ABSTRACT: As the UK Government comes under increased pressure from the EU to conform to continental European travel regulations, relaxation of many aspects of the PET travel scheme – protecting the British Isles from diseases that we are currently free from – is inevitable. Changes will come into effect in the UK on the 1st January 2012 which will affect rabies and tick control. This article summarises the changes and discusses the potential risk of increased disease transmission into the UK, as well as summarising the importance of maintaining regulations for tapeworm prophylaxis.

The UK Government is under increased pressure from the EU to conform to continental European travel regulations and to relax aspects of the PET travel scheme that protects the British Isles from a number of diseases. These changes become reality for the UK in January 2012. This article summarises the changes and the potential risk of increased disease transmission.


Wildlife reservoirs of rabies remain in almost all countries around the world with a few exceptions. Bats carry and transmit rabies in many of these affected countries (including the UK) but over 90 per cent of human infections are transmitted by canids.

Currently the UK is free of canine rabies and this status has been maintained initially by the six-month quarantine regulations, and then from the year 2000 by the PET passport scheme which has proved as effective as quarantine in keeping the UK rabies free. This is despite the UK now having an urban and rural fox population which could act as a reservoir of infection.

The rules in January 2012 however will be significantly relaxed and the changes can be summarised as follows:

• Dogs and cats entering the UK from an EU member state or a non-EU country listed in the EU regulations

These pets are still required to be microchipped, and to be vaccinated against rabies. However, the need for a post-vaccination blood test to check for an adequate serological response will no longer be required. The current six- month wait before return to the UK after vaccination will be reduced to 21 days.

. Dogs and cats entering the UK from a non-EU country not listed in the EU regulations

These pets will now be allowed to enter the UK through approved routes without entering a six-month period of quarantine. They will need to be microchipped, vaccinated against rabies, blood sampled at least 30 days after vaccination to confirm an adequate serological response and must then wait a further three months before entry into the UK.

These changes represent a significant improvement in terms of convenience of travel, expense and suffering caused by the separation of quarantine but many – including members of the veterinary profession – will also be concerned that some (or all) of these changes will increase the risk of the reintroduction of canine rabies into the UK.

• Removal of compulsory blood testing for EU/listed countries

This is unlikely to increase the risk significantly. A high percentage of dogs and cats tested already pass rabies antibody serology and it is likely that the minority that fail are still protected against the disease. The timing of the blood test at 28 to 30 days post vaccination is partially because antibody titres fall again after this period, but protection against rabies is still maintained.

• Reduction in time before return to UK for EU/listed countries

The current six-month rule is based on the incubation period of rabies, but has little basis in scientific evidence. While many cases would manifest clinically in six months, it can take up to two years for signs to appear. The new 21-day time period is to allow the vaccine to take effect rather than for contracted disease to manifest. While there is more evidence in the literature for this new strategy, it is unprecedented, and it is impossible to currently assess what its long-term impact will be.

• The abolition of quarantine for non EU/non listed countries

These changes will pose no significant risk if the criteria previously listed are adhered to as very similar criteria have been applied to EU/listed countries for the past 11 years, without rabies being reintroduced into the UK. The Government must still decide who will run and pay for the quarantine facilities that will be required for the animals that continue to come into the UK from countries that do not meet the regulations.

In summary, the only change that may represent a risk is the reduction in waiting time before entry into the UK and, although this risk is probably low, it will only be quantifiable retrospectively. Veterinary nurses should ensure that they are familiar with the changes and, in particular, should seek to allay client fears and advise that blood testing is a voluntary option, if desired

Tick borne diseases

Under the PET travel scheme, dogs and are required to be treated for ticks between 24 and 48 hours before returning to the UK. This is primarily to prevent the following ticks and the diseases they carry from being introduced to the UK and subsequently becoming endemic:

   Rhipicephalus sanguineus – transmitting Ehrlichia canis, Anaptasma platys, Rickettsia canorii and Babesia canis 

•   Dermacentor spp. – transmitting Babesia canis.

