THE number of puppy farms in Hampshire have soared by 400 per cent in the last decade, new figures have revealed.

The RSPCA is issuing advice to prospective dog owners as new figures reveal that puppy farms continue to be a growing problem - with a 390 per cent increase in complaints across England.

In Hampshire, the trade has grown by 400 per cent.

The warning comes as figures show that last year was the worst yet for complaints about the trade in England to the RSPCA’s 24-hour emergency hotline.

RSPCA dog welfare expert Lisa Hens said: “It is distressing that we are still seeing so many reports about puppy farms but part of this increase is probably due to people being more savvy about what to look out for when getting a pet.

“We know there’s a spike in people searching for puppies and buying dogs at the beginning of the school holidays but we’d urge families to carefully consider whether getting a dog is right for them.

“Dogs are a huge commitment and need lots of time and attention, even once summer is over and the kids are back at school.

“If you do have the time and money for a dog then we’d urge you to consider rescuing instead of buying a puppy. Not only will this give a rescue dog a chance at finding his forever home but it’ll also save any potential heartache caused by unwittingly buying a dog from a puppy farm.”

The charity received 4,357 complaints last year - a 390 per cent increase on ten years ago when it took just 890 reports related to the underground industry.

In Hampshire, the charity received 30 complaints in 2008 compared to 150 last year.

Lisa added: “After the RSPCA campaigned for years, the government last year finally introduced tougher licensing regulations around the selling of animals - including breeding and selling dogs - which we hope will help crackdown on this multi-million pound industry.

“The government has also committed to a ban on the third-party sales of puppies and kittens which, alongside tougher licensing conditions will also help to tackle puppy farms and dodgy dealers. However, we also need to educate the public to ensure that they only buy puppies from responsible breeders.”