Hundreds of puppies are being smuggled into the UK to cope with the demand in the run up to Christmas, authorities have warned.
More than 100 puppies were seized in just one week during a covert operation at the UK border which the Dogs Trust charity fear is just the "top of the iceberg" as more are expected to be smuggled into the country undetected prior to the festive season.
Demand for in-trend breeds such as French Bulldog, English Bulldog, Chow Chows and Daschund has seen a rise in the "sickening trade".
Dogs Trust are giving advice on how to avoid purchasing puppies which are being smuggled into the country, with many animals experiencing "shocking" conditions as they enter the UK.
The charity said some of the more horrific examples include puppies as young as four weeks old vomiting, and eating their own faeces as they are moved across Europe. Seven cane corso pups reportedly had their ears and tails illegally cropped and docked with scissors and vodka.
Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director for Dogs Trust said: "Whilst many people's purchases may be well intended, unbeknown to them the internet has become a thriving marketplace for advertising illegally imported puppies.
"Buying an illegally imported puppy could potentially cost well-meaning but unsuspecting families thousands of pounds in quarantine and vet bills and emotional heartache for the family if the puppy falls ill or worse, dies."
"We continue to be astounded at the lengths these deceptive breeders and dealers will go to in order to illegally import puppies to make huge profits with complete disregard for their well-being. The cases we are seeing on a weekly basis are horrific and need to stop."
Dogs Trust are also urging the government to improve legislation to help reduce the number of smuggled puppies form entering the UK, including increasing penalties for those found importing puppies and a "significant overhaul" of the pet checking system at ports.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "We are cracking down on animal trafficking with one of the toughest pet border checking regimes in the world.
"Every pet dog travelling to the UK has both microchips and passports checked to make sure they are properly vaccinated and old enough to travel."
Advice to help people avoid purchasing illegal puppies:
- Ask to see the mother and pup together, visit the new pup more than once and get paperwork before taking it home.
- Report suspicious sellers and take new puppies to their own vet for a health check as soon as possible.
- Do not meet anywhere that is not the pup's home, or buy from anyone who can supply various breeds on demand.
- Do not buy a puppy that looks too small or underweight, or feel pressured into buying.