POTENTIAL puppy buyers have been warned to be extra vigilant after learning covid-19 shielding is being used as a cover to sell poorly pets.

The alert comes after a Cavalier King Charles spaniel was brought into the Verwood clinic of Lynwood Vets and put down due to his poor health.

Despite assurances the animal was UK born, fully weaned and with all vaccinations, the puppy turned out to have a Hungarian pet passport, incorrect microchip and was suffering from distemper – a canine virus which affects the nervous system.

Vets at Lynwood Vets learned the spaniel had been advertised online as the last in a litter from a family pet in Swindon.

The seller claimed she was shielding an elderly relative due to coronavirus, so couldn’t allow a home visit to see the puppy with its mother.

Vet Hannah van Velzen said the spaniel, called Simba, was brought in shortly after he had been picked up by his new owners, who were concerned all was not as it should be. The local couple had paid £2,500 for him.

She said: “When Simba first came in it was surprising he had a Hungarian passport. His microchip number did not match the passport records and he was very young, younger than stated in the passport.

“At that point though, because he seemed fairly healthy and the passport claimed he’d been vaccinated for parvo-virus and distemper, we thought it best to let him settle with his new family before getting him back for more checks and on track with any future vaccinations he might need.”

Within days, Simba was diagnosed with distemper, and as his health deteriorated so badly and so fast the decision was made to put him to sleep.

Vets believe he had either not been vaccinated at all or been too young for them to work and had probably picked up the disease while still in Hungary.

Hannah added: “This is a really sad story with unscrupulous people who have used Covid-19 to dupe buyers. There has been a massive influx of imported puppies from Eastern Europe during lockdown as many responsible breeders have taken a break and there has been a gap in the market.

“Prices have skyrocketed so there is a lot of money to be made but it is all on the back of animal suffering and exploiting people’s emotions and goodwill.

“Professional breeders also have to be licensed by the local authority to operate so buyers can always check for that. Finally, if you turn up to collect the puppy and you have the gut feeling that something is off, then don’t buy, turn away. It is demand which is feeding this trade and the anguish it brings.”