With the summer now upon us, it is important that pet owners are prepared for the parasitic challenges that await them and their pets over the next few months. Our special ‘summer series’ of articles, written by ESCCAP parasitology experts, is specially aimed at highlighting parasitic situations of particular concern over the summer season.

The three articles will recap on the key information about each situation and illustrate how practice staff can give effective advice and assistance to pets and owners to address the challenges that are encountered over this time.

Year after year, many pet owners are unprepared for the consequences of choosing to take their pet abroad with them on their summer holidays.

Firstly, the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) puts in place a set of mandatory requirements, to which pet owners must adhere in order to take their pets in and out of the UK.

Secondly, throughout continental Europe there are a number of dangerous parasitic diseases, not presently endemic in the UK, which can have serious health implications for both humans and animals if adequate safety precautions are not taken.

Pet Travel Scheme

The Pet Travel Scheme is a regulatory scheme, introduced by DEFRA in February 2000, to enable companion animals to travel freely between countries without undergoing a period of quarantine.

Previously, the control methods to prevent the spread of rabies required all animals entering the UK to serve six months in quarantine, during which time all animals would undergo tapeworm and tick treatment. With the reduction of rabies in Europe and the development of vaccines, the need for quarantine to prevent the introduction of rabies into the UK was non-essential.

Alternative measures were then required in order to protect the UK from the dangerous exotic diseases found abroad, which were considered to pose a significant risk to public health. PETS, therefore, introduces a number of conditions which pet owners must meet before their pet can enter, or re-enter, the UK from abroad.

One of the key requirements is for all dogs, cats and ferrets to be treated against ticks and tapeworms before entering the UK and further information about the rules and regulations can be found on the DEFRA website at www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife- pets/pets/travel/index.html

 While the PETS mandatory requirements address preventing the entry of a number of the exotic diseases found abroad, they do not take into account the various dangerous parasitic diseases that pets may contract when travelling, some of which can cause illness whilst abroad and/or may be introduced back into the UK despite the mandatory pre-entry treatment.

Therefore, veterinary practices should encourage pet owners wishing to take their pet abroad to discuss with them the risks specific to their pets and the areas in which they are looking to travel in. The following is a brief outline of the key parasitic diseases that pet owners should consider when thinking about taking their pet abroad in Europe.

Echinococcus multilocularis ('dangerous tapeworm’)

Echinococcus multilocularis, also known as the ‘dangerous tapeworm, is a potentially lethal zoonotic disease. It is endemic across much of mainland Europe, especially France, Germany and Switzerland. Foxes are the definitive host for E. multilocularis, although the disease also commonly infects dogs. Cats can be infected with E. multilocularis but are known to be poor hosts and consequently the risk of serious infection in cats is minimal. The definitive hosts are infected by ingesting infected rodents.

Preventing the introduction of E. multilocularis to the UK is covered by the PETS tapeworm treatment. However, dogs in particular, that are staying within the endemic area for more than four weeks and that have access to rodents, should be treated monthly with an effective cestocide, normally containing praziquantel.

Dirofilaria immitis (heartworm)

Dirofilaria immitis is a roundworm, or nematode, found in many areas of southern Europe (Figure 1). Its definitive host is the dog and the infection is transmitted by mosquito bites. D. immitis is also known to affect other canids, cats, ferrets and, on rare occasions, humans. Within atypical hosts, however, disease is likely to remain less serious with little chance of adult worms fully establishing.

Figure 1: Distribution of Dirofilaria immitis across Southern Europe

Prevention of D. immitis is not covered by PETS and so veterinary practices should ensure pet owners are aware of the precautions they can take to protect their pets. Heartworm preventive therapies should be taken as per data sheet recommendations throughout the period of residence in the heartworm area, during the heartworm season.

In addition, repellents should be used to dissuade mosquito bites and care should be taken to avoid areas heavily infested with biting insects, though these measures should not be relied upon.


Leishmaniasis is a zoonotic disease affecting mammals – most commonly dogs – and is transmitted by sandfly bites. It is predominantly endemic within southern Europe and there is no vaccine. Prevention of leishmaniasis is not covered by PETS, so veterinary practices should ensure pet owners are fully informed. Repellents should be used to deter sandfly bites and animals should preferably be kept indoors before dusk until after dawn to keep exposure to a minimum.

Pet owners should also be encouraged to consult their veterinary practices if leishmaniasis symptoms appear in their pet, no matter how long after returning from an infected country.

Ticks (Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis)

Ticks are a threat to animal (and human) health because of the pathogens they can pass on to their host (Figure 2). Climate change and travel are causing change to the endemic areas and seasonality. There is, therefore, an increasing risk of exotic ticks being introduced into the UK and consequently their associated vector borne diseases (VBDs), such as babesiosis and ehrlichiosis.

Figure 2: Tick larva

Veterinary practices should encourage pet owners to use suitable repellents or acaricides throughout their stay in areas where ticks may occur, to regularly examine themselves and their pets for ticks, and to remove any that are found. By means of the mandatory tick treatment PETS aims to minimise the risk of importing ticks into the UK.


In order to assist veterinary professionals and pet owners with protecting pets while abroad, ESCCAP UK has developed a number of key informative resources. An interactive ‘Infected Area Map’ on its pet owners’ website, www.petparasites.co.uk, can be consulted to identify the endemic areas of certain parasites within Europe.

ESCCAP UK also provides a ‘Travelling Pets’ leaflet which is designed to inform pet owners about the parasitic risks introduced when taking pets abroad, and advises how best to protect their pets and their family. For this leaflet, or any of the other free resources offered by ESCCAP UK,
please visit our website at www.esccapuk.org.uk and view our ‘downloads’ page.

There are also a number of useful links on both websites and general information and advice about the control and prevention of companion animal parasites. If you have any queries, contact info@esccapuk.org.uk.

In the August issue of the VNJ, we shall consider pets that only accompany us on journeys in the UK but who are still at risk of contracting dangerous parasitic diseases – a day trip to France still requires pet owners to comply with the PETS.


Laura Yeadon BA(Hons)

Laura Yeadon graduated from the University of Worcester in 2009 with a BA Joint Honours in Media and Cultural Studies with Sociology. Whilst studying for her degree, she began working part time as an administrator for a parasitology consultancy in Malvern, assisting with the development of Expert Reports and Guidelines in Parasitology. Laura is currently ESCCAP UK Manager and runs the organisation’s Secretariat.

• VOL 25 • No7 • July 2010 • Veterinary Nursing Journal