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Dog rescuers potentially ‘importing diseases’ into UK, vets warn

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is urging well-meaning animal lovers to stop importing ‘Trojan’ rescue dogs from abroad as it could increase the risk of “dangerous exotic diseases” in the UK.

BVA is asking prospective owners to protect the domestic dog population by rehoming dogs from within the UK instead.

Some 93 percent of companion animal vets in the country are concerned about the import of rescue dogs from abroad, with threequarters feeling the numbers have increased over the last year, figures from BVA’s latest Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey revealed.

The survey also found that 93 percent of companion animal vets had seen dogs in the last twelve months that had been rescued from abroad.

Stray dogs in some European countries and other parts of the world may have unknown health histories and could harbour undetected and potentially life-threatening exotic diseases not traditionally seen in the UK, such as leishmaniasis, rabies, canine babesiosis and heartworm, without showing any outward clinical symptoms. When imported into the UK, such chronically infected ‘Trojan’, or carrier, dogs risk passing on the infections to susceptible pets and – in the case of some diseases – humans.

The survey, which had 851 respondents including 564 vets, showed that 40 percent of companion animal vets had seen new or rare conditions over the last year that were associated with dog import. The potentially fatal zoonotic disease leishmaniasis was cited as the most common one, mentioned by 27 percent of the vets surveyed. Vets also report seeing cases of other exotic conditions such as ehrlichiosis and heartworm.

Vets working in England and Scotland were most likely to have perceived an increase (76 percent and 77 percent respectively) while those in Wales and Northern Ireland were less likely to feel the numbers had increased (56 percent and 31 percent respectively).

BVA president John Fishwick said: “We are nation of animal lovers, and so the desire to rescue stray, neglected or abused animals from other countries and give them loving homes in the UK is completely understandable. Unfortunately, the hidden consequence of this can be disastrous for the health and welfare of other pets as well as humans here.

“As vets, we are extremely concerned about the risks posed by rescuing dogs with unknown health histories from abroad and, while it may sound harsh, we believe that the wider consequences for the UK dog population must outweigh the benefit to an individual animal being imported.”

He added: “With thousands of dogs needing homes within the UK, I would urge anyone looking to get a pet to adopt from a UK rehoming charity or welfare organisation instead. If you already own a rescue dog from abroad, approach your local vet for advice on testing and treatment for any underlying conditions.”

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