BVA calls for post-rabies vaccination waiting times to be extended post-Brexit

09 August 2018

Vets are concerned about the risk of exotic, zoonotic diseases being brought into the UK via travelling pets and ‘trojan' rescue dogs

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.

Key pet travel recommendations

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.

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:

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.

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.”

What can vets do to safeguard animal and human health?

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 (,
    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.

The issue of pet travel and importation will also be in focus at
BVA Congress at the London Vet Show in November, with a session on ‘Trojan dogs
and trafficked pets- why pet travel rules need to change', featuring talks by
Lord Trees and Dogs Trust Veterinary Director Paula Boyden.

Related links

Related BVA policy