Canine fertility clinics: MPs call for crackdown on dodgy designer dog clinics - linked to illegal vet surgery

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Dog fertility clinics have multiplied tenfold in the last few years, and some are illegally performing vet surgeries like C-sections

MPs are calling on the government to crack down on designer dog fertility clinics and unregulated breeders - which they fear are creating “extreme” pets destined for a lifetime of suffering.

The UK’s Environment Committee (EFRA) has released a new report, outlining the findings of its recent pet welfare and abuse inquiry. It found the number of canine fertility clinics rose from 40 in 2020 to more than 400 in 2023, and has linked this increase to rising demand for “designer” dogs bred with extreme characteristics like flat faces - which risk creating pets with serious health issues - alongside an emerging designer cat market.

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In a call for greater action to protect British pets, the group of cross-bench MPs warned that “unscrupulous” canine fertility clinics were taking advantage of inconsistent enforcement across Britain. It has allowed many of them to operate without vets, with untrained people unlawfully performing surgical procedures like caesarean sections, the report said.

The committee is urging the government to reform the UK’s 58-year-old vet surgery laws, with the report noting that the current £100 fine for performing vet surgery illegally was “a derisory deterrent”. Committee chair Sir Robert Goodwill told PA: “Our inquiry found that the current trends for designer features in dogs and cats are causing lifelong suffering to these pets, and we ask the government to promote greater public awareness about this to counter the influence of social media and celebrities who encourage these trends.”

MPs are calling on the government to crack down on "designer" dog clinics, linked to social media popularising breeds with extreme features like pugs (Photo: Clara Molden/PA Wire)MPs are calling on the government to crack down on "designer" dog clinics, linked to social media popularising breeds with extreme features like pugs (Photo: Clara Molden/PA Wire)
MPs are calling on the government to crack down on "designer" dog clinics, linked to social media popularising breeds with extreme features like pugs (Photo: Clara Molden/PA Wire) | Clara Molden/PA Wire

The inquiry also found that more than half of the puppies entering the market came from unlicensed breeders. The committee said ministers should publish a list of licensed breeders, and change licensing regulations to include anyone who breeds of two or more litters a year, to help tackle poor animal welfare practices - and provide assurance to buyers.

The MPs also warned that local authorities, which are responsible for enforcing the laws, were often under-resourced and under-funded, creating an inconsistent approach across the UK which may “embolden” unscrupulous breeders to flout the rules. This also needed to be remedied.

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“As a nation of animal and pet lovers, we place a high importance on the welfare of animals,” Sir Goodwill continued. “We are concerned about the huge rise in the number of canine fertility clinics and the lack of regulatory oversight of these clinics, which may employ unqualified staff to perform veterinary procedures, and which may encourage the breeding of dogs with extreme features and dogs bred for aggressive traits.”

Over in Germany, the government is currently considering new animal welfare legislation which would prevent dogs - including the country’s beloved dachshunds - from being bred for extreme characteristics that may impact their health. In the UK, the RSPCA is currently running a campaign called 'born to suffer'. It is fighting against the normalisation and promotion of brachycephalic, or flat-faced, dog breeds like pugs, French and English bulldogs, which can suffer from obstructed airways and breeding difficulties.

The new report also honed in on a legal loophole, which allows dogs with cropped ears or tails to be imported into the UK - practices which are illegal for cosmetic purposes here. This is another “cruel practice” the RSPCA has been fighting to end, with the animal welfare charity saying people use the loophole to perform the procedure illegally - with some even cutting puppies’ ears off with scissors.

In the new report, EFRA called on the government to urgently close this loophole, as well as to introduce legislation to end the sale of DIY dog ear-cropping kits in Britain. To deal with other welfare issues related to importing pets, it also suggested banning the import of puppies and kittens under six months old, and reducing the number of dogs and cats that can be imported into the UK by one person.

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The report comes after the government withdrew its Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill last year, which included measures to protect British pets - including those imported and exported. The committee is now urging ministers to bring forward these welfare measures as soon as possible, via private members bills.

A Defra spokesperson told PA: “The UK has a long history of leading the way on animal welfare and we are absolutely clear that cruelty to animals must be stamped out. This is why we are supporting the private members bill which will bring forward new powers to tackle the unscrupulous trade of pet smuggling - including banning the movement of animals with mutilations such as cropped ears.

“We will also carefully consider the EFRA committee’s recommendations alongside our own review of the animal activity licensing regulations to consider whether further action is needed,” they continued.

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