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Who can buy a pet?

Generally, anybody aged 16 or older can purchase (or adopt) a pet. 

Although there aren’t any other legal requirements, before buying a pet you should always consider who will be responsible for it and whether they’ll be up to the task. Generally, a pet’s owner is responsible for the pet. If a child buys a pet (eg a 16- or 17-year-old), their parent(s) will be responsible for the pet. 

It’s important that the person responsible for a pet meets their responsibilities regarding the pet’s welfare and the safety of others (both humans and animals) that the pet comes into contact with. For more information, read Rights and obligations of pet owners.

What should I consider before buying a pet?

Am I allowed to have this pet?

Some pets are illegal to own in the UK without a correct licence. For example, wild cats, wild dogs, certain varieties of pig, and various marsupials. You can find a full list in the Schedule to The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (Modification) (No.2) Order 2007. Licences to own these pets are generally only intended for those running wildlife centres (eg zoos or conservation facilities).  

It’s also illegal to own certain dog breeds. Namely: 

  • Pit Bull Terriers

  • Japanese Tosas

  • Dogo Argentinos, and

  • Fila Brasileiros

From 1 February 2024, it will also be illegal to own an XL Bully dog in England and Wales (unless you hold a valid Certificate of Exemption). For more information, see the government’s guidance on the ban on XL Bully dogs. XL Bully dogs will also be banned in Scotland unless they are on the exemption register. More information on this ban, including when it will come into effect, is expected in due course.

Once you’ve ensured that your intended species of pet is within the law, you should ensure that it’s also suitable for you. Be prepared to responsibly care for any pet you purchase by meeting all of its wellbeing requirements, however niche. If you cannot, you should not buy or adopt the pet. 

Note that the information in this guide generally applies to the more normal of pets, such as dogs and cats.

The pet’s health and temperament

It’s important to ascertain, as far as possible, that a pet is both healthy and suitable for you before you purchase it. Good things to consider and to ask the person selling you your pet include: 

  • whether the pet has any health problems - if the animal has health problems, you should make sure that meeting its needs is a commitment you can take on. A sick pet can cost a lot of money in vets' fees and managing their health can be emotionally distressing

  • the state of health of the pet’s parents

  • how old the pet is

  • what the pet’s temperament is like - you may wish to avoid an animal that is known to be aggressive

  • what’s known about the breed and species. For example:

    • what breed and species the pet is

    • whether the seller has proof of the breed or species or a pedigree certificate

    • whether the pet has any specific needs because of its breed or species

  • whether the pet is good with children

  • what kind of food and care the pet needs

Practical and commercial considerations

Just like when you’re purchasing anything else, always know where you stand financially and legally when you purchase a pet. It’s important that you know your consumer rights and that you’re prepared for your purchase. Some key pre-purchase and time-of-purchase considerations include:

  • whether you’ll have consumer rights

    • if you buy a pet from a seller that is clearly a business seller (eg a pet store or large breeding operation) - consumer rights law will cover your purchase (eg if your purchase is not as described, you will likely have recourse to legal remedies like replacement or refund)

    • If you purchase from a breeder - it’s not always clear whether breeders are considered businesses or private sellers. If a breeder is considered to be a private seller, you won’t be covered by consumer rights law and will have fewer purchase-related rights

  • how you will pay for your pet - make sure your purchase is documented, as you would when purchasing anything else. For example, pay by bank transfer, debit card, or credit card, or obtain a formal receipt

  • the pet’s age - this affects the legality of a sale and impacts when you can take your pet home. For example, puppies should never be sold when they’re under 8 weeks old

  • whether the pet was born within the UK or not - if the pet was born outside of the UK it must have either a pet passport or a veterinary certificate

  • do you have a written record of details about your pet - for example, a confirmation of facts about its origin, a signed contract, or a commercial document from a pet shop?

Where should I get a pet from?

Pets can be bought or adopted from a range of places. These include breeders, pet shops, private sellers, and rescue centres.

Whichever type of seller you buy from, before buying ensure that a seller is reputable and complies with all relevant animal welfare laws. Consider seeking referrals and testimonials from friends, local vets, local breed clubs and associations, or local rescue centres.

Should I adopt or shop?

There is generally considered to be a distinction between buying versus adopting a pet. There are pros and cons of each approach. For example, buying allows you to choose a suitable breed, ensures you can train your pet well from infancy, and can mean that information about the pet’s genetic history is available. On the other hand, adopting gives a pet a second chance at a great life when they may otherwise not have had this. It also financially supports rescue centres’ work and is usually significantly cheaper than buying. 

Whichever way you choose to go, make sure you use a reputable seller. If you buy a pet, consider buying from a reputable supplier (eg a Kennel Club Assured Breeder for dogs) or a licensed breeder. If you adopt, consider looking for a reputable rescue and rehoming centre (eg via the RSPCA or the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes (ADCH) Find a Rescue tool).

