The Scottish Government plans to tighten the licensing of dog, cat and rabbit breeding activities in Scotland to stop people breeding these animals in poor conditions and then selling them on. A consultation has also been launched to help stakeholders shape the new regulations.
Part of the new approach would involve prohibiting harmful breeding practices by discouraging the breeding of pets with a predisposition for genetic conditions, which can lead to health problems in later life. As a condition of licensing, breeding practices likely to cause the offspring suffering in later life will be prohibited.
In recent years, there has been a growth in demand for pets with particular physical features such as short noses, protruding eyes and long ears. This has incentivised breeding for extreme characteristics in some breeds, but it heightens the risk of harmful genetic conditions and can seriously affect the future health and wellbeing of the animal. It can also place unexpected financial strain on the owner as many of those pets will need on-going and costly veterinary care.
Some of the breeds that will be affected:
The Scottish fold cat, which has a genetic defect preventing it from forming cartilage, the absence of which causes long term arthritis.
The munchkin cat, which has disproportionately short legs.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, which can be bred to have an unnaturally small skull that compresses the brain, affecting its spinal chord.
French/English Bulldogs and pugs. They have significant breathing problems caused by narrow, constricted airways, pinched nostrils and shortened, squat necks, exacerbated by obesity which is common in all breeds.
The owl-like appearance of the Scottish fold cat has attracted high-profile owners such as singers Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift.
Swift frequently posts photos on Instagram of her Scottish folds, Olivia Benson and Meredith Grey, and has spoken of Sheeran’s matching pet. Other famous owners include the actress Kirsten Dunst and Patrick Dempsey, the Grey’s Anatomy star.
Reaction to the clampdown on breeding practices
A spokeswoman for animal welfare charity, Dogs Trust, said one particularly welcome inclusion in the new regulations is how to protect offspring from inherited defects, including disease and other health problems.
She added: "This includes brachycephalic issues, the result of a shortened skull that impacts certain breeds of dogs. With the explosion in demand for breeds such as Pugs, French and English Bulldogs, we are seeing more dogs with physical characteristics such as narrower nostrils, which impact their ability to breathe and subsequently their quality of life."
Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn said: “The Scottish SPCA believes that all animals should be bred to enjoy a normal life and be able to freely express normal behaviours, which includes being free from pain.”
While giving evidence to the the Public Petitions committee of the Scottish Parliament in May last year, Mark Rafferty, chief inspector in the special investigations unit of the SSPCA, referred to an: "...unquenchable appetite among the public for some particular breeds of dog, that are defined as either new breeds or designer breeds."
Other features of the new regulations
A lower threshold for license requirements... Existing dog breeding legislation allows five or more litters a year before a licence is required, meaning potentially 40 puppies could be produced without any legal obligations or licensing inspections before any inspections. But the government proposes to lower the threshold so that a licence requirement will apply to either a) anyone in the business of breeding and selling dogs, cats or rabbits in a 12 month period b) anyone producing three or more litters from their dogs, cats or rabbits in a 12 month period.
Other changes include a reduced frequency of inspections for dog, cat and rabbit breeders who are assured by a UK credited body.
Why is the system being updated?
The overall aim is to enhance protection of animals whose welfare is at risk, while creating a system that does not add to the burden of animal welfare organisations and those breeders who are already working to a high standard.
The welfare of domestic animals, especially pups, can be endangered as a result of the conditions they experience from birth, and how they are cared for in the early formative weeks of their lives. Specific issues previously identified by the RSPCA include: puppies being separated from their mothers too early, resulting in poor physical and mental health; puppies not being socialised at the right age, leading to chronic behavioural problems; dogs being kept in unsanitary and unsafe conditions, resulting in spread of disease.
The bill will also aim to ensure a more responsible and informed approach to acquiring and owning a puppy or dog. Responsible dog owners need to consider whether they will be able to look after puppies by providing for its daily needs in terms of food, water, drink, shelter and exercise.
When will it come into force?
There is no definite timescale but Minister for Rural Affairs, Mairi Gougeon, said the government wants to introduce the legislation soon after the stakeholder consultation on the proposals comes to an end on November 30.
The online consultation document can be found here https://consult.gov.scot/animal-health-and-welfare/pet-breeding-activities/