Foreign travel and cats

Caged catsIt is currently illegal to bring a cat to the UK from any country overseas without it either going through quarantine or being imported via the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS). PETS was introduced to allow people to travel with their pet cat, dog or ferret within the EU.

The regulations were changed at the end of 2011 so they are now less stringent, in line with the rest of Europe. The requirements for travel vary depending on which country you are visiting. Details can be found at www.gov.uk/take-pet-abroad. Always check the latest information. Animals entering the UK without a valid pet passport must spend time in quarantine on arrival, until they have complied with the requirement of PETS.

The quarantine regulations and the PETS are designed primarily to protect the UK’s human population from rabies; they are not in place to protect pets from all risks. There are many other potentially fatal infections found in parts of Europe and the wider world which are not present in UK pets, such as:-

  • Babesia, transmitted by ticks, which causes fever, lethargy and anaemia in cats
  • Ehrlichia, transmitted by ticks, and which also causes fever, lethargy and anaemia in cats
  • Heartworm, which affects a cat’s circulatory system and lungs
As the changes in the regulations have made it simpler to travel with a pet, the number of animals travelling has increased, with fewer controls, and we are likely to see more exotic disease in the UK.

Should I travel abroad with my cat?
While it is legal to travel abroad with your cat and re-enter the UK - as long the mandatory requirements are followed - it is important that owners carefully consider the welfare of their cat before doing so; cats are generally very stressed by travelling and become disorientated in a new environment without the familiar smells of their home territory. They are more likely to get lost or distressed and therefore Cats Protection would discourage owners from taking their cats abroad for holidays.

If owners do decide to take their cats abroad, Cats Protection would encourage them to speak to their vet before travelling to see if any preventative treatments would be advised for their pet for the specific area they are visiting. UK pets are even more vulnerable than local animals as their immune systems have never previously come across the exotic infections mentioned above. It would be an avoidable tragedy if they became sick, or even died or transmitted disease to other animals on their return. If a cat becomes sick on return from travelling, owners must seek veterinary advice straight away.

Bringing cats to the UK
The change to the Pet Travel Scheme may also encourage well-meaning cat lovers to bring cats home from holiday; many are affected by the plight of animals abroad, particularly when they witness first-hand the poor conditions that some of these animals are in and naturally they want to do something to assist them. While this might be perceived as helping the individual, it is very stressful for them, it risks the introduction of disease, and there are many unwanted cats in the UK as it is. The best way to help the greatest number of these animals is to support organisations that are carrying out work locally such as running neutering programmes and providing education. These are the most effective ways of improving animal welfare in the longer term.

Microchip registration
It is vital to update the details stored on your microchip’s database with contact details for the country you are in. In the UK you can do this by contacting Petlog – on 0844 4633 999 or via petlog.org.uk – or Anibase – on 01904 487 600 or via www.anibase.com – simply putting your cat through PETS or quarantine does not automatically update your records, so it is important that you remember to do this. Your cat may face a further period in quarantine or even euthanasia by the authorities if he becomes lost, you cannot be traced and his legal entry to the country cannot be ascertained. For your own records also keep your cat’s unique microchip number safe.

For further information, downlaod:
British Veterinary Association - Download PDF
Cats Protection - Download PDF