A consultation on a new licensing regime for dog, cat and rabbit breeders has been launched by the Scottish Government.
Ministers want to introduce new legislation aimed at strengthening and modernising the current system.
The move follows concerns over animal welfare, particularly in relation to puppies sold by unlicensed dog breeders.
The Government’s proposals include lowering the threshold at which any dog breeding establishment needs to be licensed, and extending the new threshold to cover cats and rabbits.
Under existing legislation, potentially around 40 or more puppies can be produced in a year without any legal obligations or inspections for the breeder.
The new licensing requirements could be applied to either anyone in the business of breeding dogs, cats or rabbits regardless of the numbers involved, or anyone producing three or more litters from their dogs, cats or rabbits in a year.
Ministers also propose the introduction of the independent accreditation of applicants through industry bodies, in order to reduce the burden on local authorities.
Accredited breeders would still require to be licensed by councils, but could then expect a reduced frequency of local authority inspection.
In addition to taking into account certification by other bodies, they also want to see “greater risk-based assessment used in inspection and enforcement activities for all licensed establishments”.
Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon said: “Scotland loves animals, and the Scottish Government is working to ensure that our animals are subject to the highest levels of care and welfare.
“We are absolutely committed to introducing legislation that’s based on up-to-date scientific research and advice, and is fit for purpose for a modern Scotland.
“We’re going to be introducing that legislation soon but before we do so, we want to hear people’s feedback on our proposals to enhance our ability to deal with cases where an animal’s welfare is at risk, whilst creating a system that doesn’t add to the burden of organisations like the Scottish SPCA and our local authorities, or indeed to those breeders who already work to a high standard.
“We want to hear from any interested parties but would particularly welcome feedback from breeders, animal welfare organisations, local authorities, veterinary professionals and interested academics.”
The consultation will close on November 30.