In January, this compulsory treatment will be abolished. Currently no tick treatment has 100 per cent efficacy, so the current rules were unlikely to be sufficient to prevent the entry of these ticks into the UK without other safeguards; and endemic foci of Dermacentor spp. already exist in the south of the country.

The abolition of these rules is likely to increase the number of foreign ticks entering the country and as a result the following safeguards become vital!

   Advising monthly tick prophylaxis while abroad

The use of a tick treatment that also repels ticks in dogs such as permethrin (Advantix, Bayer) or deltamethrin (Scalibor, Intervet/Schering-Plough) will significantly reduce the transmission of tick borne disease while abroad.

These are POM-V products and so cannot be prescribed by a Suitably Qualified Person (SQP). These products are toxic to cats but use of a fipronil-based product in cats will still reduce tick numbers and disease transmission as a result.

•  Advising clients check themselves and their pets for ticks every 24 hours

Removal of ticks (with their mouth parts), within 24 hours, prevents transmission of most tick borne diseases. It is important that veterinary practices give this advice to clients, whilst local authorities also endeavour to disseminate information to walkers in the UK regarding Lymes disease (Figure 1),  which can be transmitted at any time of year that ticks are active.

Figure 1: Council tick warning for walkers

•   Reporting exotic ticks found on cats and dogs in the UK

All exotic ticks should be reported so that possible endemic foci can be mapped and monitored. Veterinary nurses should become familiar with the characteristics of these ticks, in order to advise clients or to make a preliminary identification of specimens if brought into the practice. R. sanguineus has festoons and eyes but an in-ornate scutum. Dermacentor spp. have festoo
ns and a decorated scutum (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Dermacentor spp. adult. Image courtesy of Bayer Animal Health


The current requirement for tapeworm prophylaxis in dogs is the use of praziquantal 24 to 48 hours before entry into the UK primarily to prevent Echinococcus multilocularis from becoming endemic. Foxes would rapidly act as a reservoir of infection as they have across mainland Europe. As a result, if E. multilocularis became endemic it would very difficult to eradicate.

It is also difficult to diagnose in dogs, other than at post mortem. Therefore, its presence would make monthly tapeworm prophylaxis with praziquantal in all dogs essential to prevent serious disease in UK dog owners. In reality, the take-up of this practice among the dog-owning public would be likely to be considerably less than 100 per cent.

Finally, it is a crippling zoonosis leading to cysts which behave in a similar manner to malignant neoplasia, with local destruction of tissue and metastases. As most cysts develop primarily within the liver, hepatopathies with subsequent liver failure most commonly occur.

Owners should be advised to administer monthly tapeworm prophylaxis to their dogs during their time abroad to minimise zoonotic risk. Some praziquantal products may be prescribed by SPQs and this may be a consideration when deciding which product to recommend if the pet has not been clinically examined recently.

The European Commission agreed, on 14 July 2011, that dogs entering the UK (as well as Finland, Ireland and Malta) must be treated against tapeworm by a veterinary surgeon, one to five days before entry into the country. It seems likely that this agreement will be ratified by the European Parliament and Council by the end of 2011, but will be reviewed again in the future.

These recommendations and other changes to the scheme do not require a change to domestic worming practice advice, but nurses should be aware of the increased need to promote tick and tapeworm prophylaxis in pets travelling abroad and to be well informed in relation to changes to PETS. 



After completing a Masters Degree in Veterinary Parasitology at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in 1997, Ian went on to qualify as a veterinary surgeon from Glasgow in 2002. Since then, he has continued research in parasitology while practising companion animal medicine and gives lectures and short talks to vets and vet nurses on a variety of parasite-related topics.

To cite this article use either

DOI: 10.1111/j.2045-0648.2011.00122.x or Veterinary Nursing Journal Vol 26 pp 438-440

Veterinary Nursing Journal• VOL 26 • December 2011 •