Pets in Catalunya: What you need to know

🕔 11 mins (total)
A couple of furry friends basking in the summer sun
Furry friends taking the sun together

Thinking about adopting a dog or cat? Or maybe buying one? When it comes to pets, there are a number of factors worth considering before forking out large amounts of your cash. A failure to do your research may mean you’ll end up continuing to have to fork out even larger amounts of cash on your pets in the future!

Adopting pets

If you are considering adding a dog or a cat to your family, maybe you’d consider adopting from one of the local rescue centres? In our region, there are three main centres from where you can adopt lost or abandoned pets: Apa Rodamón, just outside Palafrugell, Bú Bup Parc near La Bisbal, and Kmakus Cat Café in Sant Antoni de Calonge.

You can arrange to visit the first two of those centres and see for yourself the animals that are being looked after there. The third, Kmakus, is relatively new and, as its name suggests, you can just pop in and NjOY! a coffee or a beer with a cat or two (or several!). You don’t have to adopt one, of course, but who knows, one of them might just steal your heart away! They have dogs for adoption too, and sometimes other animals such as rabbits, hamsters, or guinea pigs. It also has a pet food and accessories store and a veterinary clinic with an English-speaking vet.

If you adopt from any of these places, your new furry friend will come complete with a pet microchip, up-to-date vaccinations, plus its health book, and it will be neutered. There will be an adoption fee, which, on the one hand, helps to cover the operational and veterinary costs of the centre but is also intended to discourage people from adopting an animal if they are not really serious about giving it a home and the love and care it deserves.

Abandonment

Sadly, pets are far too frequently abandoned or mistreated by owners who probably never should have had a pet animal in the first place. This was especially the case during the first coronavirus lockdown when a large number of dogs were adopted just so their new “owners” could legitimately go outdoors for a walk, and as soon as restrictions were eased, many of these poor pooches were abandoned.

Thankfully, figures for 2023 finally started to show a decrease in the number of abandoned pets for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic. In the case of dogs that are still being abandoned, over half are those referred to as “potentially dangerous breeds” and have been trained to attack by their ex-owners. This creates a real headache for the shelters as such dogs cannot be put in with others and so require a lot more space. They are also much more difficult to find homes for, and many end up being put down.

Despite the fact that it is mandatory to identify domestic animals with an approved microchip and also have them registered at the local town hall, most abandoned animals are not microchipped. Abandoning a pet without meeting these requirements carries a fine of up to €20,000, so, typically, the former owners will have driven their pet to somewhere near a shelter at a distance from their home before abandoning them in an effort to prevent the poor animal from finding its way back, and to make identification more complicated. Maybe it’s the animal owners who should be microchipped!

Buying pets

If you really want to buy your pet rather than adopt one, be aware that buying new animals has become far more heavily regulated in Spain than used to be the case. Regulations now outlaw the selling of any animals other than fish in pet stores in this country. Most responsible pet stores had already stopped displaying cute and cuddly animals in their shop windows to try and reduce impulse buying that tended not to work out too well for the animals themselves. Now, it is only legal to sell fish in pet shops. It seems nobody cares what fish think!

If you want to buy a pet in Spain now, you should only do so from licensed breeders – with an emphasis on the word “licensed”.

Beware of the puppy farms!

If you adopt your new pet from a rescue centre like one of those mentioned above, you can be sure that the animal has been vaccinated and looked after during its time there. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the many illegal “puppy farms” or “puppy mills” operating all over this country. In these “mills”, or criaderos, the puppies are very often imported from abroad – in Spain, they typically come from Eastern Europe, especially Hungary and Slovakia – where they are sold by weight and then transported by truck across Europe in cages.

The reason they are imported is that they are cheap and, therefore, can be sold on for a large profit. The puppies (and also kittens in some cases) usually come with fake certificates that show they are healthy and vaccinated, whereas in all probability, neither is the case. Once they arrive on the puppy farm, they are kept in cramped and squalid conditions without proper nutrition, veterinary care, or even hygiene, often exposed to the elements.

Any of the females that are not sold off are kept and impregnated over and over again until they can produce no more litters, at which time they are deemed “useless” and therefore killed. Just before Covid-19 struck in 2020, a farm with 270 puppies being kept in horrible conditions was raided on the outskirts of Madrid, to give just one example.

More recently (October 2023) and closer to home, puppy farms in Vilopriu and nearby Sant Jordi Desvalls were discovered operating under fraudulent registres de nucli zoològic. The three individuals involved were importing dogs from Eastern Europe, forcing them to breed several times a year, and selling the puppies online with the fake zoological centre number. When discovered, the dogs at both locations, including the puppies, were living in deplorable conditions with zero attention to hygiene or basic healthcare.

