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Importing Dogs & Rabies Vaccination Concerns

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)

Preventive Medicine

|April 2016

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Until 2012, the 5 rabies-free countries (the United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta, Sweden, and Norway) in the European Union (EU) still required rabies serological tests for rabies-neutralizing antibodies in pets being transferred into the country from other EU countries. With implementation of new pet-movement policies aligning regulations throughout the EU, however, the only requirements for entry into Norway are a microchip and notation in a passport of an antirabies vaccine and prophylactic Echinococcus multilocularis treatment. This deregulation has resulted in an influx of rescue dogs from Eastern Europe into Norway. Given the high numbers of stray-dog adoptions, there are increased concerns about potential for introduction of rabies. This study measured the rabies antibody levels in 75 imported rescue dogs. Results obtained at the same laboratory from owned dogs in Sweden were used for comparison. Only 35/75 (46.7%) study dogs had satisfactory antibody levels (≥0.5 IU/mL), compared with 85.7% of owned dogs. Negative titers (≤0.1 IU/mL) were found in 14/75 (18.6%) rescue dogs. There was no significant association between antibody titers and interval (from vaccine to sampling), time since vaccination, and  vaccine product. All vaccine brands reported had at least 1 negative antibody test. The effect of vaccination on dogs already harboring the rabies virus is unclear, but the current 21-day waiting period for export postvaccination is considered too short to adequately ensure rabies-free status. These results reinforce concern about whether dogs being imported from rabies-endemic countries are raising the rabies risk in Norway and other rabies-free countries. 


Vaccines have changed the world, but they are neither perfect nor perfectly used. As some vaccine preventable diseases become rare (in some regions), it is easy to forget about their importance and rely too much on vaccination as the main, or sole, control mechanism. This study shows why relying on the vaccination history of imported animals can be a bad thing. When the majority of “vaccinated” animals do not have a protective titer, and when many have levels that are inconsistent with ever having been vaccinated, there is a problem. Whether through poor immune response or false certification of vaccination, relying on the hope that imported animals have a protective titer (and are not actually already infected with rabies virus) exposes a gap that poses a risk to animals and the public.—J. Scott Weese, DVM, DVSc, DACVIM 

This capsule is part of the One Health Initiative.


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