Our Small Animal News editor, Harriet tackles the fascinating and important topic of rabies and the Pet Travel Scheme in this month’s installment of Vet News.
Rabies & The Pet Travel Scheme
Harriet Woodhall (Vet News Small Animal News Editor)
Rabies has been frequently in the news over the past couple of months due to increasing concerns that it could enter the UK and due to the presence of World Rabies Day on 28th September. There have been several cases of rabies in the Netherlands and other EU countries recently that have led to increased Government pressure to review UK quarantine laws that were previously relaxed to save pet owners money.
Rabies is a fatal disease that can potentially affect all mammals, even humans. Due to the variable incubation period and ranging characteristics, it is often difficult to diagnose and predict the spread of the disease. Rabies has a wide range of clinical signs; meaning it has to be confirmed in a laboratory; however typical signs include sudden behavioural changes and progressive paralysis leading to death, if without treatment. The disease is mainly transmitted via saliva from a bite of an infected animal; dogs being the source of 99% of human rabies deaths.
Under the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) dogs, cats and ferrets are allowed to enter the UK without being put in quarantine, provided they have a microchip, rabies vaccination 21 days before travelling and a pet passport; dogs also need tapeworm treatment. If the requirements are not met, the animal is then put into quarantine on arrival into the UK. Only once the requirements of the PETS scheme are met can the animal be released.
A blood test and a wait of 6 months following vaccination was previously needed to enter the UK from the EU or approved countries; this was relaxed in January 2012: blood tests are no longer needed and the wait before entering is now only 21 days. The relaxed wait could be seen as a risk, seeing as the rabies incubation period is so variable and can often be longer than 21 days.
One of the biggest concerns is the increasing numbers of smuggled dogs and puppies entering the UK with forged passports, often without vaccination or vaccination at a too young age. It is thought that since regulation changes, people are less concerned about being caught due to the shorter quarantine time. This is a particularly big problem when the dog’s origin is unknown, as rabies is still endemic in parts of the world. Many vets are now suggesting that quarantine regulations are not strict enough, and are warning of the increased risk of rabies entering the UK. BVA President, Robin Hargreaves also stated that this increase and the case in the Netherlands should “be a serious wake-up call to potential pet owners who must always ask about the animal’s background and ask to see it with its mother”.
Government officials state that the risk of rabies entering the UK is still very low, but several animal welfare charities are still concerned that they are putting their staff at risk, now suggesting that staff themselves are vaccinated against the disease.