I'll be leaving the forum soon, my membership is expiring and finances stopped my purchase of a motorhome. Had to go back to towing: thanks credit crunch etc. No matter. I've sent this article to several members: I think it's the best balanced advice I've seen so I am posting it here in the hope it will be beneficial to members in the future. good luck to all!!
TAKING YOUR DOGS ABROAD - UPDATE
Many of you have emailed to thank me for providing clear, comprehensible info about the risks of taking a dog to Europe. If I have helped any of you to make an informed decision, then I am delighted! I have also received many enquiries as to whether I took my own dogs to Spain, as planned, and if so, how they fared.
The answer is yes, my flat coat and long haired dachsund spent five months living an idyllic life in the mountains, just north of Madrid. Spain is very lax about footpaths and private property so every day we walked for miles in beautiful countryside with only the occasional cow to worry about. We saw no signs of processionary caterpillars but I confined our pine forest walking to well monitored trails. Many people have asked me whether an old dog can adapt to a new life abroad: I can only say that my 13 year old dachsund didn’t turn a hair. In fact, I was amazed at their adaptability: our first night in their new home, they simply got into their bed and fell fast asleep!
I sought out a vet that I liked as soon as I arrived and I was grateful that I had done so. My dachsund was savaged by a Spanish dog and he owes his survival not only to the skill of the Spanish vet but also to the speed with which he was seen. If I had had to waste time searching for a vet at the time of the incident, he would have died. My vet told me that Spanish village dogs are a major problem for both humans and dogs; they tend to be large, aggressive and completely unsocialised. As a result, many Spanish are, understandably, terrified of dogs and this meant curbing my flat coat’s excessive enthusiasm for strangers!
The other reason it is important to sort out a vet soon after arrival is so that the microchips can be registered in your new locality in the event that the dogs disappear.
The only other vet treatment my dogs needed was to remove grass seeds from their ears. Again, this is always a problem in Spain – my neighbours’ dogs have all had operations to remove grass seeds from paws, ears and eyes - and it is particularly bad at the moment since the country is experiencing its worst drought for 60 years.
They wore their Scalibor collars all the time and on the vet’s advice, I changed them after three months despite the manufacturers’ claims that they are effective for up to six months. They were also treated with Frontline and Program Plus. The UK requires a rabies booster every 2 years but Spain recommends a booster every year (and it is mandatory for French residents, as opposed to holidaymakers).
I took my dogs out in February when the temperature was minus 16C – which gave them plenty of time to acclimatise to the heat. Although we left at the end of June, the temperatures were already in the 30s. The dachsund positively revelled in the heat but the flat coat suffered. I would have been seriously worried about him if I had intended staying on in July and August. And never, ever would I consider taking him to a Mediterranean country for a fortnight’s summer holiday…..
TAKING YOUR DOGS ABROAD - ORIGINAL ARTICLE
There I was, basking under an azuline Castilian sun, a glass of vino and plate of chorizo at hand, happily reading Perros de Caza. (This is an excellent Spanish magazine devoted solely to hunting dogs). Suddenly I was confronted by disgustingly detailed pictures of diseased dogs with the type of lesions that ensured my chorizo remained uneaten. Whilst I am far from fluent, my ability to read and write Spanish is reasonable and so I painstakingly translated the articles about leishmaniasis, dirofilariarsis, babesiosis and ehrlichiosis. I had never heard of these diseases and my horror mounted as, like thousands of others, I was planning on buying a house in Spain and taking my dogs out there for several weeks a time.
Once home, I embarked on further research. My area of expertise is psychology, the modification of canine behaviour in particular, not veterinary science. But although I may be a psychologist, I am also a devoted – some might say, neurotic – dog owner. The thought that I might inadvertently cause the death of my dogs by taking them to Europe was more than I could bear. So the need to venture into the territory of pathology was powerful and personal.
My colleagues and I conducted a survey into experiences dog owners travelling to and from Europe with their dogs under the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) an attempt to assess the risk factors involved. We were interested in both sides of the problem: on the one hand, the views and advice of vets and on the other, the experiences of dog owners. The results were a shocking eye opener. The vast majority of vets readily admitted that they were unfamiliar with diseases endemic in other parts of the world and would be unlikely to recognise the symptoms if they were faced with them; although those in the south of England were better informed than their northern colleagues, presumably because more of their clients travel. In fairness to vets, they are constantly bombarded with new information on diseases and drugs, courses and seminars and there are only so many hours in their day.
We found that 92% of dog owners taking their dogs on holiday to European countries were given no advice at all about exotic diseases and preventative measures and in four cases were actually given inaccurate advice. Those who were better informed had garnered their information from the internet or a European vet – not their UK vet. Some of the stories we heard ended in tragedy and the owners admitted that if they had known of the risks they would never have taken their dogs abroad. Many had believed that the rabies vaccination together with tapeworm and tick treatment before re-entry were sufficient protection for their dogs. One owner summed it up “I thought the whole idea of the PETS scheme was the ensure the health and safety of dogs travelling.” But these regulations aim only to minimise the risk of the importation of certain diseases into the UK and the protection of the resident population – not the travelling dog.
