Vets are part of a “broken” system that has failed to address poor welfare at puppy farms in Wales, a panel of experts has claimed.
It said some vets failed to question the environment in which dogs were being kept, despite a long list of serious health problems such as matted fur, rotten teeth and skin conditions.
An investigation found dogs in “filthy” conditions at council-approved sites.
The Welsh Government said it was reviewing regulations.
Some breeders were continually re-licensed despite their dogs suffering “serious health conditions”.
Selling dogs is big business in Wales. BBC research found there were 260 licensed dog breeders in the country as of August 2019, producing an estimated 24,000 puppies every year.
According to expert vets, the dogs are conservatively worth more than £12m.
Welsh Government regulations mean anyone who breeds three litters or more per year must be licensed by their local council.
But as part of a year-long investigation BBC Wales visited many approved sites and found dogs suffering from infections and kept in poor conditions with little access to exercise.
In annual health checks seen by the BBC, vets also recorded significant numbers of dogs with serious health conditions at approved sites, but breeders were allowed to continue operating, year after year.
‘Slow and painful death’
Danielle Foley wanted a companion for her dog, and found one – a beagle puppy called Winston – being sold by a licensed breeder in Carmarthenshire.
“He said he was a reputable breeder and he had his own website. It was all the perfect picture,” said Ms Foley.
“He had a summer house kind of thing at the bottom of his property where only two of the puppies were.”
But Ms Foley was not being shown the whole story.
At the back of the breeder’s property, in a large shed, BBC Wales Investigates found lots of breeding dogs and puppies.
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An inspection report from earlier this year showed the breeder had problems with waste, record keeping and, crucially, parvovirus, a highly-infectious condition.
The report said the owner also kicked a dog while inspectors were present.
Within 24 hours of Ms Foley getting Winston home, he became weak and was taken to the vets, where he tested positive for parvovirus.
Within hours, he had to be put down.
She said: “At two o’clock in the morning the vets rung my mum and told her he’d formed a rash on his belly which shows that his organs are shutting down and it’s going to be a slow painful death – and they could make it quick and easy.”
“I got to hold him, and I just said to my mum ‘if he wants to go, he can go’.”
Ms Foley said the man who sold Winston said he had been vaccinated against parvovirus.
She also claimed that when she asked to see his vet card – the record of a dog’s health – the breeder told her he vaccinated Winston himself with medicine bought from the vet.
If the puppy had not been seen by a vet first then vaccinating himself was against the rules.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons says a vet should always check a puppy to ensure it is fit for vaccination.
The registered veterinary practice for the breeder said it was investigating.
Carmarthenshire council, which licensed the breeder who sold Winston, said it would not hesitate to prosecute anyone who break the rules.
Councillor Philip Hughes, executive board member for public protection, said: “It is important to recognise that inspections can only provide a snapshot in time.
“We welcome any evidence from vets or consumers to help us take appropriate action where needed.
“We have a strong and proactive approach to enforcing dog breeding standards in Carmarthenshire.”
In a statement, a solicitor for the breeder who sold the dog which died said any “reference to any cruelty to any animal is denied categorically” and said challenges in relation to the spread of possible disease are “addressed” with professionals.
“The operator is a person of clean character whose reputation within his own community and the industry is beyond reproach,” the statement said.
The BBC team were given a former breeding dog at a puppy farm near Llandysul, Ceredigion earlier this year.
The dog came with no name, paperwork or medical history.
A rescue charity took her and named her Olwyn. When she was seen by their vet she was found to have just given birth and had a dead puppy still inside her, leading to emergency surgery.
David Jones, who gave the dog to a BBC reporter, had already been warned by Ceredigion council to take better care of his dogs, although the council regularly renewed his breeding licence.
In a statement Mr Jones said his dog breeding business was regulated by Ceredigion County Council to “ensure the highest industry standards”.
The statement also said: “Whilst reference is made to deficiencies in a recent inspection report, this should not be considered in isolation as it was part of a dialogue between the partnership and regulator to ensure compliance and professional development.
“Unfortunately dogs occasionally become unwell due to matters which are not diagnosed or would not be within their [the partnership’s] knowledge.
“This can occur at any time and without any negligence on behalf of the partnership.”
Ceredigion Council said improvements had been made by Mr Jones, and they had to strike a balance between enforcement and education.
‘System is broken’
The BBC showed footage from all the puppy farms it visited to a panel of vets with more than 100 years’ experience between them.
Paula Boyden, veterinary director at the Dogs’ Trust, said: “It’s hugely saddening and really quite upsetting to see the number of dogs that I’ve seen kept in those sorts of environments, and that’s their life.
“It’s just so wrong on so many levels.
“The system is definitely broken and vets are absolutely an integral part of it. We as a profession have a part to play.”
The Welsh Government is considering bringing in Lucy’s Law which would ban the sale of puppies and kittens by third parties, but the panel of vets said that while it would be helpful, there are issues with enforcing existing laws.
BBC Wales Investigates Inside the UK’s Puppy Farm Capital on Monday 30 September at 20:30 BST on BBC One Wales, and on the BBC iPlayer.