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Protecting travelling pets from disease

Appearing in the Daily Mail recently was an article regarding travelling pets returning to the United Kingdom infected with lethal diseases that could transmit to humans. I wrote in article 77 in February 2004 called “No Warning Notices Given” because very few UK vets know anything about foreign animal diseases. All owners were aware of was Rabies but very few UK vets told them how they could fully protect their pets from other diseases.

The article goes on to say there are no medicines currently available to cure pets. It then suggested euthanasia would be advisable for any dog with Leishmaniasis if there were children or elderly people in the house. All of this is nonsense and comes from ignorance of the truth.

No disease in pets can normally infect humans. In addition, it is possibly to protect pets from contracting many diseases but also if they do, they are most are treatable.

In the last few years, United Kingdom vets began recognising symptoms of deadly diseases in pets having a history of travelling abroad. As humans, we expect our Health service to ensure that wherever we go in the world we are properly immunised. Sadly, for our pets this is not the case. We find many pet owners blissfully unaware until there dog contract some disease only to find that it was preventable. To learn this is annoying to say the least.

Currently the pet passport scheme only covers the legally required vaccination against Rabies leaving owners uninformed of other possibly lethal diseases that our pets can contract whilst they are abroad.

It is only now that the United Kingdom Veterinarians are worried that pets returning to England with such lethal zoonotic diseases that may infect humans and in particularly children or the elderly. There is one major problem to this view is that currently there is no record of the mosquitoes that transmits such diseases actually existing in the country.

There is however, a human version called Leishmaniasis Infantum but in fact it is restricted to infants and immunosuppressed individuals but for a child or adults to contract this disease from a dog is a rarity in Europe. Nor is it as destructive a disease in humans as it is the canine version in dogs nor is there any evidence of pets infecting humans.

The regular information box on this page is there precisely to warn pet owners about such diseases and that they are not as fatal or dangerous as the Daily Mails article purported them to be. There is certainly no need to have a dog that tests positive put to sleep simply because there is a child or an elderly person in the house. It is important that all pet owners are aware of the truth.

There are many dogs having a slightly positive test that do not show any symptoms and live normal lives. Here in Spain, we have Pam and Trish who regularly receive telephone calls from worried dog owners having pets recently diagnosed with Leishmaniasis and they inform and allay owners of their understandable fears.

Most English veterinarians have never seen the symptoms before and on occasions; they were failing to diagnose pets correctly because such diseases were a rarity. Now with pets travelling round the world, this is changing.

Spanish vets have purposely requested me to warn pet owners travelling abroad with their pets to ask their own vets what are the problems for each country they are to visit.

The problem is that owners returning to the United Kingdom tell me that their local vets had no idea about the sort of protection needed for each country. An added problem is few vets have any knowledge of either the symptoms or the treatment required. This must change and most of all information must be available in how best to protect travelling pets.

I brought my cats to Spain unaware of Feline Leukaemia (feline aids) yet within a few months living here both of them contracted the disease by contact with roaming cats in our area. I also adopted a Shelter dog for my behaviourism work here and then I leaned about Leishmaniasis (CanL). The more I questioned the Spanish vets the more I learned of other diseases like Heart Worm (Dirofilaria immitis), Tick Fever Ehrlichia canis, and canine babesiosis

All these diseases can be lethal but they are all preventable. Even if you have a pet unfortunate enough to contract any of these then they are all treatable if diagnosed in the early stages.

In addition, we have Processionary caterpillars that can cause a major reaction for dogs, cats, and humans. Like so many problems if you know about them, you can keep away from them. Forewarned is forearmed.

Contracting Leishmaniasis (Can L) is from the bite of a Sand Fly. The name is not that it lives on the beach only that it is sandy coloured. This is a type of two-winged mosquito active between May to September. It transmits the disease from an already infected dog to another one. Because it is not a good flyer, mostly prevalent in the evening times, it rarely ventures into property. This makes dogs sleeping outdoors more at risk.

Other Mosquitoes also transfer the Heartworm whilst ticks transmit tick fever. For cats, feline leukaemia is simple contracted by contact with an infected cat. Again, English vets are not telling owners about feline leukaemia. This too is prevalent here in Spain but again it is preventable by vaccination. I was certainly annoyed when I learned this from our Spanish vet.

The obvious question is how countries like Spain cope with such diseases. Firstly, prevention is better than cure. There exists for dogs and manufactured by Intervet the Scalibor white collar that contains Deltamethrin. This chemical takes at least one to two weeks to cover a dog’s body completely and then it has a 96% rate of stopping the sand fly from feeding.

Two alternatives are ExSpot drops placed on the back of the neck as well as a new product called Advantix (Bayer). It is though more expensive but it is suppose to be better than Scalibor. These three are excellent protection against mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas but they need placing on your pet at least two weeks before travelling. Owners often believe that the popular Frontline will suffice: it will not.

In Spain, these diseases are easy to prevent and are treatable if diagnosed early providing pets have regular blood tests. There are many choices in medicines as well as various treatments available that cure or control all these diseases and they work.

Owners returning home with their pets should request regular blood tests every six months. This is something unheard of in the United Kingdom, but something that travelling pets urgently need. They also need to learn how Spanish vets can successfully treat infected pets. We need to see cooperation and the sharing of information between Vets worldwide.

United Kingdom vets must be much more aware than the requirements of the Pets Passport so they can better inform pet owners who intend to travel.

For the sake of our pets, let’s be careful out there.

For more information about Leishmaniasis etc and feline leukaemia, please visit the following sites.


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