Prof. Barbara Kohn

Imported Dogs – What You Should Know


The number of imported dogs is increasing dramatically in many countries around the world, both through well-structured or in some cases dubious rescue organizations and private people who bring animals home from their travels. However, some of these furry refugees carry parasites, bacteria and viruses that are rarely seen in the countries into which they are imported – pathogens that pose a serious threat not only to the imported dogs themselves but also to local pets and sometimes even to humans.

Janice Chow

Barbara Kohn

Professor, Clinic for Small Animals, Freie Universität Berlin

Ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, leishmaniosis or dirofilariosis are so-called Companion Vector-Borne Diseases (CVBDs) that are transmitted by blood-feeding external parasites such as ticks, fleas, mosquitoes or sand flies. The prevalence of these infections is increasing due to climate change and more frequent pet travel. We are seeing more and more cases of diseases in areas where they had previously never been found. Dogs imported from endemic areas are of particular concern for the spread of diseases.

In Germany and at our small animals clinic in Berlin, we are now seeing more and more imported dogs, mainly from the Mediterranean region – Spain, Greece and Italy – and also from Portugal and southeast Europe. These dogs can carry different pathogens which are then imported in this way.

CVBD World Forum - Barbara Kohn

Unfortunately we do not have exact numbers, but we know that there are more than 100,000 Leishmania-infected dogs in Germany. Canine leishmaniosis is a serious disease caused by a parasite called Leishmania infantum, which is transmitted to dogs by infected sand flies. It has a global significance and it is estimated that there are over 2.5 million dogs infected with Leishmania infantum in southern Europe alone. Left untreated, the disease progresses and finally leads to the death of the dog. Last but not least, L. infantum is zoonotic and can potentially cause severe diseases not only in dogs but also in humans.

We retrospectively evaluated the infectious agents which we found in imported dogs over a time period of more than nine years. We studied more than 350 dogs and evaluated lots of direct and indirect test methods, and we found that more than one-third of the dogs were infected with a vector-borne disease, mainly Leishmania and Ehrlichia species.

Real challenges For Veterinarians

Unfortunately we don't know a lot about infectious diseases carried by animals in many countries. That's why the big increase in imported dogs can pose real challenges for veterinarians. It can make diagnosis tricky and testing expensive, as it can be hard to distinguish between different diseases.

It is therefore important for pet owners to be well informed. If a pet owner really wants to import a dog or a cat, he should be aware of the latest entry regulations in his country and check with his vet at an early stage to find out which examinations are necessary. Dogs that are taken to areas that are endemic for specific vector-borne infections should be protected with repellent agents against sand flies, mosquitoes but also against ticks and fleas to reduce the risk of infection and transmitting the disease back to their home country.

In any case, pet owners should consult a veterinarian before and at best after each trip to give their pet the best possible protection.