Petagrees: Traveling with pets, and a rabies alert for travelers

Traveling with our pets has become a routine option as pet restrictions on planes, cruise lines, hotels and restaurants have lightened up considerably in the past 10 years. Although travel with pets can feel like the best solution because of our close-knit bond, separation anxiety and available quality care, there are important factors to consider when planning a trip.

Do your research on pet-friendly places including hotels, taxis, sight-seeing and dining choices, along with rules on walking dogs or cats, pet approved parks and veterinary medical care at the location should an emergency arise.

Be sure to get an animal carrier that is sturdy and reliable and is easy to handle with your pet inside (wheels, straps, etc.), purchase in advance and have your pet get used to it prior to any travel. Consider worst-case scenarios to be prepared for pet care, such as delayed flights, long layovers and, in this COVID-19 era, being quarantined. Have comfortable pet bedding along with extras in case of soiling or wetness, several leashes or harnesses, ID tags, food supplies and water dishes with extra bottled water for your pet. Take several pictures of your pet on a digital device and hard copies of photos to help local authorities locate your pet if it goes missing.

A complete veterinary exam with necessary vaccinations, especially an up-to-date rabies vaccine (see below) is a must, in addition to a microchip and multiple copies of all documentation to carry with you. A copy should be kept at home for an emergency contact person to reference. Rabies tags are not considered proof of rabies vaccination. Have a paper copy. Discussion with your pet’s veterinarian about potential health concerns should also be a part of that visit. Many veterinarians are familiar with helping to get pets ready to travel, but do not wait until days before traveling to get in for an appointment as some vaccinations need spacing between administration or boosters.

Even with the best of planning, pets can get sick or die while traveling. Having information about veterinary care available at your destination point is very helpful, should the need arise. An unexplained pet death may result in public health officials requiring an autopsy, at owner’s expense, to determine if the animal succumbed to a transmissible or zoonotic disease.

Make frequent checks of the local, regional, and national governments’ websites where you plan to travel with your pet, as well as airlines, to ensure that there are no restrictions or new requirements for pets being brought in from other locations. Some airlines, cruise lines, cities and states restrict certain breeds, so be sure to check before you travel. A perfect case on this point is the United States Centers for Disease Control, which has just announced strict travel guidelines involving animals and travel.

If you plan to take your dog to a country at high risk for dog rabies, be sure to contact CDCanimalimports@cdc.gov before leaving the United States, because your dog may not be allowed to return to the United States because of the current temporary suspension, which applies to dogs that live in the United States and have traveled to high-risk countries, even if only for a short visit. Traveling with cats has fewer restrictions, but they are much less likely to be taken on leisure travel. Many hotels are dog-friendly, but not as much so with cats.

On June 14, CDC  and the Department of Health and Human Services released the “Notice of Temporary Suspension of Dogs Entering the United States from High-Risk Rabies Countries.” Through this notice, CDC is informing the public that, effective July 14, it is temporarily suspending the importation of dogs from countries classified by CDC as high risk for dog rabies and from countries that are not at high risk if the dogs have been in high-risk countries during the previous six months.

This temporary action is necessary to ensure the health and safety of dogs imported into the United States and to protect the public’s health against the reintroduction of dog rabies into the United States.

This announcement may not sound like it applies to you, a U.S. citizen with a dog from U.S. that you are traveling with, but instances have occurred where the non-US country will not allow your dog to board a flight bound for United States.

Here’s a very brief explanation of rabies to help dispel misunderstandings:

• Rabies is a virus that can affect any mammal. Some mammals are more likely to carry the virus than others.

• The rabies virus is most often transmitted through bites from an affected wild mammal to another mammal (including humans).

• The virus primarily affects the central nervous system (brain and cerebrospinal fluid) along with salivary glands.

• Although erratic, aggressive behavior is common, along with excessive salivation, these are not always present or symptoms. There is no way to diagnose rabies by observing an animal’s appearance or behavior.

• Pet owners who avoid rabies vaccinations for their pets, stating that their pets do not go outside, are taking a tremendous risk to their pet’s life, other animals and humans, as it is possible for a wild animal to enter a home or for their pet to escape during a vet or grooming appointment or when guests are visiting. These unvaccinated pets exposed to rabies can become lethal to humans.

• Birds, snakes, and fish are not mammals, so they do not get rabies and they cannot give it to you or other animals.

• The number of human rabies deaths in the United States has been steadily declining since the 1970’s thanks to animal control and vaccination programs, successful outreach programs, public health capacity and laboratory diagnostics, and the availability of modern rabies biologics.

• About 55,000 Americans get post-exposure prophylaxis each year to prevent rabies infection after being bitten or scratched by an infected or suspected infected animal.

The wild animals that most commonly carry rabies in the United States are raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. Contact with infected bats is the leading cause of human rabies deaths in this country; seven out of 10 Americans who die from rabies in the US were infected by bats. People may not recognize a bat scratch or bite, which can be smaller than the top of a pencil eraser, but these types of contact can still spread rabies.

Dogs with rabies remains common in many countries. Exposure to rabid dogs is still the cause of nearly all human rabies deaths worldwide. Exposure to rabid dogs outside the U.S. is the second leading cause of rabies deaths in Americans.

Terry Hannum is a licensed veterinary technician, a farmer and an animal advocate. If you have a subject you would like to have her address, email jtny58@aol.com. Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/news/lifestyles.

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