In a flurry of news reporting, we were again assailed with a series of apocalyptic warnings about the terrors of a no-deal Brexit last week - the complications of taking your dog abroad! The need for blood tests and health certification! The extra complications and timescales! But surely this is all just scaremongering isn’t it?
Well, no - it really isn’t. In this blog, we’re going to explain what the problems are, and how you can make sure that you’ll still be able to travel with your pets to EU member countries next spring - deal or no deal.
If the UK government can’t come to a Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, after 28th March 2019 the UK becomes an “unlisted third country” in terms of animal exports and imports… and legally speaking, this includes dogs and cats. At the moment, movements from the UK to, say, Spain, France or Eire are pretty frictionless, as we’re all part of the EU. The only regulations are there to protect us from importing rabid animals, or dogs carrying certain unpleasant tapeworms found in Central and Eastern Europe (Echinococcus multilocularis). All that would change on 29th March, at which point all the standard external regulations would apply to any animal that is a potential rabies vector - dogs, cats and ferrets (other regulations apply to other pet and livestock species).
The key point about these additional regulations is that they are much, much stricter than the existing Pet Passport scheme. So, not only will your pet need to be vaccinated against rabies (as they are now, by one of our Official Vets), but they will need documentation to prove that the vaccination has not only been given, but as been effective and resulted in a strong immune response. This is achieved by taking a blood sample, no less than 30 days after the vaccination. If the blood test reveals a high titre (level) of anti-rabies antibodies in the blood (over 0.5IU/ml), then the animal “passes” the test. If not, then they must be revaccinated, and tested again after another 30 days, and so on until eventually their immune system cottons on to what it’s supposed to do and mounts a full response.
However, even if they “pass” the blood test successfully, and have that entered in their Passport by an Official Vet, it isn’t a simple case of just packing your bags and booking onto the ferry. There is then 3 month waiting period before you can enter the EU, even after the blood test - this is a bare minimum, then, of 4 months since the vaccination. At that point, you can book your ticket - but your pet will be refused entry on the EU side without one additional piece of paperwork. This is a Health Certificate, again issued by one of our Official Vets, some time in the 10 days before you travelled. This proves that your pet is fit to travel - that they had no signs of infectious disease, or any issue that would be a welfare problem in transit.
Therefore, if you are planning to travel on 29th March, you musthave your blood tests done and certified by 29th December- and if you need to booster or revaccinate, that has to be complete by 28th November! If not, and we do end up with a no-deal scenario, expect to be turned away at customs on the EU side.
That said, there are advantages - for one thing, studies suggest that as many as 10% of dogs do not mount an effective immune response after a single rabies vaccine, so this new protocol will at least set your mind at rest as to whether your best friend really is protected against the disease. It will also make it harder for people to accidentally bring a rabid dog back into the UK. And, although it’s more paperwork to get a Health Certificate, it may turn out to be a good check on animal welfare. Finally, the good news is that you only need the blood test once - once it’s shown that your pet has mounted a good immune response, as long as their vaccines don’t lapse then you shouldn’t need another one.