What does petfishing mean? Meaning of crime and campaign to tackle bad cat and dog selling practices explained

If you’re thinking of buying a pet this Christmas, the Government has given advice on how to avoid unscrupulous breeders and scammers

Buying a dog or a cat can be an extremely exciting and fulfilling thing to do.

Pups, kittens and other pets like rabbits and hamsters can combat loneliness, improve mental and physical health, and fuel learning as well as a sense of purpose.

Sign up to our NationalWorld Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

As such, it’s no surprise that the Covid-19 pandemic has seen a surge in people buying pets.

But the Government has warned the public to be cautious about where they buy their pets from and has highlighted a practice it has called ’petfishing’.

So what is petfishing and how can you avoid becoming a victim of the practice?

Here’s what you need to know.

The Government has sought to educate the public about how to avoid being scammed when buying a pet (image: Shutterstock)

What is petfishing?

Petfishing is when rogue breeders or scammers attempt to sell people pets that have been reared in poor conditions.

For example, they may use fake online adverts featuring stock images to dupe the buyer into thinking the puppy or kitten they want to buy is a certain breed or is being reared in a better environment than it actually is.

Or, there might not even be a pet behind the advert at all.

In coining the term, the Government seems to be referring to catfishing, which is the practice of luring someone into a relationship by using a fake online persona.

Some pets advertised online might not be from breeders with adequate welfare standards (image: Shutterstock)

Its new campaign comes after a survey of 175 vets and veterinary practices found 68% of pet owners were unaware of the clinical and behavioural signs indicating their pet had either come from or was linked to low welfare breeding practices.

Further research undertaken for the Government by pollsters Opinion Matters found that, out of more than 1,000 people who’d bought a cat or dog, just 43% had visited the seller of their pet in-person in the animal’s home.

It also discovered that 27% of respondents came across a seller or an advert that had made them suspicious of the welfare of the pet in question.

What is the Government trying to do to stop it?

The Government has launched a campaign in a bid to inform the public about how to avoid being petfished.

To arm people with the precautionary knowledge and questions needed to prevent petfishing, it has come up with the acronym SPOT.

This means:

  • Seller: put the seller’s name and details including phone number into a search engine – avoid those with multiple adverts
  • Parent: make sure you see puppies and kittens in their home with their mother
  • Old enough: check puppies and kittens are at least eight weeks old before you take them home
  • Treatment: ask to see the animal’s health records and avoid sellers who can’t provide them
Low welfare breeding systems, like puppy farms, can lead to poor long-term health outcomes (image: Shutterstock)

“It’s vitally important that people not only research the breed of animal they want, but also the person selling it to them,” said Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss at the launch of the campaign.

“Puppies and kittens bred in low-welfare conditions can often be separated from their mother too soon which can lead to severe health and behavioural problems, heartache and high vet bills for their new family.

“We urge people to remain vigilant and to always thoroughly research pet sellers before getting in touch.”

But some groups think the Government should be going further to tackle this kind of criminal activity.

The Dogs Trust says it wants policymakers “to strengthen the system of registration and licensing for dog breeders and sellers” to tackle the problem of “irresponsible operators”.

“We believe that anyone breeding, selling or transferring the ownership of a puppy, should have to be registered,” the organisation states on its website.

“This should be the case whether or not they make money from these activities.”

One measure the charity has suggested is to make it a legal requirement that any advertising from a breeder or seller should carry a unique registration code or licence number.

A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our email newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.