Many owners have been completely unaware that their dogs were at risk of exposure to several vector-borne parasitic diseases exotic to this country but widespread in many parts of Europe. Exotic is not normally a term associated with Europe but as Dr Jackie Barber, a veterinary parasitologist at Liverpool University, points out, “for animals it is as though they were travelling to somewhere like Africa.”
PETS was introduced in February 2000 to allow animals to travel to Europe without the need for quarantine. By June 2002, some 59,000 cats and dogs had entered the UK from mainland Europe. The scheme now includes North America and as many as 150,000 pets were expected to travel this year. Initially our interest lay in those who take their dogs on holiday to Europe but we also received responses from those who had entered the UK on a permanent basis with dogs from other countries. (One US vet advised a couple against importing their dog to the UK via a qualifying six month stay in France because she thought the flight would be too stressful. She made no mention of any diseases!). We also received responses from those who had “rescued” dogs from countries like Greece: a situation with potentially ruinous costs in terms of both finance and heartbreak.
I have no pretensions to being a vet or exotic disease expert; instead what follows is an outline of the risks you run if you take your dog to some European countries – in layman’s language.
This disease is endemic in Spain, Portugal, southern and western France, Italy, Greece, Malta, Corsica, Crete, the Canaries and the Balearics. It is spread by sandflies – for a brief moment my spirits soared as I intend taking my dogs to central Spain, hundreds of miles from a beach - but they were quickly dashed because the name refers to the appearance rather than the habitat since they favour wooded areas and gardens. Sandflies are at their most active between May and October between dusk and dawn, feeding on blood. The worst possible time is at the end of the summer/beginning of autumn when the sand fly population includes a proportion of old flies that have taken one or more blood meals and may therefore be infected.
Estimates suggest that in endemic sites in suitable weather conditions, the number of sand fly bites per dog per hour may exceed 100. The disease may develop any time from three months to several years after infection; symptoms include skin problems such as lesions, loss of weight, eye disease, lameness and often kidney failure. During the course of the disease there is a generalised spreading of the parasite and most organs will be colonised (spleen, lymph nodes, bone marrow, liver, pancreas, testicles, lungs, eyes, joints and bones).
As yet, there is no vaccine available and treatment is difficult, costly and rarely results in a complete cure. Prevention is the key. Scalibor collars (Intervet) impregnated with deltamethrin can reduce sand fly bites by as much as 90%. They work by slowly releasing the insecticide into the dog’s skin; they also provide limited protection against fleas and ticks. The collars are available through your vet in the UK, should be worn for two weeks prior to departure and are effective for up to six months – i.e. a complete sand fly season. Adverse reactions to the collars appear to be rare although in one Italian study involving 350 dogs, one started vomiting and another developed a skin reaction. In addition, dogs should be kept inside during the vulnerable hours of darkness and burning coils or plug-in insect repellents can also help. It seems that sand flies are reluctant to fly very high so your dog will be safer living upstairs.
I have spoken to many Spanish dog owners who all know about leishmaniasis – unlike their English counterparts – but I have yet to find one using a collar. However it is important to remember that these Spanish dogs may have developed a level of immunity denied to ours. Certainly “contamination” with leishmaniasis may be more frequent than previously thought but for various reasons, not all contacts lead to an established infection.
One should also be aware that leishmaniasis is a zoonotic disease (i.e. transmissible to humans): the World Health Organisation regards it as a severe public health problem with an estimated global prevalence of 12 million cases and an annual incidence of between 1.5 and 2 million cases a year. Last year a British pensioner died from leishmaniasis after a sand fly bite while on holiday in Tenerife. The disease may also be spread by blood and other secretions and so theoretically could be transmitted dog to dog.
Dirofilariasis (or heartworm)
These are large roundworms that take up residence in the heart and large blood vessels causing heart failure and breathing difficulties. Spread by as many as 30 different species of mosquito, the disease is common in Spain, southern France (although it has been seen as far north as Brittany) and Italy. Areas reporting particularly high levels of infection include Italy (the Po valley is known to be hyper-endemic), Madeira and the Canaries. There is no vaccine and once the worms are in the heart - one dog may have as many as 300 worms - it is a difficult disease to treat. Diagnosis can be made by blood test while clinical symptoms include a soft, dry cough, shortness of breath, weakness, nervousness, listlessness and loss of stamina. Prevention is the answer by staying indoors at night, insect repellents and the use of drugs such as Stronghold as a spot-on treatment or Program Plus (tablets). The drugs should be given a month before departure and continued for a short while after return. It is also well known that Vitamin B1 thiamine, which is present in Marmite, works as a mosquito and sand fly repellent. But before you dollop it over your dog’s food, check first with your vet because this is a very salty spread!
