Illegal pet trade: findings of the EU enforcement action plan


Illegal pet trade: findings of the EU enforcement action plan

12 January 2024
The breeding and trade of cats and dogs within the EU is a profitable economic sector; valued at over 1.3 billion € annually, it’s riddled with fraudulent activities that jeopardise the health and welfare of animals, compromise public health, undermine consumer protection and distort the internal market.

These risks have been given the attention they deserve at EU level through a coordinated Action Plan involving relevant stakeholders, among which are Directorate Generals of the European Commission, EU non-governmental organisations and Europol.

The sale of dogs and cats is increasingly growing through online platforms and social media, with an estimate of around 60% of dog and cat owners purchasing their pet through the Internet, representing 4,8 million dogs and 1,2 million cats. We expect the new Proposal for a Regulation on the welfare of dogs and cats and their traceability to address fraudulent operations via mandatory identification and registration of dogs and cats circulating on the internal market.

Lack of enforcement is a major issue due to lack of prioritisation of the illegal pet trade, in spite of it bearing all the hallmarks of organised crime. There is a compelling need for a deeper collective and structured cooperation at EU level between law enforcement, custom tax authorities, magistrates, European institutions and agencies and, where relevant, third countries, international organisations and the private sector.

The Action Plan has also discovered ineffective, disproportionate and non dissuasive penalties for fraudulent practices that underestimate the large amounts of money moving through the illegal pet trade.

Companion animals moved for commercial purposes from non-EU countries to the EU must be declared to customs authorities to prevent tax evasion. Commercial movement has been found to be largely disguised as private travel, hence undeclared for custom purposes, making the origin of the animals unverifiable.

Other disturbing findings pointed towards illegal trafficking of dogs through shelters, for example in Romania, without the necessary permits and incorrect data in health certificates of passports. This highlights the need to include animal shelters in the scope of the new Regulation.

The primary suppliers of illegally traded animals within the EU were Romania and Hungary, and from outside the EU were Turkey, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus with 45% of the Action Plan cases originating from non-EU countries. 

The insights from this EU Action Plan should be used to implement more targeted and effective controls, stronger penalties, effective law enforcement and the need for unified regulations in Member States. Special attention should be granted to the online side of the illegal pet trade, which would benefit from an enhanced collaboration between all relevant national authorities (veterinary, customs, police and judicial), as well as a larger focus on public awareness campaigns to empower consumers to make informed choices.