The old saying goes that dogs are not just for Christmas, however record numbers of illegal puppies are being smuggled into Kent ready for festive trade.

Three undercover operations by the Dogs Trust saw 100 young dogs seized in Kent in just one week.

This figure is just the 'tip of the iceberg' in the run up to Christmas, according to the largest dog welfare charity.

Paula Boyden, veterinary director for Dogs Trust said: “Whilst many people’s purchases may be well intended, unbeknown to them the internet has become a thriving marketplace for advertising illegally imported puppies. Buying an illegally imported puppy could potentially cost well-meaning but unsuspecting families thousands of pounds in quarantine and vet bills and emotional heartache for the family if the puppy falls ill or worse, dies.

"We continue to be astounded at the lengths these deceptive breeders and dealers will go to in order to illegally import puppies to make huge profits with complete disregard for their wellbeing. The cases we are seeing on a weekly basis are horrific and need to stop."

The pups are found in "shocking conditions", with severe health issues.

The charity said the popularity of 'trending' breeds such as French Bulldogs and Chow Chow puppies is fuelling the sick trade.

Pugs, Dachshunds, English and French Bulldogs make up 82 per cent of breeds admitted to Dogs Trust in their puppy pilot.

The Dogs Trust has issued advice for would be dog owners to ensure they do not buy illegal puppies.

The trust said: "Dogs should not leave their mum until they are eight-weeks old

"Puppies must be microchipped with the details registered to the breeder.

"Ask about the vaccinations and worming treatments the puppy has had, and make sure you get any paperwork associated with this.

"Watch how Mum interacts with her puppies. Some sellers use 'fake' mums to convince people the puppies were born in that home, when in reality they have been bred in large scale puppy farms, sometimes in other countries."