British pets are catching deadly diseases from foreign ticks after travelling to Europe on pet passports, vets have warned.
Distraught pet owners are finding their beloved animals are contacting horrific ailments after trips abroad.
The deadly tick-born Encephalitis has been identified as one of the key culprits and can cause animals to die agonising deaths.
The disease which isn’t present in the UK can infect the brain, cause awful tremors, seizures and in some cases death. It is carried by the Rhipicephalus sanguineus - also known as the brown dog tick or kennel tick.
Vets are seeing increasing numbers of cases of kennel tick brought in after foreign holidays - notably from Spain, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria.
Now they are warning pet owners to be aware of the risks and take precautions before travelling abroad with their animals this summer.
Animal medics have also identified sand flies from southern Europe which carry Canine Leishmaniasis, a disease that causes lesions, weight loss and kidney failure, as another culprit.
Vets are seeing increasing numbers of cases of kennel tick brought in after foreign holidays - notably from Spain, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria
Other parasites infecting travelling British pets include heart worms which infect both dogs and cats as well as other animals. They cause damage to the heart, lungs and other tissues and can also be fatal.
Last year 287,000 dogs travelled abroad with their owners and one study found 76 percent of dogs returning to the UK were carrying ticks.
The European Scientific Counsel for Companion Animal Parasites has identified the link between pet passports and more foreign ticks in the UK.
Ian Wright, a veterinary surgeon and the UK and Ireland head of the non-profit group of European vets specialising in parasitology, said there was a clear link between new parasites coming to the UK and pet passports.
He said: “Since the relaxation of the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) there has been an increase in dogs travelling with their owners year on year as well as a rapidly increasing number of imported rescue dogs from countries where stray pet welfare is an issue such as Romania, Bulgaria and Greece.
“This has led to an increased number of exotic parasites from these countries coming into the UK, including ticks and tick-borne diseases.
“New tick-borne pathogens such as Babesia canis have established in existing UK tick populations in Essex, but new ticks such as Rhipicephalus sanguineus have also been reported and established infestations in UK homes.
“A major concern is that tick-borne diseases which can cause serious human health problems such as tick-borne encephalitis could enter the UK and infect ticks here, putting people at risk.
“The European Scientific Council for Companion Animal Parasites (ESCCAP) UK & Ireland which gives free parasite advice and information to Vets and pet owners, is encouraging people to use preventative tick products on their pets before, during and after travel and to take newly imported rescue pets to their vet to treat and check for ticks and get a full MOT.
“We would also advise people to seriously consider rehoming one of the many stray dogs in the UK that need a home and campaign for better welfare in other countries, rather than import a dog from abroad.”
Hannah Newbury, technical manager for MSD Animal Health, an animal pharmaceutical company, has been part of a monitoring project, The Big Tick Project, which in conjunction with Public Health England has also identified the trend.
She said: "When travelling abroad, we tend to think about diseases we dread like rabies.
“But with greater travel freedoms comes the risk of the apparently innocuous kennel ticks from southern Europe like Spain and Cyprus.
“This tick can infest our home, which can have dire consequences for pets after the holiday is over.
“In southern Europe, the brown dog tick - also known as the kennel tick - is commonly found and it also spreads other disease in dogs.
“It likes warmer climates but there’s a risk of infestation in homes or kennels if they’re brought back to the UK.
“A combination of increased pet travel and increased tick and tick-borne disease across Europe mean that there is now an increased risk of exotic ticks and the diseases they carry being introduced into the UK.”
The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) allows pet owners in the UK to take their dogs and cats to other European countries and then return with them without need for quarantine.
It also allows pet dogs and cats to enter the UK without quarantine as long as they comply with the regulations.
The scheme requires pets to have a rabies vaccination to keep the UK free of the fatal disease which still infects some domestic pets in Italy and Greece.
But in January 2012 compulsory tick treatment was removed from the PET travel scheme.
Since then pet travel has increased year-on-year, from 140,000 dogs travelling from the UK in 2012 to 287,016 in 2017. The majority of cases are linked with return travel to the UK from Cyprus and Spain.
Before 2012 there was no record of the brown dog tick by Public Health England’s voluntary Tick Surveillance Scheme (TSS). But since 2012 there have been increased cases of the tick on returning dogs into the UK according to the TSS.
In 2012 there were two cases, rising to four in 2013, five in 2014, nine in 2015 and six up to May 2016. In 2015 the first record of a household infestation which required repeated fumigation was recorded as a result of the importation of ticks.
And in 2015 a further household infestation was reported.
A total of 40 cases of kennel tick - 27 detected by the TSS and 13 by the Big Tick Project - have come into the UK between 2012 and 2016.
The Big Tick Study found that 76 percent of dogs in the study travelling abroad returned with ticks.
Newbury added: “Pets deserve a happy holiday too and owners need to be aware of all the risks before taking them abroad.” (The Telegraph)