This is a disease of the red blood cells spread by ticks. It occurs in most southern European countries but is particularly widespread in most regions of France and has been seen as far north as Paris and parts of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. There is no vaccine available in the UK and complete cures are rare, possibly because in many cases the onset and death are so rapid – within two to three weeks of exposure to ticks.
Prevention is by the use of a suitable spray, collar or spot-on treatment such as Frontline or Advantix which claims to also offer protection against sandflies and mosquitoes; avoiding rough ground and forests especially where other animals graze, and checking over the coat – especially around the face, chest and front legs – daily and removing any ticks. Fingers or tweezers can be used but there is a danger of leaving some of it behind so a tick remover is recommended. They come in two sizes, for small unengorged ticks as well as the larger ones.
Widespread in Mediterranean countries – the highest prevalence areas include Portugal, Italy and Spain - as well as parts of Germany, Belgium and Holland, this disease is also spread by ticks so the above preventative measures apply. Transmission occurs within one or two days of attachment, affecting the white blood cells. After a fever some dogs recover completely while others develop problems with their immune system and bleeding disorders.
So how great is the risk of these diseases? Or is it just scaremongering?
Between March and August 2003, vets reported six cases of leishmaniasis, five of babesiosis and three of ehrlichiosis. Last year the University of Liverpool’s School of Tropical Medicine diagnosed 37 pet dogs with leishmaniasis – up from 17 the previous year – while cases of babesiosis and ehrlichiosis and heartworm have increased by almost 100 percent. Between April 2002 and July 2003, the University of Bristol’s Acarus Unit diagnosed 44 cases of severe illness in recently travelled dogs.
It is estimated that 300 dogs were known to have caught diseases abroad last year and Dr Barber argues that the risk of disease is a very real threat. Bearing in mind the numbers of dogs travelling under the PETS scheme (over 120,00 dogs and cats between February 2000 and September 2003), this figure may seem relatively small. But the numbers are significant – especially for the distraught owner. And it is likely that these figures represent only the tip of the iceberg; many more cases may be undiagnosed or unreported. Diseases like babesiosis may kill before an accurate diagnosis can be made while leishmaniasis is extremely difficult to diagnose for the following reasons:
1. One study showed that on clinical examination more than 50% of dogs with proven established infections are apparently healthy.
2. When present, clinical signs can be variable and mimic those caused by other diseases.
3. Atypical forms of the disease are being increasingly reported making diagnosis even more of a challenge.
4. Owing to the fact that the incubation period is very long (in one case six years elapsed between entering the UK and developing clinical signs) owners may not realise a connection and therefore neglect to tell the vet the dog has been abroad.
5. Most UK vets are not used to seeing exotic vector-borne diseases in this country.
DEFRA’s Dog and Cat Travel and Risk Information (DACTARI) surveillance scheme relies on vets to send of details of confirmed cases of these diseases but there is no compulsion to do this and no other methods of monitoring these diseases at present.
If, having got this far, you are still determined to take your dog abroad, perhaps you should remember that there is a lengthy list of other bacterial and viral infections which animals contract, to say nothing of deadly chain caterpillars that drop out of pine trees and poisonous snakes and toads!
Still not put off? Then you should consider too the practicalities. Not only is a pet passport exorbitantly expensive, some 5% of animals are refused re-entry into the UK due to non-compliance with PETS. Some of these are due to a failure to comply with the 24-48 hour tick treatment requirement, but the majority are thanks to paper work or microchip irregularities. Research by Biobest Laboratories suggests that large breed dogs are more likely to fail the tests, vaccination is less reliable in dogs under six months old and some dogs do not respond to vaccination at all.
This was not intended to be a horror article but if it has put you off taking your dog for a fortnight’s holiday in a Mediterranean country, good! In my opinion, the risk is simply too great for just a couple of weeks. Instead, put him in kennels, employ a dog sitter, or go on holiday in the UK. But if you are moving abroad permanently or are intending going for extended periods, then you should ensure that you are fully aware of all the potential dangers and that you have taken adequate precautions. In other words, that you are making an informed decision.
You have every right to ask whether I will be practising what I preach. The answer is … no, my flat coated retriever and long haired dachsund will be travelling to Spain but we will be there during the winter months only and even so, they will be collared, wormed, sprayed, rigorously tick-checked and in true aloof English style, forbidden to fraternise with the locals.
Canine Behaviour Centre
We are indebted to the many vets and dog owners who have responded to our survey; also, Dr Jackie Barber of Liverpool University, Jac Bergman of Intervet and numerous authors of research studies into exotic diseases. Although Liverpool University set up the website www.testapet.com
in order to help vets diagnose and treat these exotic diseases, dog owner are also welcome to visit it for more detailed research information as well as useful maps indicating areas with high incidence.