During lockdown, the charity identified that Google searches for ‘‘puppies near me’’ increased by 650% in July, five times higher than the previous year.
In the same period, government statistics showed the number of licenses issued for the commercial import of dogs more than doubled to 12,733.
The charity believes the trend is indicative of ‘‘a worrying trend in breeding and importing of puppies’’ is a potentially exploitative trade that can result in the long-term suffering of dogs.
Chris Sherwood, the RSPCA’s chief executive, said: ‘‘We have seen a rise in people searching for dogs to adopt during lockdown, which is fantastic, but at the same time, there appears to be a rise in people looking to buy puppies.
‘‘We know that there are not enough puppies bred in the UK to meet the demands of those who want to buy them and, worryingly, there appears to be a surge in puppies coming in from outside the UK.’’
He added: ‘‘The problem with this is that, although breeders from countries like Romania are licensed, we have no way of checking the conditions those animals are being kept in and we fear that sales like these could be fuelling cruel puppy farms as well as exposing puppies to long and stressful journeys.’’