The Prime Minister – a dog lover since childhood – plans to tighten the law to deter unscrupulous breeders who keep puppies in cramped and unhealthy conditions, and transport the animals long distances for sale.
Thousands of battery dogs are sold each year in the UK and animal welfare campaigners warn the practice can lead to life-long health problems for puppies.
New measures would force breeders to allow buyers to see the pup with its mother and to complete sales in person, which would target online sales of sick or injured animals.
Ms May, who reportedly had a poodle called Tassle and a mongrel called Lucky as a child, said: “Any unscrupulous treatment of animals is disturbing – so in our drive to achieve the highest animal welfare standards in the world, we continually look at what more can be done.
“The arrival of a happy, healthy puppy, as I know myself, is a memorable time for a family – but it’s absolutely right we do everything we can to eradicate animal cruelty from our society.
“The proposals my Government is developing will be an important step forward.”
Under plans being looked at by Environment Secretary Michael Gove, there would also be tighter regulation of adverts to include the seller’s licence number, country of origin and country of residence of the pet in any advert.
Licensed dog breeders would also only be able to sell dogs they have bred themselves.
Mr Gove said: “At this time of year it is all too easy to be moved by images online or adverts in the local press advertising newborn puppies looking for a home for Christmas. But what we don’t see is all too often a sad history of mistreatment and malpractice.
“This is one part of our efforts to ensure we have the highest animal welfare standards in the world.”
RSPCA interim chief executive Michael Ward said: "This is good news for the hundreds of thousands of dogs bought and sold in England every year.
"This year our inspectors, working with the police and councils, rescued hundreds of puppies and breeding dogs being kept in miserable, squalid conditions by heartless people cashing in on the growing market for puppies.
"We hope these proposed licensing conditions for England, which include a ban on breeders selling puppies other than from their licensed premises, will improve the welfare of the puppies and their parents, and also crackdown on the multi-million pound illegal trade making it less likely that people are duped by rogue dealers."
The charity said it has rescued 295 dogs from puppy farms this year and it has received a record 4,125 calls relating to the puppy trade.
A new bill will be brought to Parliament after Christmas, and a separate consultation will also take place to look at improving the way animals are bought and sold.
Mr Gove has launched an energetic push to tackle environmental issues in recent months, including plans to ban sales of ivory and plastic microbeads, to outlaw new petrol and diesel cars by 2040 and a deposit scheme for drinks bottles and cans.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies