Should You Consider an Imported Rescue Dog?


Holidays4Dogs has written on the subject of imported rescue dogs in the past (2017). Recently, however, veterinary and welfare experts have been concerned about some aspects of re-homing procedures for imported dogs. In this article, we revisit the subject of imported rescue dogs and provide further information for would-be adopters.

There has been a steady rise in the number of imported dogs. With this, there has been a corresponding level of concern amongst animal welfare professionals.

Dogs are generally imported to Britain under the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS). Reputable charities do operate international re-homing of dogs, (more frequently under the BALAI directive). However, there is still an alarming number of people using the PETS scheme to illegally import puppies for commercial gain.

It is illegal to import dogs using the PETS legislation, if the intention is to sell the animals on. The RSPCA has called upon the government (March 2023) to legislate for compulsory testing of imported animals into the UK, as well as mandatory licensing for all rescue groups and animal sanctuaries.

Health Implications for people

Legislation regarding animal importation is directed towards protecting human health. However, there is concern from experts that it has no satisfactory provision for the prevention of exotic diseases which could be fatal to animals and, alarmingly, could also be zoonotic – pass from animal to human.

In November 2019, the British Veterinary Association urged political parties to make provisions for mandatory health screening for imported dogs. The major concern regarding imported rescue dogs is the lack of health histories. This means some dogs could pose a risk to other animals, and even impact human health. In particular, members of the BVA were concerned about Leishmaniasis, (a zoonotic disease).

Brucella Canis concerns

Currently, concerns are being raised about Brucella canis among imported rescue dogs, after the first dog-to-human case of Brucella canis was confirmed in 2022. The woman in question had been fostering the dog, which had been imported from Belarus the previous March. The lady became sick enough to be hospitalised and the foster dog, plus another three dogs in the same household, all tested positive and were put to sleep.

While some charities and rescue groups do test for the disease, it is not currently a legal requirement. The British Veterinary Society, in a statement last year, urged all rescue organisations to ensure they carry out tests for Brucella canis, as well as other exotic diseases, which could potentially pose a threat to human and animal health. You can read the article here.

The Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance Group (HAIRS) have produced a report on the potential risks to public health following an increasing number of reports of Brucella canis. The document was published by the UK Health Security Agency in September this year (2023). Consultant experts to the report were John McGiven – Brucellosis disease consultant, Animal and Plant Health Agency and Alessandro Gerada – consultant medical microbiologist, Brucella reference unit.

Some key points raised in the report;-

a) The probability of human infection with B.canis is considered very low.

b) Immunocompromised individuals may be at higher risk, as are people who work in canine environments such as dog breeders, kennel workers, veterinary staff and owners of infected breeding animals, or animals giving birth.

c)There have been no known reports of death in humans from B.canis. Although B.canis is a recognised human zoonosis, it is rarely reported globally due to the non-specific nature of infection and mild symptoms.

You can read the full assessment which was published on the 18th of September 2023 here.

For more information on the disease, you can read information from the NHS here and the World Health Organisation here.

Difficult adjustments for imported rescue dogs

In addition to health issues, dogs taken in from abroad, often have far more behavioural issues. Adopters then subsequently give their dogs up to UK charities, such as Battersea.

Many dogs live on the streets or are free-range. Many more dogs, such as hunting breeds, suffer abuse at the hands of their caretakers. Others have had little in the way of training, or socialisation.

As a result, this can lead to issues such as straying, aggression, barking, and separation anxiety. This means it can be very challenging for new owners to get them to settle – indeed, many new owners find the challenge too hard.

The EU Dog and Cat Alliance, (of which Dogs Trust is a member), want to see an end to the international re-homing of dogs.  They claim, 81,000 dogs are abandoned every year in the UK. This, they say, is already more than enough for rescue charities to cope with.

It is easy to see why people gravitate to adopting dogs from abroad. Some experts believe that re-homing procedures in UK rescue centres are too tough and intrusive. As a result, many people choose to adopt dogs from smaller charities, many of which have more liberal views on re-homing procedures. Television personalities and celebrities have also fuelled the trend for international dog adoption.


Overseas dog adoption does raise awareness and highlights animal welfare issues as being international. However, it also poses risks to both animal and human health. It also puts additional pressure on re-homing centres here in the UK. Many UK welfare charities such as the Dogs Trust and Battersea Dogs Home are against the practice of international re-homing. Instead, they believe the costs involved in importing rescue dogs to the UK would be better spent on education and neutering initiatives in their country of origin.