Horse owners are urged to be vigilant after more than 100,000 “inappropriate, misleading or illegal” online pet adverts were removed in just six months.

The ads were taken down from some of the UK’s biggest classified advertising websites following a six-month pilot scheme run by the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) to regulate online pet sales.

The group is now urging owners — including those of horses — to report any suspicious adverts.

Clarissa Baldwin, chairman of the PAAG, said the amount of adverts that have been blocked so far is “truly staggering” and a “real eye-opener in terms of the scale of the problem”.

Ads taken down include those selling underage animals, banned breeds, illegally imported or endangered species and animals being offered in exchange for inanimate objects.

PAAG member World Horse Welfare found an advert featuring a 21-year-old ex-sport horse who had “dropped weight rapidly over the past month” and yet was being offered “free to a good home”.

“Obviously we had a number of concerns and contacted the site to ask them not only to remove the advert, but also to pass our number to the advertiser in case we could offer some advice,” said the charity’s Sam Chubbock.

Websites can sign up to a “minimum standards” scheme, which is endorsed by Defra and aims to improve the welfare of pets sold online by encouraging websites to filter out illegal, unethical and unscrupulous advertisements.

The classified advertising websites involved in the pilot scheme — Gumtree, Pets4Homes, PreLoved, Vivastreet, FridayAds and EPupz — removed adverts highlighted by their own filters, and those reported to them by PAAG volunteer moderators.

Animal welfare minister Lord de Mauley added: “We can all play a part in ensuring the welfare of pets sold online. If anyone sees a suspicious pet advert, from the sale of under-age animals to banned breeds, I would urge them to report it directly to the host site. If the advert isn’t removed quickly, they should contact the Pet Advertising Advisory Group straight away.”

Email: admin@paag.org.uk