Start early to avoid distress when moving overseas with animals

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 July, 2009, 12:00am

Lydia Macalister was planning to move with her family and three dogs to New Zealand. There followed months of paperwork, blood tests and certifications for the dogs. Then, three days before leaving Hong Kong in 2005, Ms Macalister received terrible news. Two of her dogs, a small German shepherd mix named Tilly and a black mutt named Louie, tested positive for Babesia gibsoni, a disease that is banned in the country.

'It was a dreadful experience,' says Ms Macalister. 'If I had moved to Australia, I would have had no problem. Australia's laws are far more relaxed than New Zealand's ... New Zealand has not changed its laws regarding this disease for 40 years.' Ms Macalister used a pet relocation company, but it failed to inform her that many dogs in Hong Kong carry the pathogenic canine blood parasite without showing any symptoms.

And, if an animal tests positive, it won't be permitted in certain countries.

'They let me down. New Zealand is extremely strict in its biosecurity. It's a small country so they think [Babesia gibsoni] would have a knock-on effect to the animals there,' she says.

The disease, transmitted by ticks, can bring on anaemia in some dogs while others, such as Tilly and Louie, don't get sick and are simply chronically infected. Ms Macalister says there is no treatment that will cure the dog of this parasite.

Jenny Wong, manager of ReloPet, says when moving to Australia with your pet, start planning blood tests and vaccinations about six to seven months before leaving. Australia requires all dogs, cats and small animals to undergo a quarantine period of 180 days to prevent rabies.

Owners should ideally check their pet against the rabies neutralising antibody titre test (RNATT) five months before leaving a country. Then the pet only has to stay for the mandatory one-month minimum at one of Australia's quarantine facilities.

However, if your pet takes the RNATT test three months before leaving Hong Kong it will have to stay at the quarantine facility for another three months.

Other blood tests including for brucellosis, ehrlichiosis, leishmaniosis and leptospirosis for dogs are required. Out of these four blood tests, many dogs in Hong Kong might fail the leptospirosis test. However, chances are your dog is not infected. Wong says small amounts of the leptospirosis bacteria is found in the vaccine, which is routinely part of an annual check-up. She says if your dog is going to a veterinarian for its annual shots, simply ask for the leptospirosis vaccine to be left out.

'This vaccine will give your dog some of the disease when they are tested,' says Ms Wong. 'A way around it is we get them retested after 14 days. And, if it comes back with the same or lower [bacteria] count, then the pet is good to go.'

This scenario happened for a schnauzer that was going to be relocated to Australia at the beginning of this year. Luckily, after waiting 14 days to retest, Ms Wong says the schnauzer passed and was permitted into Australia.

If you want to take the hassle out of relocating your pet to another country, Ms Wong says pet relocation companies offer full door-to-door service, arranging all the paperwork, flight bookings, veterinary visits and government certification endorsements.