Tougher penalties for puppy farmers
Illegal puppy farm owners could be jailed for up to five years under tough new laws.
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill said she was minded to increase the penalties as a deterrent to repeat offenders.
She said: "I am minded towards strengthening legislation where necessary. We have to do everything we can to make it a deterrent."
The Sinn Fein minister was speaking during Question Time at the Assembly.
She told MLAs: "We have very strong legislation in place, however there is always room for improvement."
Under current legislation, those found guilty of dog breeding offences could be sentenced to six months in prison and fined up to £5,000.
The new proposals could see sentences increased to 12 months, with a potential five-year jail term and unlimited fine for repeat convictions.
Puppy farms, where designer dogs are churned out for profit, can range from back-yard breeders who keep a couple of breeding bitches to commercial operations raking in thousands of pounds by exploiting hundreds of dogs.
Most use the internet as a source of sales.
Leading animal welfare charities have warned it is a growing problem, but only one person has been prosecuted for alleged puppy farm-related offences.
Alliance Party MLA Chris Lyttle said: "Dogs are not commodities. They should be bought from licensed breeders."
The Minister also appealed for people to report concerns to local authority dog wardens who issue the breeding licenses.