In the early days of 2024, police arrested eight people in the provinces of Girona and Madrid and dismantled a criminal organization dedicated to the illegal importation, breeding, and sale of dogs. Over 100 puppies were rescued, many in very poor condition, and the bones of many others were discovered. “Those arrested are accused of the crimes of continued animal abuse, fraud, professional intrusion, document falsification, and membership of a criminal organization.” 

On arrival, their documents were falsified to make the dogs seem younger and fully vaccinated. Several dogs died shortly after being sold to their new owners due to undisclosed diseases. Over 500 animals, mainly puppies, were rescued in operations carried out throughout Spain in the last six months of 2023.

Don’t be a pet racist!

The target market for these illegal breeders are people who want “pure race” or pedigree animals and are willing to pay for them. If you feel you absolutely MUST have a pedigree dog, it is important to thoroughly research the breeder and make sure all the paperwork is legitimate. It is also a good idea to go and meet both the breeder and your prospective new pet if at all possible. A genuine breeder will usually keep the pups for a couple of months or so to allow them to remain with their mothers and to socialize with other pups before allowing them to be taken to their new home.

Unfortunately, whilst there are some reputable dog breeders out there, they seem to be far outnumbered by the illegal puppy farms that, if raided and shut down, typically quickly spring up again in another location under a new name. If you think you are getting an absolute bargain for a pedigree breed, and it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Always properly check out the breeder! The genuine ones will not object at all and will even welcome investigation.

It is also worth noting that “purebred” dogs and cats are far more prone to certain health problems than mixed-breed animals. The reason is that “as many of these gene pools are limited or closed, the risk of genetic defects rises significantly with each successive coupling. Defects include a higher risk of cancer and tumors; eye and heart disease; joint and bone disorders; skin, immune system, and neurological diseases; and even epilepsy.” Be prepared to face possibly frequent and expensive veterinary bills.

Immigration: importing pets

You are allowed to bring up to five pets into Spain from abroad. Cats, dogs, and ferrets must be vaccinated against rabies at least 21 days before travel and must be fitted with an ISO microchip. I.S.O. refers to the International Standards Organization, and each chip, which is about the size of a large grain of rice, contains a unique 15-digit code. The U.S.A. doesn’t have one standard type, so American microchips may or may not be compliant. If you want to import a pet from the USA, you’ll have to check the microchip first. Additionally, pets must be 15 weeks or older when they travel.

Pets from EU or EFTA (European Free Trade Association) countries must have an EU passport. Pets from outside the EU/EFTA must have an animal health certificate officially translated into Spanish and signed by a registered vet. If you are bringing a pet from outside these areas, or if you want to import exotic creatures, including many species of birds, or if your animal is coming from a country with a high rabies risk, additional paperwork will probably be required. If this is your case, we recommend that you get in touch with our partners at callCarlos, and they will be able to advise you on what you need.

Lost pets

If a pet is found, the best course of action is to bring it to a rescue centre, as this will maximize the chances of it being reunited with its owner. If the pet has no microchip and is brought to a rescue centre, it will be kept there for up to 21 days, after which time it will be made available for adoption. So, if your furry friend has gone missing and has not been microchipped, the first thing to do is to check with your closest animal rescue centres and keep checking every day in case it turns up.

If your pet has a microchip, things become much easier as the centre will be able to see its owner’s details and will contact them. If the owner of a microchipped animal is contacted and they refuse to come and claim the animal, the rescue centre will then report the owner for animal abuse and abandonment, and they will be hit with a fine.

Two best buddies playing on a platja
Two best buddies playing on a Costa Brava platja – during the low season, naturally!

Doggie beaches

If you happen to have a pooch, you’ll know already that you probably won’t be able to bring him or her with you to most Costa Brava platjas – at least certainly not during the months of the summer tourist season. There is some good news, however, in that there are certain designated Costa Brava beaches for Fido to frolic on. Check out this interactive map showing doggie-friendly beaches for 2023. There isn’t a huge number of them, but at least there are some – and a couple of them happen to be very nice too!

Fireworks

If you live in Catalunya, you’ll know about the Festa de Sant Joan on the night of 23 June every year (St. John’s Eve) and the firecrackers and bangers that go with it. You’ll also know that most towns in Catalunya also hold an official Festa Major at some point during the summer, and that usually involves a fireworks display. It’s all great fun for human “party animals” but not so much for our pet animals. All those flashes and loud noises and bangs can cause real anxiety to pets which can, in turn, lead to unwanted behaviours, such as urinating or pooping where they’re not supposed to or scratching at furniture, for example.

