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‘Killer disease’ fear for passport pets

FAMILY PETS taken on holiday abroad with pet passports are returning suffering with “deadly” infectious diseases. Animals at risk of fatal illness from the continent could number “tens of thousands”, as could human beings, according to a report published last week.

The newspaper seems oblivious of the very clear warnings expressed three years ago by the Quarantine Kennel Owners’ Association that British pets could very easily contract diseases and parasites which are prevalent on the Continent and that the majority of British vets will have little or no idea of how to diagnose or treat such conditions.

Drugs used to treat such infections are not licensed in the UK and have to be ordered from Europe, pointing to a significant failure on the part of MAFF, and later DEFRA, to treat the warnings seriously.

Dr Susan Shaw of Bristol University fears that many of the insects that spread the diseases in Europe could soon become established here. Dr Shaw told a recent veterinary conference in Birmingham that at least 17 cases of Tick Fever have been reported in the UK since April 2001, adding that this was “just the tip of the iceberg”.

“Animals in the UK have no immunity against these diseases and a lot of them will die without diagnosis and treatment,” aid Dr Shaw. “To make matters worse, the drugs to treat them are not available here.”

Dr Shaw pointed out that ticks and sandflies were once common only in Southern Europe, However, owing to global warming, they are now established in France, Germany and Belgium.

“We never saw them before the pet passports were introduced but they now have been found in animal transport containers and live ticks have even been discovered on animals that have come through Heathrow,” she said.

Infectious

Between February 2000 and December 2001, 35, 295 dogs and 5,548 cats have entered the UK under the Pets Travel Scheme. Part of the criteria for the animals to be allowed to enter the UK is for them to have been treated against ticks by a vet 24 hours before entering the UK.

The most serious infectious ticks carry babesiosis, which causes red blood cells to rupture and thus prevents oxygen from being carried around the animal’s body. They also carry ehrlichiosis, which causes the immune system to break down.

Another fatal disease is leishmaniasis, which causes skin disease and organ failure and can be contracted by human beings.

Dr Shaw added: “Owners of all travelling dogs and cats should be made aware of the prevention strategies: keeping animals indoors at dawn and dusk and physically checking them for ticks and spraying them every few days - not just the day before they come back home.”

CASE STUDY: When the PETS travel scheme was introduced, Eric and Judith Smith were delighted to be able to take their dogs on walking trips to France with them. Black Labrador Alfred, aged 7 years and Border Collie Lotta, 20 months spend more than two years on the Continent with their owners, having been fully compliant with all requirements of the PETS scheme.

But last September, when the Smiths brought their pets back home, they realised that there was something seriously wrong with Alfred.

“Lotta was fine, but Alfred was very sick the day we got back,” said Mr Smith, 64.

Their vet examined Alfred and found him to be seriously anaemic and diagnosed babesiosis, contracted via tick infestation in France.

Tests conformed the diagnosis and Alfred was successfully treated with Imizol, a drug only licensed for use on cattle in the UK.