Theresa May has announced plans for legislation that will target unscrupulous puppy mills across the UK. The prime minister said the revised laws will be unveiled in the New Year and will also crackdown on licensed breeders who engage in animal abuse.

"Any unscrupulous mistreatment of animals is disturbing – so in our drive to achieve the highest animal welfare standards in the world, we continually look at what more can be done," she said on Thursday (21 December).

May had two dogs as a child — a poodle called Tassle, and a mongrel rescue dog called Lucky.

"The arrival of a happy, healthy puppy, as I know myself, is a memorable time for a family, but it's absolutely right we do everything we can to eradicate animal cruelty from our society," she added. "The proposals my government is developing will be an important step forward."

Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who will be working on the proposal, said those looking to buy a dog for Christmas should be particularly careful about where they purchase their pets from.

"At this time of year it is all too easy to be moved by images online or adverts in the local press advertising newborn puppies looking for a home for Christmas," he said. "But what we don't see is all too often a sad history of mistreatment and malpractice.

"That is why we are looking at how we can go further to crack down on unscrupulous breeders so pet owners will have no doubt their new dogs have had the right start in life."

The legislation will issue new rules for licensed dog breeders which include showing puppies alongside their mother before a sale is made. Online sellers will have to publish their licence number, and the pet's country of origin and country of residence, and sales will only be completed once the prospective owner has physically seen the dog.

Puppies will only be allowed to be put up for sale by the breeders themselves. Undercover operations by animal rights activists have uncovered farms where female dogs are forced to keep producing puppies while being fed just enough water and food. The animals are crowded into filthy cages and not allowed any exercise. In many cases, the dogs are medicated to make them look healthier.

Phoebe in the puppy farm
A dog named Phoebe was kept in this pen at a puppy farm RSPCA