The UK Government is considering plans to ban the sale of puppies by pet shops and other third-party dealers.
The proposals are part of a raft of legislation aimed at improving animal welfare which would also include enhanced licensing conditions for breeders - including a ban on selling puppies or kittens under the age of eight weeks old.
The new legislation, which if passed would mean anyone buying or adopting a dog would deal directly with the breeder or an animal rehousing centre, would come into force later this year.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: "We need to do everything we can to make sure the nation's much-loved pets get the right start in life.
"From banning the sale of underage puppies to tackling the breeding of dogs with severe genetic disorders, we are cracking down on sellers who have a total disregard for their dogs' welfare."
He hopes the plans would prevent unhealthy breeding, and stamp out severe genetic disorders such as hip dysplasia, urinary bladder stones or epilepsy.
The proposals follow a report by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [Defra] which concluded a ban on third-party sales would lead to the creation of an illegal market following evidence from Dogs Trust and Blue Cross.
Charities have therefore welcomed the proposals - but only if further safeguarding is put in place.
Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director for Dogs Trust, said: "We are delighted that the Government is exploring a ban on third-party puppy sales and implore them to fast-track crucial steps before a ban is implemented.
"If a ban was introduced now, puppy farmers could exploit loopholes such as setting themselves up as unregulated re-homing centres or sanctuaries. Licensing and inspection of dog breeders and sellers must also be stronger to ensure that everyone involved in the trade is on the radar of local authorities.
"The Government must tackle these loopholes now, so we can be confident a ban will be the success we all want to see."
The RSPCA's Deputy Chief Executive, Chris Wainwright, added: "We are delighted that Defra is considering a ban on third-party sales of puppies. We believe that cracking down on unscrupulous traders, who put profit ahead of animal welfare, will provide much-needed protection for prospective pet owners and puppies.
"We have always said that an end to third-party sales alone would not be enough to end the puppy trade crisis, and we are pleased that this is being looked at alongside enhanced licensing conditions for breeders which will come into force later this year.
"Together, we hope these moves will offer better protection to puppies and their parents and also reduce the number of families duped by rogue traders in this illegal multimillion-pound trade."