There are around 51 million pets in the UK. From dogs and cats, to parrots and rabbits, our pets prove we are a nation of animal-lovers.  Almost half of us own a pet.

Research shows that having an animal to care for can help people deal with anxiety and depression. With more people starting to work from home, many are looking for pets to keep them company.

At the start of the coronavirus lockdown, the number of people looking to buy a puppy rose by 168%.

But as the popularity of dogs rose, so did prices, along with the number of complaints about fraudulent sellers.

The law

You must be aged 16 or over to buy a pet – or to win a pet as a prize. This includes all types of animals – not just cats and dogs.

Puppies or kittens should only be purchased from a reputable breeder or from a rescue centre.

If you buy a pet from a shop, you are protected by consumer law. That means you can ask for a refund or replacement if your pet becomes ill soon after you buy it.

If you buy a pet from someone else, you have fewer legal rights. Citizens Advice may be able to help you.

Any business selling animals needs a licence from their local authority.

Commercial dog breeders must also have a licence. If a breeder does not have a licence, they could be fined or even put in prison.

If you have been adversely affected by any of the issues discussed above, you should report it to your local authority. You may be able to claim compensation. You can also speak to a legal advisor for more information.

What to consider before buying a pet

One in four new dog owners who bought a puppy during lockdown did so without researching it first – 27% actually paid for their new pet without seeing it.

This is dangerous, as animals may have been illegally imported into the country. Animals may not have come from reputable breeders and may be unwell or have health issues as a result. Sick or injured pets can cost a fortune in veterinary bills.

Make sure you do your research up front. There are plenty of resources online. For example, if you are thinking about buying a dog, visit the website of the British Kennel Club. It offers expert advice on buying from a reputable breeder and things to think carefully about before getting a dog.

There are other things to think about before you buy a pet:

  • Are you ready for the commitment? Dogs need regular walks, and animals in general need lots of looking after.
  • Can you afford it? Animals can be expensive. This includes initial fees, vaccinations, food, insurance and vets' bills.
  • Is your home ready? Think about where the pet will sleep, eat and play.
  • Could you be allergic? Do some research into your medical history.
  • Buying from a dog breeder? Check if they are on the Kennel Club Register. Make sure the breeder can enter into a legal contract with you when you buy a dog.
  • Rehoming a rescued cat or dog? Check if the seller is a member of the Association of Dogs and Cat Homes.
  • Buying from a pet shop? Ask to see its licence.


All dogs in the UK need to be microchipped by the time they are eight weeks old.

A tiny tracking device is inserted into the dog's neck. This means it can be traced back to its owner if it is lost or stolen.

The procedure is quick and easy. It costs about £15. But some charities and vets do it for free.

Owners who do not have their dog microchipped can be fined up to £500.

Other animals can be microchipped as well, but it is not a legal requirement.

Looking after your pet

Pet owners have a legal duty of care to their animals.

Owners can be fined up to £20,000 and put in prison for cruelty to animals. They can also be banned from owning animals again.

Owners must

  • provide a suitable place for their pet to live
  • provide a suitable diet for their pet
  • ensure their pet displays normal behaviour
  • protect their pet from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

Owners will in many cases need to go to the vet regularly to have their pet's health checked.

You are covered by law if a vet does not care for your pet properly. If you have been affected by an issue like this, you can get in touch with Citizens Advice or speak to a regulated legal adviser.

Beware of scams

There are criminals who are only too willing to try to trick people into paying for a pet that does not exist.

Criminals post adverts selling animals and ask potential victims to put down a deposit. They sometimes ask for more money to pay for vaccinations, insurance or delivery of the pet.

During the early stages of the lockdown, people in the UK were conned out of around £300,000 in this way.

Sometimes a pet does exist, but it might be stolen or it could have serious health issues or behavioural problems.

Do not pay before you know what you are buying and who you are buying from. Do your research and ask lots of questions. Never hand over any money until you have done your research and you have seen the pet you are buying.

You can report pet-seller fraud to Action Fraud.

Need help?

Guidance and information about buying a pet are available from Citizens Advice and the RSPCA.

Good to know

Legal Choices is a free website run by legal services regulators.

The information here is independent and just the facts. We're not trying to sell you anything.

We just tell you about things that are good to know to help you make better choices about legal issues and lawyers.

About Legal Choices

Purple pattern inverted

Your Comments

Marie Hallén says:

Tue, 12/01/2020 - 17:12
There is a legal requirement to microchip horses not only dogs.

Marilyn Shatwell says:

Sun, 12/06/2020 - 10:12
My husband and myself are retired, dog lovers and have relocated back to the UK. We have adopted a cat from a rescue centre but also would like another small to medium size dog (size due to house size). We can’t believe the price since the pandemic of purchasing a puppy. I hope that those who bought a puppy whilst being forced to be at home, due to Covid, don’t discard them when the puppy becomes a ‘nuisance’ when left alone and the owners return to full time work. Maybe we will then be able to buy one

Jennifer Starkey says:

Sun, 12/06/2020 - 15:50
Always ask to see the mother and father if buying from a breeder as you can see how they behave will give you a good insight to how the puppy will be also take in the size.

Leave a comment

Please note: your email address will not be published, it is for verification purposes only.