Fears animal-born disease will spread as quarantine laws are relaxed to fit EU guidelines

Mary Mcconnell

Last updated at 3:14 PM on 31st December 2011

Animal welfare groups fear rabies could return to Britain following moves to ease quarantine regulations from tomorrow.

Currently, dogs, cats and ferrets from overseas must be tested and vaccinated against rabies and quarantined for six months, before they are allowed to enter the UK.

However, the laws are due to be aligned with regulations across Europe.

Deadly: Rabies can be passed from dogs to humans and is fatal without treatment

Deadly: Rabies can be passed from dogs to humans and is fatal without treatment

Pets from the EU and listed non-EU countries such as the US and Australia will no longer need a blood test and will only have to wait three weeks before they travel.

While those from countries such as India, Brazil and South Africa, will be able to enter Britain if they meet strict criteria to ensure they are protected against rabies – including a blood test and a three-month wait.

Rules requiring animals to be treated for ticks and tapeworm before entering the UK will also be relaxed.

Animal welfare minister Lord Taylor said: ‘Science has made tremendous advances since quarantine was introduced in the 1800s.

‘We now have vastly improved vaccines and treatments but have not updated our old-fashioned systems to reflect this, which places an unnecessary burden on pet owners who need to take their animals abroad.

‘It is about time we made changes that allow pet owners to travel abroad more easily and cheaply whilst still maintaining our high level of protection against animal diseases.’

Bringing the UK’s Pet Travel Scheme into line with the rest of the European Union couldsave pet owners £7 million in fees.

However, some charities are concerned about the way the move is being handled.

John Wannop, a vet for the Dogs Trust charity, told the BBC: ‘We tend to centre on rabies as the main entity, which of course it is, because it’s a horrible disease both in animals and in man.

‘But there are other diseases that Britain is free of that of course are endemic in the various countries from which dogs can travel.

‘And that six-month quarantine interval at least gives time for these diseases to at least become apparent.’

Phil Robinson, one of the vets at Battersea Dogs Cats Home, welcomed the loosening of restrictions, but called on the Government to introduce a national dog registration scheme with compulsory microchipping.

‘Battersea aims to take in any dog or cat which needs our help, regardless of their background or medical condition,’ he said.

‘However, we need the Government to make sure organisations such as Battersea, that are on the frontline of animal welfare, can have the measures in place to deal with what these new regulations could mean.

‘More than half the animals coming into our care are strays, so there needs to be a way of finding out their history and accessing information if an animal with a foreign microchip comes through our doors.’

Britain is one of the few countries in the world to have been declared rabies-free. The virus, which can cause partial paralysis, hydrophobia – fear of water – and paranoia leading to delirium, is usually passed to humans via a bite from a rabid animal.

The last known UK case of human rabies was in 2002 which a conservationist was bitten by a rabid bat. There has not been a case of rabies passing from a dog to a human for at least 100 years.

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