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Going overseas this year? Read this if you’re taking your pet

After three years of covid restrictions, international travel is finally back on the agenda for many people.

It may seem early to be making summer holiday preparations, but if you are considering vacationing overseas, and taking your pets with you, it’s important to get the pieces of the jigsaw in place well in advance.

Official documentation for your pet is always needed. It’s safest to check the rules of exporting and importing pets to and from the specific countries you’re visiting. The rules change from time to time, so it’s worth double checking online before you leave. The Irish Government website should tell you everything you need to know.

Regardless of where you plan to travel, the official document you need for dogs and cats is the EU pet passport. This is a blue booklet similar to a human passport. It is issued by vets in EU countries, who buy pet passports from their national governments, and sell them on to pet owners. Completion of your pet’s details in the pet passport has to be done carefully by your vet, because if there are any mistakes, you could be held up at a border check.

When a pet passport is initially issued, your pet’s identity is formally confirmed by the vet when they fill in the passport for you. The animal’s name, species, breed, gender and age, as well as, most importantly, their microchip number, is recorded. The chip number is a (virtually) unique 15-digit number that can be read from your pet’s microchip using a special scanner. All vets and all border crossings have scanners, allowing pets be individually identified. As well as your pet’s details, the passport includes your name, address, and phone number.

You must obtain an EU pet passport from your vet for each pet before you travel. Once the passport has been completed with all the initial details, it’s then used to record all necessary veterinary interventions, as required by border officials when pets travel to and from other
countries.

This pet passport must be carried with you whenever you cross any border with your pet. At some border crossings, all pets and pet passports are checked in detail. At others, there may be just spot checks.

If your pet does not have valid documentation, there is a risk they may be impounded and placed in quarantine, or in extreme cases, they may even be at risk of euthanasia. The only safe option is to ensure that you always have an up-to-date pet passport with you when travelling with your pet.

There are five main types of destination that Irish pet owners are likely to consider, with different rules for each country.

EU countries

Many Irish people like to holiday in France, Spain, or other EU countries, and the travel industry has responded effectively to this demand, with ferry companies launching special pet facilities (such as on-board kennels) that make it easier and less stressful for animals to travel.

The rules for EU countries are simple: your dog or cat must have an up-to-date vaccination against rabies, and a minimum of three weeks must have passed since the vaccination was given. Most rabies vaccines last for three years, so as long as you ensure that the vaccine is repeated at this interval, your pet should be continually ready to travel to Europe.

The easiest mistake to make is leaving it less than three weeks after the first rabies vaccine before travel: if you do this, your pet will not be able to go with you.

You also need to visit a vet in the EU country before you come home, for your pet to be given a special wormer against a tapeworm that’s not found in Ireland, to prevent the parasite being accidentally
introduced here.

Northern Ireland

If you are travelling to and from Northern Ireland, you need to take the same actions as if travelling to and from an EU country, except that a wormer does not need to be given, as the exotic tapeworm is not found there. Checks on animals travelling between the North and South are rarely done, but spot checks are possible, so it makes sense to have your valid pet passport handy.

United Kingdom

The UK also requests that travelling pets have valid pet passports, with rabies vaccination up to date. Because the UK is no longer an EU country, you do need to take your pet to a vet before returning from the UK, for the special worm dose to be given, and this is recorded in their passport.

So-called “listed” countries

In countries where rabies is either absent or well-controlled (such as USA, Canada, and many others), the same rules apply as for the EU.

So-called “unlisted” countries

In other countries, where there may be a higher risk of rabies, a more stringent approach is taken.

As well as the rabies vaccine, a blood test needs to be taken at least 30 days after the vaccine, to ensure a high titre of antibodies is present, and at least 3 months needs to pass after the blood sample is taken before an animal can travel.

In this globalised world, it’s easier for pets to travel with people, with many airlines and ferry companies, accepting pets as passengers. But you still need to follow the rules carefully: border officials have strong powers to control your pet if documentation is not in order. Plan carefully, and all will be well.


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