Best keep your pets indoors during the fireworks displays
Best keep your pets indoors during the fireworks displays

Some pets seem to take it all in their stride, but others get really terrified. Your vet may recommend the use of pheromones or even sedatives, but there are a couple of very simple steps you could take yourself to lessen the stress levels for your dog or cat. The most obvious is to close all the doors and windows for the duration, including those small windows that a cat might escape through if panicked, especially if your pet will be home alone at the time. For dogs, bringing them for a good long walk in the hours before any fireworks will help tire them out and hopefully make them less reactive to all the noises.

Having some favourite treats on hand isn’t a bad idea either!

Pets have real feelings too, officially!

As of January 2022, pet animals in Spain are no longer considered material objects by law but sentient beings, and their place as legitimate members of the family is officially recognized. This means that if a couple should divorce, the courts can rule on whether the couple shares joint custody or that one partner gets sole custody and how much the other must pay in maintenance. In addition, if one partner has been convicted of neglect or abuse of pets, they may also be denied custody of their children. So, as well as being nice to your pets, it’s probably also wise to be nice to your partner!

New legislation

A new Animal Welfare ActLey de Bienestar Animal – came into effect on 29 September 2023 with a range of measures aimed at combatting animal abuse, neglect and cruelty. It reinforces the rule that pet animals other than fish cannot be sold in shops, which we already mentioned.

It is also now illegal to have more than five pet animals per household. To be able to legally have more than five animals, it will now be required to apply for a permit for a núcleo azológico, effectively the same type of permit that applies to zoos and animal shelters that house several animals at any one time, either temporarily or permanently. If you already have more than five pets before the passing of the new law, you should apply for a permit from the Ajuntament in your municipality. Failure to do so could result in a hefty fine.

The new laws also reiterate the requirements for all pet animals to be vaccinated and microchipped and also lays down strict conditions for when an animal can be euthanized, specifically, due to terminal illness, public health or safety reasons. Additionally, the owner will have to report how the body was disposed of, either by cremation or burial. If an animal is put down humanely in a veterinary clinic, the vet will usually provide cremation as a service, including reporting it.

The new laws further state that cats and dogs must not be confined to living in small areas such as balconies, terraces, courtyards, roofs, cellars or basements, and furthermore, must not be left alone without human supervision for more than three days. Cats, specifically, must be sterilized by the time they reach six months of age unless for professional breeding purposes, for which a permit is required. Apart from legal reasons, it is always good practice for domestic cats in any case. We should remember that they are by nature wild animals, and if we want to domesticate them, we should always sterilize them, both for their own health and also to prevent unwanted “wild” behaviour.

Dog courses and insurance

When it comes to dogs, there are a couple of additional new regulations. First of all, all new dog owners are required by law to complete a course, and those who already have a dog will have to do the same before 29 September 2025. The course, which is free, consists of three parts: care and veterinary medicine, animal welfare, and legislation. The hope is that every dog owner will have at least basic knowledge about handling, caring for, and keeping animals. Failure to complete the course can be punishable with a fine. Its accreditation has unlimited validity and must be accompanied by liability insurance, which brings us to the second new regulation.

The new Animal Welfare Act also makes it mandatory for all dog owners to take out liability insurance – seguro de responsabilidad civil – regardless of the dog’s breed. This measure is intended to increase the responsibility of dog owners and to compensate for damage caused by dogs. Most insurers already offer pet insurance policies covering liability, which is mandatory, while some providers offer policies covering veterinary care or telephone support as well.

Whether you require liability insurance for your dog or a policy offering greater coverage, but you’re not sure where to start, or if language is a problem, we recommend that you get in touch with our partners at callCarlos. A few of the finer legal details have yet to be ironed out regarding insurance for dogs weighing over 20kg or for breeds that are listed as “dangerous”, but you’ll get all the correct information you need from callCarlos, and they even offer insurance policies themselves! After all, if dogs are our best friends, don’t they deserve the best insurance?

Get the Best Insurance for Your Best Friend. callCarlos

UPDATE: (25 September, 2023)

The proposed new legislation will not now come into effect on 29 September but has been postponed. This is due to the current uncertain Spanish political situation with the interim government not being in a position to pass new laws at present. It is expected the laws will eventually be implemented once a new government is formed. We’ll keep you posted!

Woof! Meeow!!

P.S. Did you know that they would write those as “guau” and “miau” in Spanish?

And if the cat is a CAT-alan speaker, then it’s “meu”!! (Sorry, that was terrible!)

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