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Pets Overseas

THE HAZARDS ASSOCIATED WITH TAKING PETS OVERSEAS.

 Since the introduction of the Pets Travel Scheme, many pet owners have wanted to take their animals with them when either going on holiday overseas or emigrating. In this article, I will attempt to explain the health risks involved and discuss preventative measures for those who still wish to take their pets overseas despite the potential hazards.

 My comments are confined to EEC Member States simply because these are by far the most popular of all destinations.  However, every single state in the world has its share of serious diseases.

Before even considering taking a pet overseas, bear in mind the following points.

1)     Is your pet distressed by prolonged travel?

2)     There is a significant risk of your pet being exposed to serious illness, which are not encountered in this country, therefore your pet will be virtually defenceless through lack of natural immunity.

3)     Apart from rabies, there are no vaccines available against these diseases.

4)     Animals are easily infected through bites from ticks, mosquitoes and sandflies, which host these diseases.

5)     No parasiticide or insect repellent is 100 per cent effective.

6)     Diseases can be imported into Britain by both returning animals or insect vectors hitching a lift on vehicles.

7)     Although the Mediterranean area is the traditional home of these illnesses, climate change and increasing, international travel are resulting in them spreading northwards.  For instance, German tourists travelling by car to the Mediterranean have introduced Ehrlichiosis into Central Europe.

I will briefly describe the five main diseases awaiting your pet in Continental Europe.

EHRLICHIOSIS.

This is a tick-transmitted bactericidal infection, which causes severe bleeding disorders.  It is endemic in Italy,Greece and other Eastern Mediterranean countries, with spread to Austria,Germany, Spain and France.  The disease becomes well established before signs appear, so treatment is difficult. Many animals carry it.  There is no Vaccine.

HEARTWORM.

This is a parasitic worm transmitted by mosquitoes and it develops in the great vessels near the heart, causing respiratory disease and bleeding disorders.  Treatment of infected cases is potentially dangerous because killed worms can cause severe respiratory disease, so prevention of infection is the answer.  It is particularly common in the river valleys of Italy and southern Switzerland and there is a high incidence in the Canary Islands.  Like Ehrlichiosis, carriers are common and there is no vaccine available.

BABESIOSIS.

This is a highly acute, protozoal infection transmitted by ticks.  Poor immunity and stress will accentuate the disease, leading to a high casualty rate.  The organism invades the red blood cells, causing severe anaemia.  Most cases have been seen in France.  Again, carriers are common and no vaccine is available for travelling U.K. pets.

LEISHMANIASIS.

This is a protozoal infection transmitted by sandflies.  It affects many of the body systems to cause a wide variety of clinical signs.  It has a delayed onset so it is easily brought in by people acquiring stray dogs abroad.  It is serious because the organism is capable of blocking the production of host antibody.  It is endemic in Italy,France and Spain, particularly popular tourist destinations such as Majorca.  No vaccine is available.

RABIES.

Although under control in Western Europe, it is still endemic in Eastern Block countries such as Poland, which have recently joined the EEC. Despite a high incidence in Russia, recent political developments have permitted that country to participate in Pets Travel Scheme.

SUMMARY OF ADVICE.

Before even considering travelling with a pet, try and find out which diseases and insect vectors exist in the locality, which you intend to visit.  You can obtain information from the DEFRA website and there is a PETS TRAVEL HELP LINE.  The BristolVeterinarySchool has developed extensive knowledge and expertise of imported, overseas diseases.

If this is possible, always seek information from a veterinary surgeon practising in the locality you intend to visit.  One of my clients was persuaded not to take his dog to a holiday home in south-western France after a local veterinary surgeon reported a high incidence of ticks.

If you still wish to take your pet overseas, then –

1)     Contact you pet insurance company to find out if your policy covers treatment for these diseases.

2)     Consult a veterinary surgeon with experience of overseeing travel and health arrangements for pets.  DEFRA will also supply information, as will the consulate of the country you intend to visit.

3)     Preventative treatment with acaricides, which kill ticks, and wormers which stop heartworm infestation will need to be given at least two weeks before travel and maintained throughout the whole length of your stay.

4)     Insect repellents and keeping animals indoors from dusk to dawn will be necessary to deter sandflies and mosquitoes. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that these will be totally effective.

5)     A general health check, including blood profile, is also recommended.  Elderly and animals in sub-optimum health will be particularly vulnerable to stress of all kinds.  I have personal experience of an old dog, which, despite being under treatment for a pre-existing medical condition, entered the country under the quarantine rules. Afterwards, this animal never regained good health and so didn’t survive for long.

 

A.R. PAYNE. BVMS..MRCVS.

18th October 2005

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