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UK borders wide open to imported dog diseases

British Veterinary Association

3 min read Partner content

Vets urge Government to introduce appropriate pre-import testing to close the door on serious imported dog diseases

The British Veterinary Association (BVA), along with other national veterinary associations, is calling on the Government to introduce appropriate mandatory pre-import disease testing and tighten the movement of dogs from countries with high levels of concerning diseases like Brucella canis, which are currently not widely present in the UK.

The Brucella canis bacterium causes canine brucellosis, an infectious disease that can lead to painful and chronic illness in dogs, as well as potentially posing a health risk to humans and other dogs exposed to the infected animal. Treatment is often unsuccessful, and, in many cases, to protect animal welfare, the only option is euthanasia.

In the last four years, there has been an increase in the number of identified B. canis cases in the UK, which had previously been sporadic and isolated. Data released by the Government shows that cases have risen from just three before 2020 to 240 in the last three years. Most dogs were either imported, had returned from holiday overseas, or been bred with an imported dog.

In 2022, news also emerged of the first UK case of dog-to-human transmission, highlighting the risks to those handling and treating infected dogs and raising levels of concern within veterinary teams, despite this being relatively low.

Launching its new joint policy position on Brucella canis today, BVA, along with the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), Society for Practicing Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) and British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA), is calling for the Government to:

  • Restrict the movement of dogs from countries that are endemic for diseases not currently considered endemic in the UK, after carrying out an appropriate risk assessment to determine for which countries and diseases testing should be implemented.
  • Introduce appropriate testing for any relevant diseases as a mandatory requirement for dogs before travel to the UK.
  • Improve border controls and increase enforcement to prevent the importation of puppies and pregnant bitches. This would further reduce the risk of B. canis entering the UK as there is a heightened risk of transmission associated with pregnancy and abortion, and it would improve pre-import testing, since test results in younger dogs may be less reliable.

British Veterinary Association President Anna Judson said:

“Vets are seriously concerned about the lack of adequate checks for potentially zoonotic diseases entering the country via imported dogs. Brucella canis is not currently considered to be widespread in the UK, so a proactive approach with an emphasis on reducing the risk of this and other worrying exotic diseases being brought into the UK is crucial.

“This is important both for the health of the UK’s dogs and the humans who care for them. By taking proactive measures to minimise its introduction, we can better protect the health and welfare of the UK dog population and minimise the challenges of dealing with suspected cases once they have already reached our shores.

“Last year’s shelved Kept Animals Bill would have helped to address some of these significant animal health and welfare issues through the introduction of measures designed to tackle puppy smuggling. We ask all political parties to include stricter pet import measures, including appropriate pre-import testing, as part of their election manifestos.”

The joint policy position is available to view at: https://www.bva.co.uk/take-action/our-policies/brucella-canis/

UKHSA’s updated guidance for the public is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/brucella-canis-information-for-the-public-and-dog-owners

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