Dog rescuers risk harming UK dogs and owners by importing dangerous exotic diseases into the country, vets warn

07 September 2018

Vets are concerned about new or rare diseases entering the UK from rescued 'Trojan' dogs from abroad

Well-meaning animal lovers are
inadvertently putting the health and welfare of millions of the UK's animals
and people at risk by importing ‘Trojan' rescue dogs from abroad. The British
Veterinary Association (BVA) is urging prospective owners to protect the
domestic dog population by rehoming dogs from within the UK instead.

More than nine out of ten companion
animal vets (93%) in the country are concerned about the import of rescue dogs
from abroad, with three-quarters feeling the numbers have increased over the
last year, figures from BVA's latest Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey

What are Trojan dogs?

Stray dogs in
some European countries and other parts of the world may have unknown health
histories and could harbour undetected and potentially life-threatening exotic
diseases not traditionally seen in the UK, such as leishmaniasis, rabies,
canine babesiosis and heartworm, without showing any outward clinical symptoms.
When imported into the UK, such chronically infected ‘Trojan', or carrier, dogs
risk passing on the infections to susceptible pets and, in the case of some
diseases, to humans as well. These infections can be difficult to detect or successfully
treat in such carrier dogs.

Worryingly, BVA's
survey shows that 40% of companion animal vets have seen new or rare conditions
in their practice over the last year that are associated with dog import, with
the potentially fatal zoonotic disease leishmaniasis emerging as the most
common one, mentioned by more than a quarter (27%) of the vets surveyed. Vets
also report seeing cases of other exotic conditions such as ehrlichiosis and

Veterinary Association President John Fishwick said:

“We are nation of animal lovers, and so
the desire to rescue stray, neglected or abused animals from other countries
and give them loving homes in the UK is completely understandable.
Unfortunately, the hidden consequence of this can be disastrous for the health
and welfare of other pets as well as humans here.

“As vets, we are extremely concerned
about the risks posed by rescuing dogs with unknown health histories from
abroad and, while it may sound harsh, we believe that the wider consequences
for the UK dog population must outweigh the benefit to an individual animal
being imported.

“With thousands of dogs needing homes
within the UK, I would urge anyone looking to get a pet to adopt from a UK
rehoming charity or welfare organisation instead. If you already own a rescue
dog from abroad, approach your local vet for advice on testing and treatment
for any underlying conditions.”

Need for stricter pet travel rules

The relaxation of pet travel rules in
2012 has led to an increased risk for non-endemic and potentially zoonotic
diseases in the UK. Under the current EU Pet Travel Scheme, stray dogs can be
moved within the EU as long as they comply with certain regulations, including
treatment for tapeworm and receiving the rabies vaccination. Dogs that are
non-compliant with these regulations are quarantined and vaccinated before
being allowed to enter, though it is possible that they may still be incubating
a disease upon which a vaccination would have little to no effect. The outbreak
of canine babesiosis in Essex two years ago and the detection of brown dog
ticks in puppies imported from Cyprus in 2014 are just two examples of this
heightened disease risk.

As part of its
recently launched pet travel position statement (404 KB PDF), BVA is recommending that the
government impose strict restrictions on the movement of stray dogs from
countries that are endemic for diseases not currently considered endemic in the
UK and
introduce testing in stray dogs for any such diseases as a mandatory
requirement before travel to the UK.

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
Professor the Lord Trees and Dogs Trust Veterinary Director, Paula Boyden. The session will consider the risks and realities of pet
travel and the illegal pet trade on both health and welfare and ask what more
needs to be done to improve biosecurity at our borders.

For more information on dangerous exotic diseases, see the Animal
Welfare Foundation's pet travel leaflet.


Answers to some of the most frequently asked questions on disease risk from pet import have been answered by BVA Senior Vice President Gudrun Ravetz and eminent veterinary parasitologist Professor the Lord Trees in separate blog posts.

Related links

Related BVA policy