RSPCA’s Victoria Major Investigations Team (MIT) investigates dog and cat breeding and rearing operations across Victoria. MIT works closely with various agencies, including state and local government.
Illegal breeding, rearing and selling
In Victoria, the breeding and selling of cats and dogs is regulated under the:
- Domestic Animal Act 1994 (DAA)
- Domestic Animal Regulations 2015
- Code of practice for the operation of breeding and rearing businesses 2014 (revision 2018).
Breeders and rearers must also comply with:
- the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTAA)
- The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019.
- The Code of Practice for the Breeding of Animals with Heritable Defects that Cause Disease.
If any animal breeder or rearer breaches the minimum standards set out in legislation and the relevant Codes of Practice, penalties may apply.
Domestic animal businesses (DABs)
If you have between three and 10 fertile female dogs or cats, are not a member of an Applicable Organisation, and breed to sell, you are classified as a domestic animal business (DAB). DABs must be registered with the local council and comply with the Code of practice for the operation of breeding and rearing businesses 2014 (revision 2018).
The Code outlines minimum welfare standards for the housing and management of dogs and cats in breeding and rearing businesses. DABs must also comply with their council’s local laws and planning laws.
Commercial dog breeder approval is required if you wish to keep more than 10 fertile female dogs on your property.
Breeders with between 11 and 50 fertile female dogs must first be registered as a DAB with their local council, after which they can apply to the Minister for Agriculture to obtain commercial dog breeder approval.
All commercial dog breeding businesses are subject to audits and inspection by departmental authorised officers. They must also comply with the Code and requirements set by the DAA and supporting regulations.
Puppy and kitten rearers (brokers)
Brokers buy puppies and kittens from breeders in Victoria or interstate, either acting as a breeder’s agent or selling the puppies and kittens directly to the community.
Anyone holding a puppy or kitten for sale, including brokers, must register with their local council as a DAB and comply with the DAA and Code.
Regulating dog and cat breeding and rearing in Victoria
Local councils are the regulating authority for registering Domestic Animal Businesses (DABs) in Victoria. RSPCA Victoria is empowered to monitor and enforce compliance with legislative requirements and the relevant Codes of Practice to ensure the welfare of animals at these facilities.
Advertising and selling dogs and cats
The Domestic Animals Act 1994 (DAA) specifies that dogs and cats must be sold from either a registered domestic animal business, from a private residence or sold at a place where an animal sale permit is in place. The sale of animals in places such as parks, roadsides or car parks is illegal.
To allow traceability of pets sold or given away, all advertisements for the sale or giveaway of a dog or cat must display both the seller’s source number and the individual animal’s microchip number. Before you purchase an animal, make sure to confirm the details you have on Animal Welfare Victoria’s website. Further details can be found here <https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/livestock-and-animals/animal-welfare-victoria/animal-welfare/pet-exchange-register>
Identifying a puppy farm
A puppy farm (also known as a puppy factory or puppy mill) is defined as an intensive dog breeding facility that is operated under inadequate conditions that fail to meet the dogs’ behavioural, social and/or physiological needs.
Puppy farms are usually large-scale commercial operations, but inadequate conditions may also exist in small volume breeding establishments that may or may not be run for profit.
Puppy farming is a major animal welfare issue in Australia. The main welfare problems associated with puppy farms include but are not limited to:
- Extreme confinement – in some cases breeding animals may never be allowed out of their cage to exercise, play, socialise, have companionship or even to go to the toilet
- Inadequate veterinary care and general care (grooming and parasite control)
- Unhygienic living conditions
- Inadequate and overcrowded housing conditions
- Frequent long-term health and/or behavioural problems due to poor conditions and a lack of adequate socialisation.
Be aware that any type or breed of dog can come from a puppy farm (purebred, crossbreed or mixed breed dogs), so you cannot judge whether a dog has been bred in a puppy farm based on the breed or type of dog. The only way to be sure is to visit the breeding facility and check out the conditions.
Cats may also be confined in intensive breeding facilities where they are subject to similarly poor conditions and suffer from the same concerning welfare issues.
RSPCA Smart Buyer’s Guides
RSPCA Victoria recommends people looking to become a dog or cat owner read the RSPCA Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer’s Guide or the RSPCA Smart Kitten and Cat Buyer’s Guide.
In the first instance, RSPCA Victoria recommends adopting an animal from a reputable animal rescue organisation where possible.
If you are visiting a breeding facility, RSPCA Victoria encourages consumers to consider the following:
- Is the area where the animals are kept clean and free from waste?
- Ask to meet the parents of the animal you’re considering and make sure they are the same breed/in good condition.
- Do the animals have adequate shelter with a comfortable place to rest?
- Do they have good skin condition, a healthy coat and clean eyes?
- Do they look to be a healthy weight – not too lean but not overweight?
- Do they have enough space to move around freely, stretch their legs and express natural behaviour?
- Do they have opportunity to socialise with other animals?
Identifying scams around animal sales
The cardinal rule when using the internet to help you look for a new pet is to never buy an animal without meeting them in person.
Meeting your new pet before you bring them home is important so you can assess the health and behaviour of the animal, check they don’t come from a puppy or kitten farm and ensure you are the perfect match for them.
If you buy a pet over the internet without meeting them first, you could inadvertently be supporting an intensive breeding facility or poor breeding practices. Additionally, you could fall victim to a scam that could be financial and emotionally costly.
To help you screen through the thousands of ads posted daily, keep an eye out for some of these red flags in ads that might indicate something is amiss.
‘Six-week-old puppy’ or ‘six-week-old kitten’
No trustworthy seller will rehome a puppy or kitten before eight weeks of age. At this age they will not be fully weaned and will have poor immune systems. In addition, transporting very young animals long distances is dangerous and can lead to dehydration and susceptibility to disease. Sellers who care about animal welfare won’t offer this. Always wait until puppies and kittens are at least eight weeks old before considering bringing them home.
‘Delivery can be arranged’
No reputable breeder should be willing to part with their animals without meeting the new owners first. Good breeders will want to meet new owners and ask lots of questions to ensure their puppies or kittens are going to suitable homes. Likewise, you should want to meet the breeder and see the animal in person first, along with its mother and – if possible – father.
‘Parents DNA tested’
On surface value, this looks like a positive move. However unless proof of DNA testing is provided, and the diseases tested for are known to be associated with that breed, it doesn’t mean much. Additionally, breeders should be able to tell you what they plan to do about those test results (e.g. not breed from dogs that carry those diseases or conditions). Many breeds have specific health issues, so researching the breed you’re looking for thoroughly (including talking to a vet) will help you identify what type of test to look for.
Be concerned if the advertisement doesn’t provide much information. Information provided should include the microchip and vaccination status, as well as details around how it has been bred or sourced. Lack of information can indicate a dodgy seller who’s hoping you don’t notice the absence of important facts.
Unverified Source Number
Anyone selling animals in Victoria requires a valid source number with the Pet Exchange Register. Before you purchase an animal, make sure to confirm the details you have on Animal Welfare Victoria’s website. Further details can be found here <https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/livestock-and-animals/animal-welfare-victoria/animal-welfare/pet-exchange-register>