An increasing number of dogs are being transported to the UK from eastern Europe, risking an outbreak of rabies, a charity has warned.
Undercover footage recorded by the Dogs Trust shows vets in Hungary and Lithuania creating false passports and falsifying papers.
It says some puppies are not being vaccinated and others are too young.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says abuse of the system needs to stop.
The rabies vaccination for puppies does not work if they are aged under 15 weeks.
The Dogs Trust said its filming showed that the Pet Travel Scheme, which allows animals to travel between member countries – including the UK – without undergoing quarantine, “clearly isn’t working”.
Defra figures show there were 2,102 dogs from approved carriers entering the UK from Lithuanian 2013, nearly 9 times the number in 2011 (239).
At least 3,044 dogs arrived in the UK from Hungary last year, up from 399 in 2011.
However, neither of these figures account for those smuggled or transported illegally.
The Pet Travel Scheme changed in January 2012 and means animals from the EU and approved non-EU countries such as the US and Australia no longer need a blood test and now have to wait only 21 days following vaccination.
Before January 2012, the Pet Travel Scheme required animals to be microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and then blood tested. After a further six months they would be allowed entry to the UK.
Paula Boyden, veterinary director at Dogs Trust, said: “We found that there are breeders, traders and even vets who are quite prepared to falsify documents and bring in underage puppies into the UK.”
She also said she was concerned about the welfare of the puppies, and the risk of them bringing rabies from the countries that they are imported from.
“There was a risk assessment done, before the rules of the Pet Travel Scheme changed at the beginning of 2012, which indicated that the risk of rabies coming into the country was once in 2011 years.
“However, that was relying on 100% compliance, and we know clearly from our investigations that we do not have 100% compliance of animals coming into the UK.”Increased checks
The last case of rabies in dogs in the UK (outside of quarantine) was in a dog imported from Pakistan in 1970.
Wound cleaning and immunisation within a few hours after contact with a suspect rabid animal can prevent the onset of rabies and death.
Nigel Gibbens, the UK’s chief veterinary officer and Defra’s chief spokesman, said: “We are seeing evidence of animals being fraudulently introduced under the pets passport scheme, and that needs to stop.
“The UK has, throughout the time we’ve been running the regime since January 2012, carried out more checks than other member states. So another of the [Pet Travel Scheme] changes is that all member states, all countries of the EU, will be required to do a proportion of checks.
“Rabies in the EU is a very low risk. It’s been eradicated almost throughout the EU. So those countries don’t present a big threat.”
Mr Gibbens added that buying a puppy is a “very important step for people” and recommended that prospective owners buy a puppy from a place where they can see it with its mother, rather than from a source they are unsure about.
Source: BBC News