ANIMAL welfare inspectors investigated nearly 80 reports of puppy farming abuse this month, it has been revealed.

It follows fears of unscrupulous dealers cashing in on the lucrative trade in the pandemic, charging “extortionate” prices for “badly bred” dogs.

The Scottish SPCA has renewed calls for the public to buy a puppy safely after receiving multiple reports of seriously ill puppies in recent days.

The animal welfare charity has been contacted about four puppies sold by suspected puppy dealers. In recent days, two of these puppies have died while a third is unwell.

The Scottish SPCA’s Special Investigations Unit has launched an investigation amid an escalation of reports of puppy farming.

Inspectors have launched 78 investigations in to reports of puppy farming in October alone amid growing concerns about the trade.

The society’s animal helpline has fielded 523 calls from people with concerns about puppy farming so far in 2020 and it is believed dealers are using coronavirus restrictions to confuse buyers in to parting with significant amounts of cash due to the inflated prices of dogs.

Cocakpoo Maxi passed away last Saturday, less than a week after his family purchased him.

He seemed lively when he was first taken home but his condition quickly deteriorated, said the charity. A dog which has been identified as his sibling and sold to an unrelated member of the public is the one which is unwell.

Nugget, a bulldog-pug cross, died on Sunday just three days after he was bought. Tests are ongoing to establish the conditions Nugget and Maxi had, but their “appalling health” was consistent with being bred on a puppy farm.

They were less than eight weeks old, meaning they were too young to be removed from their mother, let alone sold.

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: “The combination of coronavirus restrictions and extortionate prices of puppies is being manipulated by puppy traders selling badly bred dogs.

“There are things we would urge any buyer to do, such as insist on seeing the pup they are buying at the seller’s home or premises with their mum.

“At the moment, we know many dealers are telling unsuspecting members of the public to meet them in a car park or public space to pass over the dog safely.

“The seller will often be wearing a mask and afterwards they are impossible to get a hold of when the pup gets sick.

“Prices have skyrocketed in 2020 as responsible breeders scaled back due to the restrictions yet demand increased as many people were stuck at home. “

“Now, dealers can charge more than ever before and sell more easily than they’ve previously been able to.

“The root of this problem is public demand. As we approach Christmas, we are frightened by the prospect of the general public flocking to these people to buy sick and ill puppies.

“The onus is on everyone single person in Scotland to put this despicable trade out of business.”

There has been growing support for the introduction of ‘Lucy’s Law’ in Scotland after it was introduced in England and Wales.

The legislation bans third party sales of puppies and kittens and was heavily backed by the general public.

Lucy’s Law is named after a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel which was rescued from a puppy farm five years ago.

She was five years old and had spent most of her life in a cage. As a result of the conditions she was bred and kept in, her hips were fused, her spine was curved, she was infertile and suffered from epilepsy.

Lucy was rehomed and it was her owner, Lisa Garner, who launched the campaign to introduce the legislation.

For the past decade, Scotland’s legislation on the sales of puppies and kittens has been the most robust in the UK.

The Licensing of Animal Dealers (Young Cats and Dogs) (Scotland) Regulations was passed in 2008.

Mr Flynn added: “Do not buy a puppy until you have seen paperwork and certificates for vaccinations, microchipping and worming.”