Pet passports are an open door to disease due to a lack of restrictions, a leading academic has claimed.

Olivier Sparagano, president of the Society for Tropical Veterinary Medicine (STVM) and an academic researcher, argues greater restrictions in the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) are needed to ensure tick-borne diseases from EU territories do not enter the UK.

Under PETS, pet dogs, cats and ferrets can enter or re-enter the UK from any country without quarantine, providing they meet the rules of the scheme.

The rules differ depending on which country or territory the pet is travelling from, but typically include microchipping, rabies vaccination, holding a pet passport or third country official veterinary certificate and, for dogs, tapeworm treatment.

However, Prof Sparagano is concerned pets coming from tropical EU territories, including Guadeloupe and Martinique, increase the risk of tick-borne disease entering the country.

Canine treatment for tapeworm is a requirement, but screening and restrictions of other tick-borne disease are not. Prof Sparagano said: “At the moment the Government is just targeting tapeworms in dogs, so the issue is that other diseases carried by dogs, cats and ferrets in Europe are not being screened when entering the UK.

“One of the main concerns I have is these dogs might be infected with ticks or blood feeders, such as black mosquitos, which then spread disease in the UK. What is also concerning is the scheme only considers the EU at large so that territories, some of which are very tropical zones like Martinique and Guadeloupe, don’t have to do the things you would if were coming from a non-European country.

“Territories in the Caribbean should not be considered geographically the same as other countries. They are exposed to higher levels of disease in the tropics.”

Changes designed to strengthen enforcement and improve security and traceability in PETS came into effect on December 29.

Updates include a new-look pet passport with laminated strips, the introduction of checks across the EU and a new minimum age for rabies vaccination. Under new regulations, animals must be at least 12-weeks-old before owners can get pets vaccinated against rabies for the purpose of travel. 

Although changes have been designed to improve the PETS, Prof Sparagano, who heads up the University of Coventry’s new research office, criticised the scheme, saying: “I think the pet passport is actually going the other way.

“We still consider that everyone in the EU is the same, but I don’t think that they are. I don’t think veterinarians have the same knowledge in all countries and [not] all EU countries are the same in terms of diseases.

“So not to have these restrictions in the pet passport really is an open door for disease entering the UK and outbreaks spreading.”

Public Health England (PHE) recently investigated a tick infestation in Essex.

Specimens were identified as the brown dog tick Rhipicephalus sanguineus, a non-native species found worldwide, but more commonly in warmer climates. Ticks were removed from two pet dogs and 100 were removed from within the property.

The owners had imported an 18-month-old dog from a Spanish charity, which was compliant with PETS. The dog had reportedly been treated for ticks before leaving Spain, however PHE officials suggest the canine may have imported juvenile ticks, which developed into adult stages within the owner’s property.

Prof Sparagano suggests pets coming to the UK should have a minimal quarantine and anti-tick treatments made compulsory. 

A Defra spokesman said: “The requirements of the EU pet travel scheme are specifically designed to address the risk posed by rabies and the Echinococcus multilocularis tapeworm.

“Pets travelling abroad may be exposed to diseases we do not have in the UK and we therefore recommend pet owners consult their vet prior to travel. Depending on the destination, the vet should be able to advise on preventive treatments and any other precautions an owner should take.”

The article in full originally appeared in VT Vol 45.9

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