Study: Dog transport and infectious disease risk

Dr. Katherine PolakDire animal welfare conditions in many countries combined with regional shortages of dogs for adoption in some parts of the U.S. and Canada have driven an increase in international transport. With that increase has come another: the risk of infectious disease.

Under-resourced animal agencies in exporting countries have the most need to transport dogs, but also have the least ability to do it responsibly. Dogs are also often transported by individuals or to small rescue groups that have no real understanding of infectious disease risk or transmission prevention. Additionally, veterinarians in receiving locations usually aren’t aware of disease risk in the originating countries. And while the lifesaving benefit for individual dogs is undeniable, international transport does nothing to solve the underlying problem in those countries.

Still, as long as the animals in these countries need help, it’s not likely that transport programs will end anytime soon. In an article published this month in Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, UF Shelter Medicine Program alum Dr. Katherine Polak reviewed the risk profile, infectious disease prevention strategies, and best practices for biosecurity in international rescue transport.

Dr. Polak is Head of Stray Animal Care – Southeast Asia for FOUR PAWS International, and warns that attempting to heavily restrict or ban rescue importation may drive it underground, resulting in even greater risk. She instead recommends better protocols be followed by both importing and exporting organizations, and wrote that at a minimum exporting agencies should:

  • Implant all dogs with an International Organization for Standards–compliant (15-digit, 134.2-kHz) microchip.
  • Vaccinate all dogs for rabies and distemper/parvovirus using a modified live vaccine. Vaccination should not occur the day of transport; ideally dogs should be vaccinated at least 3 days to 5 days prior to transport to allow for the full onset of protection.
  • Fit dogs with appropriate visual identification, such as a collar or tag.
  • Administer an endoparasiticide effective against hookworms and roundworms.
  • Conduct a physical examination within 24 hours of transport.
  • Apply an effective ectoparasiticide.

The bigger story, however, is that this is not a problem that can be solved by transport, but rather by changing conditions in the originating countries. Dr. Polak closed with these cautionary words:

Until animal welfare improves on a global scale, international adoption may be one of the only options to address immediate animal suffering; however, it is not a sustainable or cost-effective solution. Although saving animals lives is a noble goal, it must be done responsibly to mitigate the risk of disease introduction and transmission. Guidelines, best practices, and operational procedures are needed for both importing and exporting agencies in addition to global cooperation and commitment to risk management and mitigation.

You can read the complete article free for the next four weeks by using this link:

Polak K. Dog Transport and Infectious Disease Risk. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice. 2019;49(4):599-613. doi:10.1016/j.cvsm.2019.02.003.