Canada launched an investigation after 500 puppies – 38 of them dead – were found on board a Ukraine International Airlines plane at a Toronto airport, officials said on Saturday.
The surviving French Bulldogs, a popular breed in Canada, were suffering from dehydration, weakness and vomiting when they were found on the flight from Ukraine which landed at Toronto Pearson Airport on June 13, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said.
The agency "will determine next steps once the investigation is complete," it said.
A dog handler who was picking up another animal from the airport's cargo area where the puppies were discovered last Saturday told broadcaster CBC of a "horror scene... It was a nightmare."
UIA offered its "condolences for the tragic loss of animal life on our flight" and said that it was working with the local authorities.
Puppy sales are lucrative in Canada, Scott Weese of the Ontario Veterinary College told the CBC.
Most buyers believe the animals are bred in Canada, but the reality is "we have no idea how many dogs come in, where they go, where they come from," he said, adding that there was "potentially some organised-crime component".
"You mentioned 500 French Bulldogs. If those are going for sale at $3,000 to $4,000 [Dh8,000 - Dh10,800] a dog, that's a massive amount of money," he told the broadcaster.