Parents who buy a puppy for Christmas could be funding serious organised crime in Scotland, the Crown Office has warned.
It says puppy farming is a source of revenue for gang networks and that people should not buy a pet from unauthorised breeders.
The trade is often carried out through online platforms, such as Gumtree, free ads and Pets4Homes.
The market for illegally traded puppies is believed to be worth £13m.
A report published last month by the Scottish Multi-Agency Strategic Threat Assessment (SMASTA) also found up to one in four buyers could be purchasing a dog reared in appalling conditions by criminals.
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Some sought-after designer breeds, such as chow chows or cavapoos, can be priced up to £3,000.
Many animals later suffer serious health problems and either cost their new owners huge vets’ bills or are too sick to survive.
Black market puppy farming also seriously impacts thousands of properly licensed breeders in Scotland, who are selling lawfully.
Laura Buchan, procurator fiscal for Specialist Casework, urged those planning to buy a dog over Christmas to double-check the legitimacy of sellers.
She said: “We realise the popular attraction that many people have of buying a puppy as a Christmas present.
“Organised crime gangs have infiltrated this activity and continue to use the profits they accrue from it to inflict widespread harm on communities throughout Scotland.
“Illegal puppy farming has grown significantly among Serious Organised Crime Gangs (SOCG) as a vital way of raising finance.
“These gangs are involved in the distribution of illegal drugs and money laundering.”
According to the SMASTA report, there are currently three SOCGs involved in the illicit puppy trade, and a further seven groups recorded as having links to puppy farms and dog-trading businesses.
Demand for puppies during the pandemic soared to unprecedented levels and that increase has led to a huge jump in price.
Many dogs have been illegally imported from Ireland, with the port of Cairnryan in Dumfries and Galloway being used as the main channel.
Detective Chief Superintendent Stuart Houston, of Police Scotland, said: “Unauthorised breeding is extremely serious and has a significant impact on dogs’ welfare.
“We would urge anyone considering buying a puppy to look into breeders before committing to purchasing.
“Police Scotland takes this type of activity very seriously and will fully investigate any cases.”
Puppies bought from unlicensed breeders frequently suffer from behavioural issues, congenital health defects and infectious diseases.
Prosecutors in the specialist Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit routinely provide advice and assistance to police officers and SSPCA inspectors.
A spokesperson for the SSPCA said: “Our special investigations unit investigated hundreds of reports of puppy farms last year.
“They have successfully raided puppy farms and individuals involved in the greed-driven trade have been prosecuted.”
Father and son banned over puppy farm offences
Illegal puppy trade warning as sales boom
18 November 2020