Trying to keep imported diseases at bay - Veterinary Practice
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Trying to keep imported diseases at bay

Veterinary Practice continues its coverage of the 2013 London Vet Show with reports on two of the topical presentations

IMPORTED disease should be a
primary consideration for any
practice assessing dogs coming in
from abroad. Transport figures have
hit an all-time high with more than
140,000 dogs entering the UK in
2012. That figure is unlikely to
diminish following the removal of
strict testing regimes that year.

Glasgow’s professor of small
medicine, Ian Ramsey, says this drastic
rise in numbers will expose
more of the UK’s dog
population to disease.
DEFRA’s lighter touch
approach means
leishmaniasis or, in the
worst case scenario, rabies could gain a
foothold in Britain.

Speaking at the London Vet Show,
he talked about the lack of testing and
a reduction in checks at UK ports of
entry. “Owners are shipping their dogs
to all parts of the UK,” said Ian. “The
number of cases has risen if the
balance has not. It is still far and away
leishmaniasis and Ehrlichiosis that are
the main imported diseases, with some
babesiosis and heartworm.”

There are now dogs infected with
the leishmania parasite that have never
left the UK. “These dogs have been in
contact with one that has been
abroad,” he explained. “It has spread
from dog to dog through close
exposure, but most cases are found in
dogs that have visited southern

There is no cure for canine
leishmaniasis and naïve UK dogs
infected by a sandfly bite abroad take two to three months to show clinical
signs and around 18 months to show
medically serious signs. A lifetime
chronic condition, it becomes
progressively more serious with weight
loss, pyrexia, lymphadenopathy,
anaemia and shifting lameness as

DEFRA’s Dog and Cat Travel Risk
Information scheme (DACTARI) was a
reporting scheme for diseases such as leishmaniasis. That has now ceased.
“The government does not worry
about leishmania but it worries about
rabies,” said Ian, and with evident

Rabies is severely infectious to
humans. Without preventive medicine
it is fatal and is transmitted most often
through dog bites. “It can jump to
humans and the real worry is that we
get street dog or fox rabies in the UK.”


The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) was
launched in 2000 to allow quarantined
entry for a limited range of countries
and species.

Prof. Ramsey attended BVA
Council when PETS was initially
discussed: “The feeling at the time was
that it might cover a few thousand
dogs coming into the UK each year.
Animals that were coming in would be
vaccinated and tested to show that they were immune before
they entered the

In 2004 the pet
passport was introduced
to speed up and simplify
travel between EU
member countries and in
2012 the six-month
quarantine system was
removed for imported
animals. The UK
government felt that
vastly improved rabies vaccines and
treatments made the practice

Look at the effects of this speeding
up and the numbers of imported
animals are revealing. In 2000 when
PETS was launched there were around
14,000 – “many more than
anticipated,” said Ian. By 2004 that had
increased to more than 65,000 and in
2008 it was more than 100,000 animals.
In 2012 the figure jumped to 140,000

Despite the best protections,
France has seen regular rabies
outbreaks since 2000. “Don’t think it
cannot happen,” said Ian.

“Animals are
regularly brought in
from north Africa and
presented to the local
vet with disease. Most
recently an infected
kitten was found on
the outskirts of Paris, illegally imported
from Morocco.”

An outbreak in 2008 shows why
the disease is so dangerous. The dog
was initially imported to Belgium from
Gambia and died of rabies across the
border in France. “They worked out
how many people it had come into
contact with and nearly 20 people
needed post-exposure prophylaxis,” he


For rabies to enter the UK it would
inevitably have to be via a smuggled
animal. Local vets are those most likely
to identify any disease and anyone who
suspects rabies should contact their
local divisional office.

“You don’t have to have a strong
suspicion,” said Ian. “Perhaps the owners don’t know
where the dog came
from, they act shifty or
mention a country
where rabies is a

Keep the animal in a
cage and do not refer it.
Do not handle or
euthanase the animal. If
somebody is bitten, then
aggressive first aid is the
best defence. Wash the wound immediately using a strong soap
solution or 45% ethanol. If the dog
has punctured the skin, then take a
20ml syringe, blast wash the wound
and then seek medical advice.

No flashing lights

“The divisional veterinary office
doesn’t arrive with blue flashing lights,”
said Ian. “They have a checklist and
99% of the time there is no problem.
Usually you are free to carry on as
normal and cases are resolved quickly.
Don’t be the vet who ignored the

Prevention will always be the best
protection even if it is imperfect. Any animals taken abroad
must have rabies
vaccination, but for
more stealthy infections
like leishmania, owner
education is essential.
“They should not walk their dog on the beach or in the woods
at dawn or dusk when the sandfly that
transmits the parasite is active,” he said.

Using insect repellents reduces
exposure to the parasite and any
subsequent dose the dogs might get
from sandfly bites.

Treatment for leishmaniasis is
painful and expensive. Injection of an
antimonate compound plus
administration of the drug allopurinol
are most effective, but there are
adverse reactions and most dogs
relapse at some point.

A vaccine is available and is worth
obtaining well in advance as it currently
needs three doses, weeks apart. “It
reduces the numbers of dogs that
become infected and the parasite load
in any dogs that do become infected,”
said Professor Ramsey.

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