​Report finds over 500,000 pet adverts online each day in Europe

A #PetsBehindTheScreen campaign has today been launched by the EU Dog & Cat Alliance to raise awareness of the reality behind many online pet adverts, and the need for regulation to better protect both animals and consumers

A boom in demand for pets, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to unscrupulous sellers across the EU cashing in

An EU Pet Advertising Advisory Group (EUPAAG) study, undertaken by the EU Dog & Cat Alliance and the Blue Cross, has highlighted the scale of the problems associated with online advertising of pets. The EUPAAG report, entitled ‘Online pet advertising in the EU: the cost continues to rise’, uses data from websites in 26 European countries and found that on a given day in 2020, almost 440,000 dogs and over 80,000 cats were advertised online.

The report also found online pet advert data indicating the illegal transportation of dogs and cats across Member States, and highlighted individuals with excessively high numbers of pets for sale.

Detailed research in seven sample EU countries - Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Germany, Poland, Romania and Spain - found widespread evidence of serious issues associated with online advertising of pets, including:

  • Prolific sellers in all countries, with one individual in Spain behind 523 live adverts
  • Numerous cross-border networks of pet dealers, highlighting the pan-European dimension of the trade in pets. As well as often breaching EU rules for commercial movement of animals, these networks can put animal welfare at risk, meaning unsuspecting consumers are potentially buying pets with health and behavioural problems. One network spanned Bulgaria, Germany, Poland, Romania and Spain

The report raises concerns that unscrupulous sellers are looking to take advantage of a Europe-wide increase in demand for pets as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

EUPAAG was launched by the EU Dog & Cat Alliance in 2017, with the objective of promoting self-regulation of online pet adverts by Europe’s classifieds websites. The bodies partnered with the Blue Cross and Tech4Pets to collect and analyse data on the adverts.

Suzie Carley, Chair of the EU Dog & Cat Alliance, said: “We are deeply concerned about the implications of the vast number of online advertisements for cats and dogs. Unfortunately, behind thousands of adverts displayed online is the hidden reality of misleading and fraudulent practices, such as falsifying information as well as illegal trafficking and breeding.

“That’s why we’ve launched #PetsBehindTheScreen - now more than ever, urgent action is needed to stop dishonest sellers using exploitative practices to profit from the high demand for cats and dogs. Our research has highlighted that online classified adverts are still the most common method used to advertise a pet for sale, followed by social media – any initiative needs to take this into consideration. The EU Dog & Cat Alliance and EUPAAG are therefore calling on the European Commission to develop comprehensive strategies to regulate online companion animal adverts to stop misleading advertising, to protect dog and cat welfare and to protect consumers.”

Martin Hojsík, Renew Europe MEP, Slovakia, said: “I am very pleased to see the EU Dog & Cat Alliance and partners launch the report on online advertisement of pets. It is an issue that is not thoroughly discussed nor managed yet sadly it is the reality EU citizens come into contact with every day. Animals, whether pets or not must live in safe conditions, which are unfortunately not secured among breeders or in pet transport. Illegal pet trade, breeders and uncontrolled online retail of pets is a very common problem in Slovakia as well. I hope this report will open the discussion and prepare the ground for decisive actions.”

The report’s launch comes shortly before the publication of the European Commission’s proposals for a new Digital Services Act Package, which will identify gaps and risks that currently affect online services in the EU. EUPAAG sees this as an opportunity for the European Commission to propose legislative tools to improve standards in online pet advertising across the EU.

EUPAAG is recommending the European Commission:

  • Develops strategies for regulation of online companion animal adverts to stop misleading advertising, as part of its wider efforts to regulate e-commerce
  • Agrees with stakeholders on a complete set of guidelines for the online advertising of pets, to be promoted to and used by classifieds websites across Europe
  • Supports EUPAAG partnerships across the EU
  • Facilitates the cooperation and information exchange on illegal trade between EU and national authorities
  • Encourages Member States to carry out consumer protection campaigns aimed at educating the public on responsible pet purchasing

To join the conversation, use #PetsBehindTheScreen

To view the report, go to www.dogandcatwelfare.eu/eupaag