners (8 million pet owners) had not heard of any of the guidelines or regulations we listed*. Out of the legislative requirements, 39% of pet owners knew that puppies should be microchipped before eight weeks old (52% of dog owners), 35% had heard of local authority licensing of breeders (41% of dog owners, 29% of cat owners), and 35% knew that, by law, puppies for sale should be seen with their mother (43% of dog owners).  

An even lower proportion of owners were aware of the guidelines that welfare organisations have produced in collaboration to help owners source their pets responsibly. 11% had heard of the Puppy Contract (15% of dog owners), 10% had heard of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) Guidelines, and 9% had heard of the Kitten Checklist (14% of cat owners).

Out of those dog and cat owners who had acquired their pets from a breeder, 42% of dog and 35% of cat owners said they had checked that the breeder was licensed by the local authority, and 26% of dog and 30% of cat owners did not know whether the breeder was licensed or not. 15% of dog owners and 19% of cat owners said they didn’t know how to check whether a breeder was licensed.

It is important that owners know how to spot an unscrupulous breeder or low welfare breeding establishments to avoid inadvertently driving demand for pets from such places. Although our findings show that owner education and awareness need improvement, it is also important to consider whether the legislation as it stands provides a suitable framework, as currently not all breeders need to be licensed, which may not be clear to potential owners. 76% of veterinary professionals agree that anyone breeding puppies should be registered.

Canine Fertility Clinics

Canine fertility clinics have emerged and grown in popularity in the UK over recent years, with the number of clinics increasing from just 37 in 2020, to over 300 in 202312.

These clinics tend to focus on the most in-demand breeds, such as French Bulldogs, who often struggle to mate and whelp naturally13. Fertility procedures such as artificial insemination and ultrasound are offered, potentially without veterinary involvement, which can result in welfare concerns for the bitches. 68% of veterinary professionals have seen a dog in their practice that had been treated by a canine fertility clinic, and almost half (48%) of veterinary professionals surveyed stated they had welfare concerns about the dog resulting from their attendance at a canine fertility clinic. Reported incidents from other sources14 have included cases when serious diseases have been misdiagnosed as pregnancy. Anecdotally, many fertility clinics appear to have a strong association with unethical breeding, including the production of puppies with extreme conformation, causing severe health and welfare issues14.

1% of dog owners (equating to 97,000 dogs) told us that they had used a fertility clinic in the last 12 months.

To improve the welfare of dogs treated at these clinics, and to protect owners who may be unaware of the potential concerns, further regulation of canine fertility clinics is urgently needed, as called for by BVA and many other regulatory bodies. One way to achieve this could be for a requirement for these clinics to be inspected and licensed by local authorities.

Activities involving animals

Currently, several pet services used by owners are either not regulated at all or have regulations that are outdated. It is important that owners are able to easily check if a service provider is licensed and to have confidence that the licensing system helps them to know they are entrusting the care of their pet to a suitable person.

In the last 12 months,12% of dog owners have used dog boarding kennels, 8% home boarding and 2% have sent their dog on a pet holiday / boot camp. 8% of dog owners have used a doggy day-care facility – these facilities are useful to ensure dogs do not have to endure long periods alone but can be a stressful experience for some dogs if not managed appropriately. In the same timeframe, 13% of cat owners have used a cattery, and 6% have used home boarding.

In the last 12 months, 8% of dog owners and 2% of cat owners have used a trainer or behaviourist, 12% of dog owners (1.3 million dogs) have used a dog walker, and 35% of dog owners (3.8 million dogs) have used a groomer.

Currently, although the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) sets and maintains the standards of knowledge and practical skills needed to be an animal trainer, training instructor or animal behaviour therapist, there is no legal requirement for pet trainers or behaviourists to have any qualifications at all, and it can therefore be extremely difficult for an owner to know whose advice to follow. Using outdated or inhumane training techniques can have a detrimental effect on a dog’s welfare and behaviour, so further regulation and guidance are needed.

In addition, statutory protection of the title ‘Veterinary Nurse’ is long overdue, not only to safeguard animal and public health but to recognise the essential role that Vet Nurses fulfil. The BVNA ‘Protect the Title’ campaign calls for statutory protection of the title ‘Veterinary Nurse’ as part of proposals for wider legislative change to the 1966 Veterinary Surgeons Act.

“The rapid increase in unregulated canine fertility clinics, operating with no veterinary oversight, is a serious concern for our members. The PAW Report identifies the scale of the issue by quantifying for the first time the number of dogs directly impacted, and makes for deeply worrying reading. It shows the significant threat these clinics pose to animal welfare, particularly given their links to irresponsible dog breeding for in-demand breeds with innate health problems, such as French Bulldogs. This new data is a wake-up call for the Government to reform the current regulations around dog breeding as well as ensuring adequate funding and resourcing of welfare enforcement agencies."

Malcolm Morley MRCVS, President of the British Veterinary Association


* Owners were asked if they had heard of any of the following pet breeding and selling guidelines and regulations: Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) Guidelines, Puppy Contract, Kitten Checklist, puppies should be microchipped before eight weeks old, puppies for sale should be seen with their mum by law, puppies should be sold by the person who bred them by law, puppies should be sold from where they were bred by law, or licensing of breeders by a local authority.
11The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, Wales: The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (Wales) Regulations 2021, Scotland: The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (Scotland) Regulations 2021
12 https://naturewatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Canine-Fertility-Clinics-A-new-frontier-in-the-fight-against-puppy-farms-2022.pdf
13 Evans, K.M, Adams, V.J. (2010). Proportion of litters of purebred dogs born by caesarean section. J Small Anim Pract. 2010 Feb;51(2):113-8
14 https://naturewatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Breeding-beyond-dogs-limits-Canine-Fertilty-Clinics-in-the-UK-October-2022.pdf