Rescuing dogs from abroad has become a common practice over recent years with Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, South Korea, and China being popular choices. This is because many stray dogs in these countries suffer terribly or are killed to reduce stray numbers. Seeing the plight of these dogs on the internet or while on holiday understandably makes those of us that love dogs want to help them and giving one a new life in a caring home can be hugely rewarding. Rescuing any dog, however, comes with challenges and these are amplified when rescuing a dog from abroad. Many dogs will have been living as strays or will have lived their whole lives in kennelled situations. As a result, they are likely to have been poorly socialised and be very frightened around other pets and people. This can make them nervous, aggressive and have separation anxiety. Behaviourists can help with the transition to a household environment but this whole process requires a lot of time and flexibility.
In addition, dogs imported from foreign countries can be harbouring lots of creepy crawlies. Some will cause health problems for your new dog, some may pose a health threat to you and the public, and others will set up shop in your home! It is important therefore, to consider what else you may be importing as well as your new pet.
The Pet Travel Scheme only protects dogs against two parasites
It is easy to assume when you adopt a pet with a pet passport that it will be protected against foreign parasites and be fully vaccinated. The only legal requirements for dogs entering the UK on are a microchip, vaccination against rabies and treatment for a tapeworm called Echinococcus multilocularis. Both these parasites would have a massive impact on human health if introduced into the UK and these legal treatments are very important, but there are many other parasites not present in the UK which are not covered under the scheme. Recently eye worms (Thelazia callipaeda) and skin worms (Dirofilaria repens) have been found in imported dogs, capable of infecting people as well as dogs if UK fruit fly and mosquito populations became infected. Many dogs imported will also carry heartworm, Leishmania infantum and tick-borne pathogens such as Ehrliciha canis. Infected dogs may not show signs of illness when first adopted but go on to develop life threatening illness later.
Compulsory tick treatment used to be a legal requirement but this has now been dropped. Dogs coming into the UK may be carrying exotic ticks such as Rhipicephalus sanguineus which can transmit serious disease to dogs and people such as Mediterranean spotted fever as well as infesting homes in a similar way to fleas.
Things to consider
Before you decide to import a dog from abroad, the following should be considered. If dogs are infected with parasites such as Leishmania or Ehrliciha they will require a life time of tests, treatment and may become fatally ill. This can lead to considerable expense and heartache. If after careful consideration you decide to rehome a pet from abroad then it is essential that you.
- Acquire your dog from a reputable charitable organisation. This will help to ensure that imported pets are fully vaccinated, have been health checked and have a legal pet passport. purchase of illegal dogs will fuel poor living conditions for dogs and further propagation of the illegal pet trade.
- Get a full health check for your pet to check for signs of parasitic disease and infestations.
- Have your new pet tested for exotic parasites and tick-borne diseases. If any of these tests are positive it does not mean that your new pet will develop disease, but it means that levels of infection can be monitored and plans for potential illness made.
- Have your dog tick treated and have a thorough check for ticks. This will help to prevent household infestations with Rhipicephalus and reduce the risk of tick-borne disease exposure. Any ticks found can be sent to Public Health England for identification (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tick-surveillance-scheme). This will help your Vet know which diseases your pet may have been exposed to and whether there is a risk of household infestation.
- Discuss with your Vet, your new pet having an additional tapeworm treatment to the one on the scheme as the treatment window for PETS allows a small opportunity for dogs to be reinfected and the possible human health consequences could be very serious.
It may be that you feel able to devote all that is required to adopting a dog from abroad and they can make rewarding and loving pets. Adopting UK dogs from reputable charities such as the Dogs Trust, Homeless Hounds, RSPCA and specific breed rescue groups however, will still give a dog a much needed home without taking the risk of introducing exotic parasites in the UK. Dogs are often much better helped by rehoming in the countries in which they live and helping to improve attitudes towards dogs there. You can help to do this by supporting rescue charities financially that operate in countries where dog welfare is a major concern, becoming actively involved with the work of these charities, and engaging with social media campaigns to raise awareness of the plight of dogs in many countries across the world.
Dr. Ian Wright BVMS, BSc, MSc, MRCVS. ESCCAP Guideline Director.