Easing of Pet Travel Restrictions Means More Dogs At Risk Of Rabies Entering Europe

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Siv Klevar, DVM,PhD.
Norwegian Veterinary Institute
Department of Diagnostics
Section of Immunology

Medical Research: What is the background for this study?

Dr. Klevar:  Border control veterinary officers reported a surge in the number of imported dogs after the pet travel regulations were relaxed in 2012. At the same time rescue groups, through social media advertisement, encouraged and facilitated the adoption of dogs from shelters in Eastern Europe. The removal of the requirement regarding individual serological testing for antibodies to rabies before importing pets into UK, Ireland, Sweden, Malta and Norway, made it much easier to import pets into these countries. Previously import required several months of preparation and additional costs whereas under the new regulations it could be done after a single vaccination and a 3 week wait. The Norwegian Food Authority initiated a project to look at exotic pathogens in these re-homed dogs. This study reports the rabies antibody levels detected in some of the rehomed stray dogs entering Norway during 2012. The Norwegian Veterinary Institute and National Veterinary Institute in Sweden carried out the study.

Medical Research: What are the main findings?

Dr. Klevar: Our results showed that a high proportion of stray dogs, compared to a control group of pet dogs from Sweden, didn’t have sufficient protection against rabies virus after vaccination. Although we do not know exactly why this was the case, the exceedingly low levels of antibodies detected in some of the stray animals would suggest that they were not properly vaccinated, even though all the paperwork showed they were fully compliant with Pet Travel Regulations.

The main issue highlighted by this study is that the current regulations are not sufficient to prevent rabies introduction when importing rescue dogs from countries where the virus is present to countries free from the disease. The reason for this is that the current regulations do not require a check to see if the pet has been properly vaccinated (by testing the animal’s blood for antibodies). In addition to this, the 21 day waiting period after vaccination isn’t long enough for rabies to develop if the dog had been infected prior to vaccination.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Klevar: The change in Pet Travel regulation has resulted in an increased risk for rabies introduction although the overall risk level is still low. Clinicians, in European countries that are free from rabies, need to be aware of this when dealing with dog bite patients. This is particularly relevant if the dog in question has been recently (within the last 6 months) imported from a rabies-endemic country and was free-roaming prior to import even if its rabies vaccinations are up to date.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Klevar: We propose that further research focuses on regulation compliance in other EU countries specifically with regard to vulnerable dog populations such as strays and shelter dogs. The lack of antibody response in so many rehomed individuals warrants further investigation and we continue to advise owners of imported rehomed stray dogs to visit their veterinary surgeon for a full health check including measurement of rabies antibody level after entering the country.


Cross-border transport of rescue dogs may spread rabies in Europe

  1. Klevar, H. R. Høgåsen, R. K. Davidson, I. S. Hamnes, L. Treiberg Berndtsson, A. Lund

Veterinary Record 2015;176:26 672 Published Online First: 25 June 2015 doi:10.1136/vr.102909


[wysija_form id=”3″]


Siv Klevar, DVM,PhD., & Norwegian Veterinary Institute (2015). Easing of Pet Travel Restrictions Means More Dogs At Risk Of Rabies Entering Europe 

Last Updated on June 26, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD