As the UK prepares to exit the European Union, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) is calling on the government to extend the waiting time post-rabies vaccination to 12 weeks to minimise the risk of rabies entering the UK and simultaneously reduce illegal trade in puppies for sale via the non-commercial route. The call comes as part of 15 key recommendations issued by BVA in order to strengthen legislation governing commercial as well as non-commercial movement of pets and safeguard both animal and public health and welfare.
While the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) has made pet transport between the UK and other EU countries easy and cost-effective, the ease of pet travel has raised some legitimate concerns amongst vets. Key among them is the risk of exotic, zoonotic diseases being brought into the UK via travelling pets and ‘trojan’ rescue dogs with unknown health histories, as demonstrated by the canine babesiosis cases in Essex in 2016.
Vets are also concerned about the illegal importation of puppies into the country through the circumvention of non-commercial pet travel requirements. BVA’s Spring 2018 Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey shows that around three in ten vets working in companion animal practice (29%) said that in the last twelve months they had seen puppies that they were concerned had been imported illegally, a similar proportion to that reported in the 2015 and 2016 surveys.
The 15 recommendations form part of BVA’s new Pet Travel policy, which has been developed in consultation with organisations including the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA). They include:
The extension of the waiting time post-rabies vaccination to 12 weeks with the aim of minimising the risk of rabies incursion into the UK and simultaneously reducing illegal trade in puppies for sale via the non-commercial route
Compulsory tick and tapeworm treatment for all cats and dogs travelling under PETS
Shortening the tapeworm treatment window from 24-120 hours to 24-48 hours before entry from infected countries
Restricting the number of animals that can travel under PETS to five per non-commercial consignment rather than five per person
Improving enforcement services and surveillance at entry points to the UK
To reduce the risk of importation of exotic diseases through ‘trojan’ pets, BVA is recommending restrictions on the movement of stray dogs from countries that are endemic for diseases not currently considered endemic in the UK, such as brucellosis, babesiosis and leishmaniasis, and the introduction of testing in stray dogs for any such diseases as a mandatory requirement before travel to the UK. Prospective owners should also be encouraged to rehome from the existing UK dog population and UK rehoming charities or welfare organisations.
British Veterinary Association President John Fishwick said:
“Whatever agreement we reach with the EU, it is essential that the movement of animals doesn’t translate into the free movement of disease. The increase in cases of non-endemic diseases such as babesiosis is of real concern to vets, which is why we are calling on the government to strengthen existing pet travel legislation as well as enforcement for the sake of animal and human health in the UK.
“Veterinary teams play a frontline role in surveillance for exotic disease incursion and non-compliance with pet travel legislation, so I would encourage my colleagues to continue to report any suspicions to relevant authorities immediately.”
British Small Animal Veterinary Association President Philip Lhermette said:
“The Pet Travel Scheme has been hugely popular with the public and we would like to see that continue. However, there are many existing and potential challenges arising from pet travel, some of which have serious implications for animal health and welfare in the UK and are experienced first-hand by our members - vets in practice, who, by the very nature of their work, often encounter companion animals following their entry to the UK from other countries.
“We hope the proposed recommendations, in particular those relating to enforcement and reporting services, can be given due consideration so as to support our members and not least, minimise the risks to the health and welfare of UK pets and the public, and provide a sensible balance between disease prevention and ease of travel.”
While government regulation is important, veterinary teams can play an important role in safeguarding animal and human health within day-to-day practice. They can do this by:
Advising clients going abroad for summer holidays to get prophylactic tick treatment for cats and dogs.
If clients are considering rehoming a pet, encouraging them to rehome from within the UK.
Reporting suspected cases of illegal importation or puppy smuggling to the local Trading Standards Office. BVA’s recommendations include a call for better reporting clarity for vets who wish to report non-compliance or suspicions of illegal imports. If you have concerns regarding the checks undertaken for compliance with the EU Pet Travel Scheme by carriers (eg. ferries or airlines), contact the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) Pet Travel Scheme via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), detailing as much as possible, including the route travelled, the carrier and the time of presentation for checks.
Putting up BVA’s handy Pet Travel Checklist and Animal Welfare Foundation’s Pet Travel leaflet in practice waiting room or on social media networks.
Reporting suspicious ticks to Public Health England’s Tick Surveillance Scheme or MSD Animal Health and the University of Bristol’s Big Tick Project
Access the BVA policy position and recommendations on pet travel in full here
Access the BSAVA website for further details on pet travel and PETS here