Designer dogs can sell for upwards of $36,000 each, as underground breeders cash in on trendy breeds made popular by celebrities and TV shows.
Animal activists say they have seen a huge increase in the number of dogs advertised online each year, with unscrupulous breeders using the anonymity of the internet to place false or misleading advertisements.
Suzie Carley, executive director of Dogs Trust Ireland, said it was very concerning that fashion was taking precedence over puppy welfare.
“When breeders see there’s a trend or a fashionable dog, sometimes they start breeding that particular dog without worrying about its welfare,” she said. “They see an opportunity and will breed for a particular look, but the health implications for this designer dog are incredible.
“The kind of money involved in this is akin to drug dealing, this is serious business.
“The puppies are sold before they have left their mothers, and are sold in what can only be described as really poor breeding conditions.”
There are more than 250 dog breeding establishments in Ireland, but Ms Carley wants the Irish government to crack down on unscrupulous puppy farms and breeders.
Tens of thousands of people have backed a petition calling on the government to review its law on dog breeding establishments.
Ms Carley, who has worked with the trust for almost six years, wants the law to be changed so that anyone raising three or more litters of puppies a year must apply for a licence.
The Dogs Trust and a number of other animal welfare agencies have formed the Irish Pet Advertising Advisory Group (IPAAG) to ensure there is a minimum set of standards that breeders must adhere to.
“If you want to advertise a puppy, you must state its age, include a photo and other information to potential pet owners,” she added.
“We always tell people to consider going to their local rescue center or beat and save a dog before shopping because there are thousands of dogs out there who need loving homes and support. this second chance in life.”
Research by the charity found that more than 74% of people failed to take the proper steps before getting a dog.
“People go online and make an impulse purchase,” she added.
“Some ranchers will say I’m going to save you the trip and meet you in that parking lot and when they get there it’s not right and people will say they had a hunch.
“They’ll see the poor pup and think they want to take it away from this bad person and take the dog, but won’t realize they’re helping to fuel the business.”
There is currently a team of 75 staff at the Dogs Trust in Dublin looking after some 200 dogs at a time.