There is little EU legislation to protect dogs and cats involved in commercial practices, which means it is left to the EU’s 27 Member States to legislate on this at the national level. National legislation can vary greatly, with strict legislation in some countries and little at all in others. Without harmonised legislation across the EU Member States, there are serious implications not only on dog and cat welfare, but also on animal and human health, consumer protection and on the functioning of the internal market.

To assess current national legislation relating to dogs and cats involved in commercial practices, the EU Dog & Cat Alliance has gathered key information on the legislation in each EU Member State. The findings show substantial gaps in national legislation between countries. Use the interactive National Legislation Tool to find out more about the gaps, or select a country from the list:


Identification and registration

Permanent identification

Permanent identification (microchipping) of dogs is nationally compulsory in 23 EU Member States (24 from 2023, when Finland’s legislation will enter into force). In most cases, this should be with a microchip and before the dog reaches 2-3 months. 

For cats, permanent identification is only nationally compulsory in a small number of countries. In these countries, the age by which the cat must be microchipped varies between 2 and 12 months. 

In Estonia and Germany, there are some regional (or municipal) requirements for microchipping of dogs and while there are regional/municipal requirements for cats in Estonia and Spain. 

Most Member States only allow those with professional training to perform microchip insertion. Only a few regulate microchip numbers.

Registration of microchip numbers

Registration of dogs in a database is compulsory in all Member States where microchipping is compulsory and usually must be done immediately or within one month of microchip insertion. Very few Member States require registration of cats in a database. 

In most countries where registration is compulsory, there is a national database where owners must register their pet (or to whom regional or private databases must transfer the data), half of which are linked to an EU database like Europetnet. 

In some countries, there are alternative databases which may or may not be linked to a national database. Some alternative private databases are linked to EuroPetNet or PetMaxx, another international database, however these would not hold the data of all owned dogs and cats in the country.


What are the issues?

While EU legislation requires that all dogs and cats moved across borders be microchipped, a requirement for all owned dogs and cats to be microchipped and registered in a database is the only way to ensure full traceability. This is crucial not only to reunite people with their dog or cat if lost or stolen, but also to trace spread of disease that could harm animal or human health, and to tackle the illegal trade of pets.

Despite compulsory microchipping and registration of dogs having been introduced in most Member States, microchipping and registration of cats is mostly optional. 

While registration of dogs in a database is mostly required, this is organised in many ways and the information is, in some cases, neither centralised nor connected to an EU database. 


Our recommendations

A lack of communication between national, regional and private databases means that, even if a dog or cat is microchipped, it may still be extremely difficult to identify its origin or owner. 

Finally, very few countries regulate microchip numbers, instead leaving this to manufacturers to decide. This has implications for identifying the origin of the animal (country code) and for ensuring that each code is truly unique.

Breeding

Despite the EU Animal Health Law’s requirement for dog and cat breeders to be registered, only two thirds of EU Member States require registration of all dog and cat breeders. Instead, the requirement usually depends on the number of litters per year (for example three or more), the total number of dogs/cats owned, or the total number sold per year.

Licensing of dog breeders is required in three quarters of Member States and in just over half for cat breeders. However, the criteria vary greatly and, while most countries require inspections of breeders, in some the inspections do not take place prior to the licence being granted.

With regards breeding practices, just over half of Member States have legislation banning the breeding of dogs and cats which have genetic conditions, such as inherited diseases or conformations. In most cases, the national legislation prohibits breeding methods that can cause suffering to the animal. Only in a few Member States does the legislation specifically prohibit breeding for exaggerated or extreme conformations, such as exaggerated skull shape. Most Member States have national welfare Guidelines or Codes of Practice for dog breeders to adhere to, either in legislation or non-legislative guidance, and just under half have similar for cats. Codes of Practice generally cover welfare of breeding bitches and queens as well as their young, but are not always compulsory.


What are the issues?

Dog and cat breeders are held to very different standards in each EU Member State. 

While in one Member State, a breeder may be inspected when they register and/or before they are granted a license, in another they may only be required to register their details with the authorities and rarely, if ever, be subject to an inspection. 

As a consequence, the cost of breeding varies significantly and competition is distorted between Member States, undermining the functioning of the internal market and presenting a clear incentive for illegal trade. 

Our recommendations

In some Member States breeders are legally required have proven competency and follow strict practices for welfare and biosecurity, in others these may be guidance only (not legal requirements) or may be non-existent. Likewise, in some Member States it is not prohibited to breed animals with hereditary diseases or exaggerated conformations.

Sales and advertising

Registration of dog and cat traders is a legal requirement in almost all EU Member States, though the criteria for registration differ, and only around half of Member States require inspections prior to registration.

While most Member States have put a minimum age at which a puppy or kitten can be sold in legislation, usually 7 or 8 weeks for puppies and 12 weeks for kittens, this is not true for all. 

Just over a third of Member States prohibit sales of dogs and cats in pet shops, while a majority prohibit sales at markets or on the street. Most, but not all, require buyers of dogs and cats to be above a certain age (typically 16 or 18 years old).


Surgical mutilations, such as tail docking, ear cropping, devocalisation, and declawing, are illegal in all EU Member States for both dogs and cats. However, in a third of Member States, there are some exceptions, such as tail docking or declawing of certain dogs bred for hunting.

Only around a quarter of Member States have introduced regulation of online advertising of dogs and cats for sale, and the measures adopted vary significantly. Some require that all online adverts include the dog or cat’s microchip number, and others have prohibited online advertising by anyone other than the breeder, or by the breeder OR registered trader.

What are the issues?

Without harmonised requirements for registration and licensing of traders, who act as intermediaries in the trade of dogs and cats, it is difficult to know whether the animals’ health and welfare are protected after leaving the breeding establishment and before being sold to consumers. Furthermore, registration and licensing of traders is important for traceability of the animals and the breeder (and even the country) they came from.

In the absence of EU-wide rules for the minimum age at which a dog or cat can be sold, i.e. the age at which it can be separated from its mother, it may be easier for unscrupulous traders to purchase a very young animal and illegally move it to another Member State to sell. 

Our recommendations

Online advertising of dogs and cats for sale is unregulated in most countries. Even where national legislation requires the microchip number in the online advert, without an appropriate microchip number verification system this does not guarantee traceability. As a result, consumers are often grossly unprotected when buying a pet via an online advert, and the animals’ health and welfare are left at risk.

If you have any questions, or would like to find out more, please contact us.