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Pets on the move

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NEWS that the UK will be able to retain controls against the zoonotic tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis when new pet travel rules come into force on January 1 next year is welcome, and can be seen as a victory for common sense over bureaucratic dogma. Both the BVA and BSAVA have welcomed the news, as well they might. Although relatively rare, alveolar echinococcosis, the disease in humans caused by infection with the larval stage of the parasite, is a significant zoonosis which, if left untreated, can be fatal. Humans can acquire the infection by accidentally ingesting eggs from the faeces of infected dogs or foxes. Once established in wildlife, E multilocularis is notoriously difficult to eliminate. It always seemed ludicrous that, in the interests of European harmonisation, the UK, which is currently free of the parasite and has large dog and fox populations, should be forced to abandon its controls at a time when the incidence in parts of mainland Europe is increasing. The BVA, BSAVA and Defra, along with the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe and colleagues in other EU member states considered to be free of the parasite, have worked hard over the past couple of years to try to ensure that the controls are retained. The importance of this has now been recognised by the European Parliament and European Council, which have agreed a regulation proposed by the European Commission that member states that are free of the parasite can continue to apply preventative measures.

The controls agreed by the EU are not identical to those that have applied in the UK until now, in that they will require dogs entering the country to be treated with praziquantel or another wormer proven to reduce the burden of E multilocularis between 120 hours and 24 hours before entry, rather than between 48 and 24 hours before entry as at present. The treatment window has been extended to reduce the difficulties faced by pet owners when treatment has to be carried out during weekends and public holidays, or when the departure after treatment is delayed for reasons beyond their control. According to the EU, this should not significantly enhance the risk of reinfection of treated dogs from areas where E multilocularis is endemic.

Requirements for worming aside, there will be other, more substantial changes to the UK's pet travel rules from January 1, following the announcement by Defra in July that the rules would be harmonised with the rest of the EU (VR, July 9, 2011, vol 169, pp 33–34; July 23, 2011, vol 169, pp 97–98). This is particularly true with regard to measures intended to prevent the introduction of rabies, which has always been the main purpose of the rules. From January 1, pets entering the UK from other EU member states or specified countries outside the EU will no longer have to have a blood test after being vaccinated against rabies, and will be able to enter the country 21 days after being vaccinated, rather than having to wait six months after a successful blood test as at present. Pets coming from unlisted countries outside the EU will no longer have to go into quarantine for six months, but will instead be able to enter the country if they have been vaccinated against rabies, passed a blood test and then waited three months in the country of origin. The rationale for these changes was outlined in a letter from the Chief Veterinary Officer and the BVA President in Veterinary Record at the time of the announcement (VR, July 9, 2011, vol 169, p 53), and details of the requirements are available on Defra's website at www.defra.gov.uk/pets

Another result of the changes is that it will no longer be mandatory for owners to treat their animals against ticks when bringing in animals from abroad, which is not to say that treatment of travelling pets against ticks is not advisable. Ticks, and tickborne infections that can affect animals and humans, are prevalent in much of Europe and, while the risks may be hard to quantify, owners should be advised to take appropriate preventative measures when taking their pets abroad.

Correct identification and certification of animals will be vital to the effective functioning of the new arrangements, in the same way that they have been to the existing Pet Travel Scheme. Compliance with the rules is essential and, with Defra and other government departments facing increased pressure on their budgets over the next few years, it will be important to ensure that checks at borders are maintained. Meanwhile, with the likelihood of increased traffic under the new arrangements, it will be important to remain alert to the possibility of diseases that are currently considered to be exotic to the UK being introduced with travelling pets, and to enhance the arrangements for surveillance.

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