The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proposes a change to the way dogs are imported in the United States for the first time since nearly 70 years.
The proposed updates, which revisit guidelines that were last updated in 1956 and introduce new requirements for pet owners who want to import pets from countries where there is a high rabies risk, will be a revision of the outdated guidelines. The CDC reports that although dog rabies in the United States was eradicated in 2007, the virus remains endemic in more than 100 countries.
CDC spokesperson David Daigle stated that the proposed updates are intended to protect public health by preventing a reintroduction into the United States of dog rabies. These updates would create an importation system that reduces fraud and allows the U.S. government to better verify imported dogs meet U.S. entry regulations.
According to the CDC, rabies is uncommon in humans in the United States. However, it kills 59,000 people worldwide each year. Most of these are children who have been bitten by a dog. 99% of rabies-related deaths in humans are caused by exposure to dogs that have been infected.
The virus enters the body through nerves, and travels to the brain where it multiplies. The disease is usually fatal by the time symptoms are visible in the brain.
The CDC's proposed regulations create additional safeguards in order to prevent rabies from entering the country from abroad. Dogs from countries with low risk or no rabies would be allowed entry if they have written documentation that their dog lived in a low-risk environment for at least six months.
Owners of dogs that were vaccinated and returned from countries where rabies is a high incidence would need to take them to an airport quarantine station run by the CDC. The form would need to be completed by a veterinarian who is approved by the US Department of Agriculture and signed.
The proposed updates impose the greatest restrictions on those who wish to import dogs that have been vaccinated in other countries and are from countries with high risk.
In these situations, the owner would be required to provide a valid Rabies vaccination form that was completed and signed by a government-registered veterinarian from the country of export. The dogs must be re-vaccinated and examined at a CDC registered animal care facility once they arrive in the US.
The CDC is accepting public comments online on the guidelines until September 8.
The CDC has not changed the importation rules for cats, even though the policy they hope to update contains rules governing dog importation. Cats are not required by law to show proof of rabies immunization.
The treatment of rabies can be very expensive. According to guidelines, in 2019, the state governments spent over $400 000 to investigate the case and administer the post-exposure treatment.
These updates follow the CDC decision to extend the temporary suspension of dog exports from countries with a high rabies-risk until July 31, 2024. The suspension was implemented in 2021 following cases of imported dog-rabies and an increase in false rabies vaccine certificates by 52%.
The agency, which was stretched thin by the Covid-19 pandemic and the rabies outbreak, decided to suspend the arrivals of dogs that had traveled to any of the 113 countries deemed at high risk, such as Brazil, China, or India.
The proposed update requires that all dogs arriving in the US are microchipped and at least six months old. They must also be healthy.
The proposed restrictions are not without their challenges.
Animal Wellness Action, an animal rights group, condemned the proposal of the agency as "draconian" and said that the guidelines could 'horribly complicate' US charities who work with dogs overseas.
A letter signed by 57 US Representatives in 2021 also asked the CDC for the lifting of its suspension on canine imports. They described the policy as a one-size fits all approach' which 'prevents... thousands of dogs being rescued and adoptable'
The CDC, however, insists its proposal is crucial to preventing a rabies re-emergence.
Daigle stated that he understood the importance of pets in our lives, and that owning one can have many health benefits. "However, due to the close relationship between dogs and humans, there is a public health risk for people who come into contact with dogs that are not adequately vaccinated imported from countries where dog rabies is prevalent."