Pet owners need to be aware of all the health risks before travelling with their four-legged friends abroad, one expert has warned.
More and more Britons are choosing to take their dogs and cats with them on holiday and doing so means they don’t have to feel sad, guilty or worried about leaving their pining pets behind.
New rules introduced in 2012 made it cheaper and easier to travel abroad with a pet.
The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) allows animals (dogs, cats and ferrets) to travel or return to the UK from other EU countries without the need for quarantine, providing they’ve been microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and have a pet passport. Dogs must also have had a tapeworm treatment to be allowed to travel.
Hannah Newbury, technical manager for MSD Animal Health, says the more relaxed rules have benefitted owners, but increased pet travel has also increased the risk of animals being exposed to diseases that are uncommon or non-existent currently in the UK.
She said: “The PETS travel scheme requires pets to have a rabies vaccination to keep the UK free of this potentially fatal disease. Although there have been control programmes in place in Europe, there are still occasional causes of rabies in foxes in places such as Greece and Italy.
“Likewise, tapeworm treatment of dogs is required before return to the UK becuase they can easily pick up these parasites, which can then be passed on to humans, leading to serious health consequences.”
But according to Hannah, there are also other risks that pet owners might not be aware of, such as tick-borne Encephalitis, a disease that isn’t present in the UK - although Britain’s most common tick found on dogs (Ixodes ricinus) is the vector. This virus can infect the brain, cause awful tremors, seizures and in some cases even death.
She added: “In southern Europe, the brown dog tick - also known as the kennel tick - is commonly found and it also spreads other disease in dogs. It likes warmer climates but there’s a risk of infestation in homes or kennels if they’re brought back to the UK.”
And findings from MSD Animal Health’s ‘Big Tick Project’ - a study carried out to understand the prevalence of ticks and tick-borne diseases in the UK - showed that a worrying 76 per cent of dogs in the study travelling abroad returned with ticks.
“Sandflies are also active in southern Europe from March to October and carry Canine Leishmaniasis, a nasty disease that causes lesions, weight loss and kidney failure. They feed between dusk to dawn, so keeping dogs indoors during those peak times and wearing a special collar can help minimise the risk.”
“Other parasites include heart worms that infect dogs but also cats and other animals. They cause damage to the heart, lungs and other tissues and can also be fatal.”
Owners should consult their vet before travelling with their pet and on their return to the UK. It’s also a good idea for pets to get health checked before any upcoming trips.
“Pets deserve a happy holiday too and owners need to be aware of all the risks before taking them abroad,” Hannah said.
She added that pet owners also needed to consider whether it’s right to travel with their four-legged friends, especially if they suffer from travel stress, dislike hot weather, or if they are an elderly animal with underlying health conditions.
Since the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) was relaxed in 2012, pet travel has increased year-on-year, from 140,000 dogs travelling from the UK in 2012 to 287,016 in 2017.
Prior to the rules being changed, just 85,786 pets travelled in 2011.
Tips for pet owners travelling abroad
- Ensure you meet the PETS requirements
- Be aware of other parasitic diseases that pets can be exposed to while travelling abroad
- Minimise the risk of exposure where possible
- Are your pet’s core vaccinations and regular parasite prevention up to date?
- Consult your vet before and after travel and get your pet health-checked
- Other considerations for travelling pets include: hot temperatures, heatstroke, sunburn, the stress of long journeys (owners should plan regular breaks and ensure fresh water is available)
- Pet insurance - is your pet covered while you’re abroad?
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