You should never buy pets sold in the street or other public places, including on barrows and in markets. It is illegal to sell pets in these settings.

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

The third-party sale of puppies and kittens has been banned in England since 2020 and in Wales and Scotland since 2021. This ban was introduced by legislation commonly known as ‘Lucy’s law’. The ban means that puppies and kittens must be born and reared in a safe environment, alongside their mother, and then sold from their place of birth (ie direct from the breeder). This does not apply to rescues - you can still get a pet from a genuine, reputable rescue centre. 

The ban means that puppies or kittens under 6 months old cannot be sold by any commercial seller other than their breeder (or, if they’ve been rescued, a rescue).

Moreover, licensed dog breeders must (wherever possible) show puppies interacting with their mothers in their place of birth. If the mother dies before a puppy is sold or the puppy’s health would be compromised if it interacted with its mother, there is an exception to this rule, but the situation must be documented. 

As a buyer, it can be difficult to know whether a seller is a pet’s true breeder (or a genuine rescuer). Some key things to do when visiting a seller, to protect yourself and to help upkeep animal welfare rules, include:

  • checking that the pet’s mother is present - if a seller tells you a pet’s mother isn’t available to meet (eg if they say she’s asleep, at the vet, or out for a walk), it’s likely that she’s not around and the pet wasn’t bred by the seller at the location you’re in 

  • checking that there isn’t a ‘fake’ mother - a fake mother (ie a different cat or dog placed with kittens or puppies to appear to be their mother) is much less likely to interact with the litter, as they may fear the real mother returning

  • being suspicious if a puppy or kitten is being sold for an unexpectedly high price when being advertised as a ‘rescue’

  • being suspicious if a seller offers to meet you somewhere convenient (eg in a local park or store) to sell you a pet

  • being suspicious and holding your ground if you are feeling rushed or pressured into purchasing a pet

  • being suspicious if health issues you observe in a pet are not what you would expect for this type of pet (eg given its breed or age)

Do pet sellers and breeders need licences?

Some breeders and sellers do need licences. When buying a pet, make sure the person or business you’re buying from holds all licences that they’re required to have. This helps ensure that they’re breeding and/or selling pets in an ethical manner.

A licence to sell animals as pets

A business may need a licence to be allowed to sell animals as pets. To obtain such a licence, the business will be inspected and must meet certain conditions. The licensing requirements vary slightly across the UK. They generally include rules such as the requirements that pets:

  • are kept in suitable conditions

  • receive adequate food, water, and exercise

  • are not being sold when they’re too young to be sold

For more information, read the government’s guidance on selling animals as pets licences for England, the Scottish government’s guidance on licensing for pet sellers, and the Welsh government’s guidance on the pet sales licensing regime.

Dog breeders’ licences

If a breeder breeds more than an extremely minimal number of dogs (ie if they’re considered to sell dogs commercially), they will need a dog breeding licence. The exact thresholds at which this is considered to be the case vary across the UK:

  • in England - if they breed at least 3 litters within any 12-month period and sell any of the puppies

  • in Scotland - if they breed 5 or more litters within a year and sell any of the puppies

  • in Wales - if they breed 3 or more litters within a year and sell any of the puppies

Moreover, if a breeder is deemed to be selling in the course of business, they will need a licence regardless of how many litters they breed.

To obtain a licence, a breeder must meet certain requirements designed to protect dogs’ welfare. Again, these differ slightly across the UK. Examples of criteria applicable in England include:

  • puppies not being sold or separated from their mothers before they’re 8 weeks old

  • puppies being raised using a ‘socialisation and habituation’ plan, under which the breeder gradually and positively introduces them to various stimuli

Breeders should provide their licence details (including their licence number) in any advertisements they post to sell dogs. Most local councils also publish lists of licensed breeders in their areas, which you can find online or by contacting the relevant council. 

If a breeder that should have a licence doesn’t have a licence, or if they’re not following the conditions of their licence, you can report them to their local council. They could face a fine or imprisonment.

Other licences

Other licences may also be needed by those selling pets in certain situations. For example, if a seller in Scotland is rehoming animals, running an animal welfare centre, breeding cats, or breeding rabbits, they may need a licence. 

What should I do after buying a pet?

Once you’ve bought a pet, it’s vital you meet all of your obligations as a pet owner to ensure the pet’s welfare and wellbeing as well as the safety of anyone else - human or otherwise - that your pet comes into contact with. Key obligations include:

  • microchipping your pet

  • not letting your dog attack sheep or other livestock

  • making sure your pet has a suitable diet

  • enabling your pet to exhibit its species’ normal behaviours

Many more obligations apply. Moreover, you’ll have various rights as a pet owner. For more information, read Rights and obligations of pet owners

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