Illegal canine fertility clinics: what you can do

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Last August, the BBC exposé “Britain’s Puppy Boom: Counting the Cost” put the issue of unregulated canine fertility clinics under the spotlight. Here’s what you, the public, can do…

The contents of the exposé Britain’s Puppy Boom: Counting the Cost, which explores the illegal practices of canine fertility clinics which have been springing up across the UK, shocked much of the public. Sadly, those of us already aware of the disastrous pandemic puppy boom and the industry around it were not as surprised.

In the April 2021 edition of Dogs Today we wrote about this trend and cautioned our readers against what we dubbed the “DIY brigade” – fertility clinics that routinely break the law by performing procedures, such as drawing blood for progesterone testing, without the supervision of a vet, or teach amateurs to do it. They had ways to circumvent the law, like asking owners to transfer the dog into the tester’s ownership while the test was performed.

We were not the only ones aware of the situation. In May 2021, the Vet Times published the result of its own investigation into canine fertility clinics. Posing as pet owners seeking fertility services for a bulldog, the investigation found that multiple canine fertility clinics were willing to break and sidestep rules in order to provide restricted procedures without the supervision of a vet; they too came across the ‘temporary transfer of ownership’ trick.

Vet Times contacted 14 of these clinics and 6 told us they were prepared to take blood from a dog for progesterone testing, despite it being illegal under UK law to do so unless under the direct supervision of a surgeon,” the report reads.

But how can you tell whether a canine fertility clinic is acting illegally, and what can you do about it?

Many of those clinics deal specifically with brachycephalic breeds – such as bulldogs and French bulldogs – whose breeding is a problematic matter as is, given the deep concern for their welfare caused by their flat faces and other health issues. Several admitted they had no vet on staff, despite carrying out procedures for which a vet’s supervision is required.

But how can you tell whether a canine fertility clinic is acting illegally, and what can you do about it?

Justine Shotton, President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) wrote, “Because these clinics are operating with no veterinary oversight, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) can’t regulate or investigate them, but are supporting other agencies by giving guidance on which procedures fall under the Veterinary Surgeons Act.

“Under this legislation ‘veterinary surgery’ is defined as diagnosis and diagnostic testing, advice based on diagnosis, medical or surgical treatment, and the performance of surgical operations.”

In relation to fertility clinics, the RCVS has advised that:

  • The taking of an intravenous blood sample for the purpose of progesterone testing cannot be carried out by a lay person. A dog breeder, whether licensed or unlicensed, should not take an intravenous blood sample from an animal.
  • Transcervical insemination is an act of veterinary surgery and may only be undertaken by a veterinary surgeon in dogs (in addition, surgical artificial insemination is prohibited by UK animal welfare legislation)
  • Intravaginal insemination is not an act of veterinary surgery and may be undertaken by suitably competent lay persons

The BVA has provided information as to how and to whom to report concerns:

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