Do I need a licence for breeding and selling dogs?

What laws apply to the breeding and selling of dogs?

The breeding and sale of dogs is regulated by the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973, the Breeding of Dogs Act 1991 and the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999.

A person who “keeps a breeding establishment for dogs” is required to obtain a licence from the local authority. The licence is renewable annually. People who produce less than five litters in any 12-month period – so called “hobby breeders” – do not need a licence.

What is a breeding establishment for dogs?

A breeding establishment for dogs is defined as the carrying on at any premises, including a private dwelling, of a business of breeding dogs for sale. A person will be deemed to be carrying on a business for breeding dogs for sale where four or more litters are born, to one or more bitches, for the purpose of sale, in the period of one year. The law covers loopholes where dog owners place bitches with friends or family for breeding purposes.

Can a licence be granted to anyone?

A licence cannot be granted to persons who are disqualified from keeping:

  • a breeding establishment for dogs;
  • a pet shop;
  • animals;
  • a boarding establishment for animals.

What will a local authority consider when deciding whether to grant a licence?

A local authority officer and/or a vet will inspect the premises and a report will be prepared about the premises and the applicant and any other relevant matters.

When deciding whether to grant a licence, the local authority will consider the suitability of the accommodation and the adequacy of food, drink and bedding material. It will want to ensure the dogs will be adequately exercised and visited at suitable intervals and that all reasonable precautions will be taken to prevent the spread of disease and to guard against fire or other emergencies.

All appropriate steps must also be taken to ensure the dogs are provided with suitable food, drink and bedding material and adequately exercised when being transported to/from the breeding establishment.

The local authority will require assurances that bitches:

  • under the age of one will not be mated;
  • will not give birth to more than six litters of puppies each in its lifetime;
  • do not give birth to puppies before the end of the period of 12 months, beginning with the day on which they last gave birth to puppies.

The local authority will also wish to ensure accurate records containing details of the dogs are kept.

If a licence is refused, an appeal can be made to the magistrates’ court.

Conditions of a licence

Any licence granted may be subject to conditions. A person can appeal against any conditions of a licence to the magistrates’ court.

Where a person fails to comply with a condition of a licence they may be fined and/or imprisoned. The licence may also be cancelled by the local authority and the holder may be disqualified by a court from keeping a breeding establishment for dogs and having custody of any dog for as long as the court thinks fit.

The court can also order delivery up of a dog in the custody of another person and order that the offender pay for that dog’s care until permanent arrangements are made for its care or disposal. Failure to comply with one of these orders is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. Where an order for delivery up is made against someone other than the offender, that person will be given the opportunity to make representations to the court; if an order is made, they can appeal against the order.

How long does a licence last?

Any licence granted will, unless cancelled in the intervening period, need to be renewed on a yearly basis. If the licence holder dies, the licence passes to his personal representatives for a period of three months. The personal representatives may apply to extend or further extend the period of three months to enable them to wind up the deceased’s estate.

Other issues

Inspections by local authorities and vets

A local authority has the power to inspect a breeding establishment for dogs or authorise a veterinary surgeon or practitioner to carry out an inspection on its behalf. Wilful obstruction of such an inspector is punishable with a fine.

Sale of dogs

The Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999 and the Animal Welfare Act 2006 set out rules relating to the sale of dogs. Breeding records must be kept to ensure that these requirements are adhered to. Puppies that are produced at licenced breeding establishments can only be sold at those premises or a licenced pet shop.

Animal welfare

A number of criminal offences were created by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to prevent harm to animals and to promote the welfare of animals.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.