Your legal guide to buying a pet

Pets have become more important to people over the years – often being considered members of the family. They’re loyal, affectionate, devoted and provide us with companionship and love. It’s no wonder that, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA), more than 3.2 million households in the UK acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic in 2020, with more than 59% of under-35 year-olds becoming first-time pet owners. But how exactly can you acquire a pet? Read this blog to find out more.


Buying a pet

Pet ownership generally starts with buying (or adopting) your pet and you must generally be at least 16 years old to do so. Adults are responsible for their children’s pets and must ensure the welfare of any such pets. Failure to look after an animal properly can result in an unlimited fine or a prison sentence of up to 6 months. Anyone who failed to look after an animal properly may also be banned from owning any animals in the future.

Questions to ask pre-purchase

When buying a pet, you should always ask the seller questions to make sure you’re happy with the animal and that it’s healthy. For example, consider asking:

  • Whether the pet has any health problems (if the animal has health problems, you may wish to reconsider as a sick pet can cost a lot of money in vets’ fees and can be emotionally distressing) and what the health of the parents’ is like;
  • How old the pet is;
  • What the animal’s temperament is like (you may wish to avoid an animal that can be aggressive);
  • About the breed and species (eg what breed and species the animal is, if the seller proof of the breed, species or a pedigree certificate or if the animal has any specific needs because of its breed or species);
  • Whether the animal is good with children; and
  • What kind of food and care the animal needs.

Things to consider pre-purchase

When buying a pet you should consider:

  1. Where you will purchase your pet. Was it from a private seller or a business seller? If you buy a pet from a business seller your rights under the Consumer Rights Act will relate to the purchase. It is not always clear whether breeders should be considered business or private sellers. You have fewer rights when you buy a pet from a private seller and the onus is on you as the buyer to ask all the right questions before making a purchase
  2. How you will pay for your pet. Was it in cash or by cheque, bank transfer, debit card or credit card? Did you pay for the pet in person, from a distance online or over the phone?
  3. The pet’s age. This is especially important for puppies and kittens and they should never be sold under 8 weeks old.
  4. What information you have about your pet, especially what information the seller provided (including answers from any questions you asked to get a full picture of the animal’s health and background). Note that if the pet was born outside the UK it must have either a pet passport or a veterinary certificate.
  5. The written record you have about your pet, for example, a mail confirmation of facts, a signed puppy contract or a commercial document from a pet shop.


Where can I get a pet from?

There are a variety of places pets can be bought (or adopted) from, including breeders, pet shops, private sellers and rescue centres.

In all cases, you should take steps to ensure that the seller is reputable and complies with the relevant laws to ensure animal welfare. Consider getting as many referrals as you can from friends, local vets, local breed clubs and associations or local rescue centres.

If you want to buy a pet (for example, because you want a specific breed), consider buying from a reputable supplier (eg a Kennel Club Assured Breeder for dogs) or a licenced breeder. Alternatively, you can consider adopting, rather than buying, a pet. If you want to adopt, consider looking for a reputable rescue and rehoming centre (eg through RSPCA or by using the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes (ADCH) ‘Find a Rescue’ tool).

Bear in mind that you should never buy pets sold in the street, including on barrows and markets, as it is illegal to sell pets like this.


Can I buy dogs or cats from third-party sellers?

Since April 2020 in England (and September 2021 in Wales and Scotland), under what is commonly known as ‘Lucy’s Law’, the third-party sale of puppies and kittens is banned. 

Under this law, puppies and kittens are required to be born and reared in a safe environment, alongside their mother, and to be sold from their place of birth. This means that: 

  • Sellers are not allowed to sell puppies or kittens as pets if they’re less than 6 months old and they were not bred by the seller;
  • Anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten must now buy directly from a breeder or adopt from a rescue centre; and
  • Licensed dog breeders are required to show puppies interacting with their mothers in their place of birth.

When visiting before getting your pet:

  • Check that the mother is present – if she is not available to meet, it’s unlikely that the puppy or kitten was bred there. Beware of any sellers making excuses as to why the mother isn’t present (eg she’s at the vet, asleep, or out for a walk).
  • Check that there isn’t a ‘fake’ mother – most fake mothers don’t interact with the puppies as they fear the real mother returning.
  • Beware of puppies and kittens labelled as ‘rescue’ but with much higher than expected price tags.
  • Beware of offers to meet somewhere convenient (car park or motorway services, ‘shop front’ premises, common with rented properties just to make sales, and ‘sales rooms’ kept separate from a nearby or onsite puppy farm).
  • Consider if you are feeling rushed or pressured into parting with cash.
  • Note that health problems observed at purchase are not normal and don’t be convinced otherwise.


What about dog breeding licenses?

​​Those running a dog breeding or advertising business should have a dog breeding license. This includes anyone: 

  • Breeding at least 3 litters a year in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.
  • Breeding at least 3 litters a year in Scotland.
  • Who breeds 1 or 2 litters in 12 months and sells puppies, if they are deemed to be breeding dogs and advertising a dog selling a business by their local authority.

Dog breeding license holders must not sell a puppy under the age of 8 weeks or in need of any veterinary treatment (eg a puppy that is sick). Bear in mind that licensed dog breeders must show puppies interacting with their mothers in their place of birth.

If you are buying from a breeder, check that they have a licence. Breeders should provide their license details (including the license number) in the ad for the puppy. In England only, you can also check the breeder’s star rating on your local council website. 

If a breeder doesn’t have a license but you think they should, or feel that they are not following the regulations of their license, you can report them to your local council. If someone is found breeding dogs for business without a license or is breaking the conditions of their license, they could face a fine or imprisonment


Scotland specific pet breeding licenses

In Scotland, a licence is also required by anyone:

  • Selling animals as pets in the course of a business.
  • Engaging in animal rehoming activities (other than operating an animal welfare establishment).
  • Operating animal welfare establishments (eg animal rehoming centres or animal sanctuaries).
  • Breeding at least 3 litters of kittens in any 12 month period.
  • Breeding at least 6 litters of kits (rabbits) in any 12 month period.

If you are acquiring a pet in Scotland, you should make sure that the seller (or animal rehoming organisation) has the correct licences in place.


For more information on owning a pet, read Rights and obligations of pet owners. For more information on buying a pet, see the government’s guidance for general guidance and additional sources on buying pets. Remember to Ask a lawyer if you have any questions.


Rebecca Neumann