U.K. pet travel regulations eliminate quarantine

Change effective Jan. 1

September 7, 2011 (published)
By Phyllis DeGioia

Traveling to and from the United Kingdom with dogs, cats or ferrets likely will become easier and less expensive starting Jan. 1.

The U.K. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is changing its Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), which includes a six-month quarantine, to match rabies regulations used by the rest of the European Union (EU) and to reflect the latest science, according to a government statement

Under the new rules, pets from EU member states and selected countries outside the EU still must be microchipped and vaccinated against rabies. However, they no longer will be required to undergo a post-vaccination blood test, and they may enter the U.K. after a wait of 21 days rather than six months.

Pets coming from non-EU countries that are not otherwise listed in EU regulations also are exempt from a six-month quarantine, although their entry requirements are more rigorous. In addition to being microchipped and vaccinated against rabies, these animals will need blood tests to ensure that their rabies immunizations are effective, and they must wait three months for admission.

Another key change is a new requirement that all incoming pets be treated by a veterinarian for tapeworm within five days of arrival. An existing rule that pets be treated for ticks will be eliminated.

A six-month quarantine for pets entering the U.K. has been required since the 1800s to help keep the island free of rabies. Officials say this latest revision to PETS is justifiable because rabies vaccines and treatments have significantly improved. PETS is under the jurisdiction of Defra, which covers animal health and welfare.

The changes could save U.K. travelers approximately £7 million (almost $10 million) in annual fees, Defra estimates.

Harvey Locke, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), expressed support for the changes. In a press release, he stated: “It is vital that any controls on animal movements are proportionate to the risk. Due to the highly successful vaccination programme in wildlife in mainland Europe there has been a huge reduction in the incidence in rabies. Research carried out by Defra reveals that the risk of introducing rabies under the new rules is very low.”  

Others have responded to the changes with caution, noting that easing pet travel rules may introduce to the British Isles diseases other than rabies. Sally Everitt, scientific policy officer for BSAVA, said that since the introduction of PETS, a number of diseases and parasites previously not found in the U.K. have been recognized in traveled pets. The tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis is one example.

“It is a concern that increased travel of pets outside the U.K. as a result of relaxation of the regulations will result in a further increase in these diseases,” Everitt said by email to the VIN News Service. “It is therefore important that veterinary surgeons in the U.K. are aware of these diseases, including clinical signs, diagnosis and treatment. Veterinary surgeons should also be prepared to discuss preventive measures with pet owners before they travel.”

Other veterinarians agree that exercising caution is wise, including Ed Hall, professor of small animal medicine at Bristol Veterinary School and a consultant for Acarus Laboratory, which offers polymerase chain reaction testing for arthropod-borne pathogens.

“The major concern has been the same from the inception of the travel scheme, i.e., it encourages unnecessary travel by pets and puts them at risk of catching 'exotic diseases' such as leishmaniosis and babesiosis, which are not endemic in the U.K.,” Hall explained in an email to the VIN News Service. “This represents both a diagnostic challenge to vets unfamiliar with these infections and a welfare concern for infected animals. Furthermore, if climate change allows the arthropod vectors to become established in the U.K., these diseases could become endemic.

"The good news is that tapeworm treatment has been (adopted in the new regulations) as the risk of the importation of the zoonotic Echinococcus multilocularis was of serious concern,” he added.

In areas of Europe in which E. multilocularis is endemic, the red fox is the definitive host and small rodents such as rats, mice and voles act as intermediate hosts, according to Everitt. The BSAVA recommends that owners traveling with dogs should make sure their pets avoid eating rodents and that dogs be dewormed on a monthly basis.

Authorities seem unconcerned about rabies or other diseases entering the U.K. via wildlife, notably foxes, or rodents that come through in cargo transported via ships or planes or on the Channel Tunnel, an undersea rail that links England to northern France. A system designed to prevent wild animals from entering the U.K. is in place, officials said.

“Only rare cases of rodent rabies have been recorded, so rats, mice and similar animals are not considered rabies reservoirs, and the use of sealed trains, physical barriers and grids and the continuous use of baited traps in the tunnel make this an unlikely route of entry,” Everitt said. “Under the European regulations the movement of pet rabbits and rodents to the U.K. from other EU members is not subject to any entry requirements with regard to rabies. However, cases of bats infected with one of the two European bat Lyssavirus (EBL) subtypes, EBL2, have been confirmed in the U.K. as recently as 2002.

"One of these cases resulted in the unfortunate death of a bat worker in Scotland in November 2002," Everitt continued. "BSAVA therefore considers that although the risk of rabies being introduced by wildlife is very low, continued vigilance is necessary although these risks have not been altered by the change in regulations.”

Foxes are the main rabies carrier in Europe, according to Hall, but he’s not concerned with wildlife in the Channel Tunnel, either. 

“…With rabies no longer being present in northern France, the risk is hypothetical,” he said.

Pet entry requirements under the amended rules vary depending on where a pet originates. Countries of origin are categorized as “listed” or “unlisted.” Whether a country is listed or unlisted depends on the perceived risk for diseases that could be brought into the U.K. Listed countries are those that are not believed to present a higher risk of introducing disease compared with travelers within the EU. Quarantine still will be necessary for pets that fail entry checks. Historically, most failures are based on inappropriate tick and tapeworm treatment. 

Defra regulations stipulate that owners seeking to enter the U.K. can travel with up to five pets unless they are taking part in a competition, show or sporting event. Those animals need a specific health certificate from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, which will be issued to a veterinarian. The health certificate must be completed within 10 days of the departure date. This certificate alone is insufficient for entry; each pet also must have a valid pet passport.

Pets from a listed country or territory must enter the U.K. via a commercial transport company that uses an authorized route. Pets may not be brought in from a private plane or boat. Some transport companies may not be willing to carry ferrets. Travelers are advised to check with carriers before booking reservations.

In a prepared statement, BVA’s Locke added that “… it is essential that pet owners get good veterinary advice when planning to take their animals abroad because pets can be exposed to a number of diseases not currently endemic in the U.K., for example leishmaniasis, babesiosis and ehrlichiosis.” 

The BSAVA offers a graphic outlining the new regulations that can be posted in clinics. 

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