Passport pets face exotic perils; Vets warn owners to have animals examined as dogs return from holidays with deadly tropical infections.
PET owners are being urged to have their animals checked for potentially fatal exotic diseases if they take them abroad on holiday.
Vets at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine say that, since the introduction of the Government's Pet TravelScheme in 2000, they have detected a range of infections in dogs returning home.
The school, which set up its TestApet service for owners concerned about the health of their animals four years ago, detected 37 cases of the disease leishmaniasis in dogs in an 18-monthperiod.
Dogs have also been found to have babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and heart worm disease, which can all be fatal if left untreated.
Dr Jackie Barber,expert at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said:``The risk of becoming infected depends on where, when and for how long the dogs and cats go.
``Most of the parasitic diseases we are concerned with are carried by sandflies,mosquitoes and ticks, so the risk of being bitten by the flying insects will be higher in countries nearer the Mediterranean during summer evenings and the risk from ticks is greater in forests and on rough grazing land.
``Some of the diseases, such as babesiosis, can develop and kill within a couple of weeks whilst others may have long incubation periods of months or even years.
``So it is important that owners remember to let their vet know if their pet has ever travelled abroad,even a long time ago.''
Many of these diseases have only vague clinical symptoms, such as tiredness,anaemia, enlarged lymph glands,bleeding and loss of weight.
Diagnostic tests will be needed to confirm whether the pet is suffering from one or more of them.
Treatment can be complicated as few of the drugs needed are available in the UK and most have to be imported under special licence.
However,Dr Barber said pet owners should not panic.
She said: ``Considering the number of animals which have entered the UK since the PETS scheme started -more than 120,000 dogs and cats between February 2000 andSeptember2003 --only a very small proportion have developed these `exotic'infections.
``Simple precautions can greatly reduce the risk.''
Vets recommend that owners on holiday with their pets examine them daily for ticks, especially around the head and feet,and remove any found.
They also advise that owners do not let dogs sleep outside at night, unless screened by mosquitonetting,and say owners should buy heart worm preventative drugs and tick and sand fly repellents before travelling abroad.
The so- called pet passport scheme allows owners to take animals to all parts of Europe and some countries further afield.