Why Animal Welfare is at Risk when Pets are Imported

10 SEPTEMBER 2021

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Travelling can be a stressful experience for our pets, particularly if they are spending several days in transit. This can be the case even when they’re accompanied by caring owners, but when pet imports are carried out by people prioritising making money over the welfare of animals, the consequences can be horrific.

Battersea is working to raise awareness of the welfare issues around pet imports and to reform the way dogs and cats can enter the UK.

Dogs in transit

The price of puppies in the UK is high, (Pets4Homes says the average price is now around £2,000) which makes the trade in dogs very tempting for people out to make money, even if they have no interest in animals or their welfare. Whilst dog breeding in the UK is licensed, the demand for puppies can outstrip supply. This can lead to potential purchasers looking online and to overseas to find a dog more quickly, and in turn means that some puppy dealers will seek to import dogs from other countries to sell here.

Unfortunately, it is impossible for UK authorities to check the conditions in which puppies are bred abroad, so they could be bred in conditions that do not protect their welfare. For example, many animals are taken away from their mothers when they are too young which is distressing for both the mother and the puppy and can lead to health complications.

Transport into the UK can create animal welfare difficulties too. Dogs can spend days in cramped, dirty conditions packed into vehicles taking them across Europe and into the UK -sometimes even being smuggled inside hidden compartments. Often puppy dealers can pretend the dogs are their pets to get around import checks. However, some puppies die during or as a result of transit and others suffer long term health impacts from travelling in such unsanitary conditions.

Don’t forget cats!

Whilst puppy smuggling and low-welfare puppy imports dominate animal welfare campaigning on pet imports, cats are also at risk and their needs should be considered when tackling the issue. Cat or kitten smuggling is believed to be an increasing issue, particularly for expensive and desirable cat breeds like Persians and Scottish Folds.

Cats are territorial animals, so they are likely to find being transported from one place to another highly stressful at the best of times. When they are being imported by exploitative sellers without any thought given to their welfare, this distress can be made even worse. Being forced to travel to an unfamiliar place in cramped, dirty conditions can cause physical and emotional difficulties for cats, resulting in health and behavioural problems that cause long-lasting suffering.

For advice on how to make any type of travel more comfortable for your cat, check out Battersea’s advice.

Disease risks

Not only are low-welfare and illegal imports a danger to the animals who are transported, they can pose a risk to animal and human health. Imported dogs may not have had all the vaccinations and treatments they need to prevent disease, increasing the risk of diseases such as rabies entering the UK.

At Battersea, our latest research into microchipping showed 10% of stray dogs in London had a foreign microchip, meaning they could have been imported from abroad. When we encounter a dog that could be from a country where rabies is endemic, we must quarantine them, which can be distressing for the dog, especially if they are a sociable animal, and takes a lot of our time and resources.

There is hope: The Kept Animals Bill

The Government has this year introduced the Kept Animals Bill into Parliament. If it becomes law, it will enable national authorities to place restrictions on animal imports. It includes welcome provisions which seek to introduce a minimum age at which dogs can be brought into the UK. The Bill also introduces restrictions on the number of animals that one person can bring into the country under pet travel schemes, closing a loophole that has been exploited by puppy smugglers for too long.

At Battersea, we’re working in collaboration with other organisations in the sector to amend the Bill to make sure it delivers the best possible results for animal welfare.

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