Brexit: surge in pets tested for rabies immunity as owners prepare for no deal

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Record numbers of pets are being blood tested for immunity to rabies so they can travel to the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit, figures show.

“Biobest, the UK’s biggest tester of rabies antibody at their laboratories at The Edinburgh Technopole, near Penicuik in Scotland, has handled a surge in demand for tests over the last two years,” a statement reads.

“During 2019 and 2020, Biobest has tested samples from 59,706 cats and dogs that have undergone rabies vaccinations – more than double the total of 24,608 they tested in the whole of the previous two years.”

There was a previous spike in the number of tests being carried out in early 2019 after the Government lost three votes on the Brexit deal in Parliament, shortly after Defra issued advice on pet travel in November 2018. In March 2019, 6,249 samples were tested – nearly six times higher than March 2018.

The increase is almost certainly due to the possibility of a ‘hard’ Brexit, in which the UK would leave the EU without a deal, causing uncertainty over the future rules for travelling to Europe with one’s pets. If the UK is listed as a third country, pet owners would need to prove their animals are effectively vaccinated against rabies.

Biobest director Paul Burr said, “The surge in numbers started after Defra issued advice on the Pet Travel Scheme in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Pet owners have been preparing for two years in case of a no-deal as it is unclear what rules Europe will impose on the UK. We have to assume that the UK will be a third country so a blood test after the vaccination will be required.”

Indie, an eight-year-old chocolate Labrador, is among the dogs who received both a rabies vaccination and a blood test for antibodies. Owners Shirley and Alan Firth plan to take their pet with them on holiday in southern France, where they are considering relocating permanently.

Blood tests for rabies immunity go up as UK prepares for no-deal Brexit
Indie with owners Alan and Shirley Firth.

Mrs Firth said, “Deciding if we are going to have a holiday home in La Rochelle or if we will make it a permanent home is a long process, but we thought before we made any decisions we would have Indie vaccinated.

“We’ve never taken him to Port Grimaud as it is so hot, but the climate in Brittany will suit him as it is cooler, and he loves travelling in the car. Moving residence after December 31st will be more complicated, but having Indie vaccinated is one less thing to worry about.”

Indie’s vet, Margot Hunter, a clinical director at Dunedin Vets, said the practice has seen an increase in the number of owners having their dogs vaccinated across their four surgeries.

“We have seen an increase in rabies vaccines in the last few months,” she said. “Many have been Eastern European folks returning home with their pets and these have not required antibody testing.

“Certainly, for anyone who has been planning to travel next year, we have been advising they have the blood test, so they are ready to travel, even if passports are no longer required and health certificates are, after December 31st.”

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