Source: AVMA (Extract)
Posted: June 23, 2021

Federal health officials are suspending—for at least one year—importation of dogs from 113 countries considered high risk for rabies transmission, beginning July 14.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the action in response to a sharp rise in the number of dogs that arrived from those high-risk countries with fraudulent or incomplete documentation of rabies vaccination.

“Due to reduced flight schedules, dogs denied entry are facing longer wait times to be returned to their country of departure, leading to illness and even death in some cases,” a June 14 CDC announcement states.

The notice also applies to countries that are not at high risk if the dogs have been in high-risk countries during the previous six months. The CDC’s response also provides some exemptions for immunized pets 6 months or older of U.S. government employees, U.S. citizens, and U.S. residents as well as dogs being imported for specific scientific or service purposes. But the ban is expected to prevent entry of tens of thousands of dogs that would have been brought to the U.S.

Details about the suspension, exemptions, and the application process for importing dogs from affected countries are available at the CDC website.

The CDC had already suspended importation of dogs from Egypt two years earlier, also to prevent the potential reintroduction of the canine variant of the rabies virus into the U.S. From 2015-19, three dogs imported from Egypt tested positive for rabies; each had been brought in by a different rescue organization, and each was accompanied by documents declaring the animal was vaccinated against rabies.

On June 16 this year—two days after the CDC’s announcement of the impending broader ban—a dog tested positive for rabies after arriving in Pennsylvania from Azerbaijan, one of the countries affected by the ban, according to CDC information. The dog was among 33 dogs and one cat imported by an animal rescue organization, and all other animals are considered exposed. CDC officials were coordinating with health officials in eight states plus other federal agencies to locate the other animals.

The high-risk designation spans much of Africa, Central and South America, Asia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. It applies to countries such as Armenia, Brazil, China (excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan), Haiti, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, South Africa, and Tanzania.

Agency officials estimate importers bring about 1 million dogs into the U.S. each year, and the ban applies to about 6% of that total—60,000 dogs, according to a June 14 Federal Register notice. However, the true number of dogs imported from those countries could range from 33,000 to 120,000, the notice states.

Before the pandemic, federal agencies denied entry of dogs about 200 times a year for fraudulent paperwork. In 2020, CDC officials documented more than 450 instances of incomplete, inadequate, or fraudulent rabies vaccination certificates from high-risk countries, each instance resulting in the dogs returning to their country of origin.

“The increase in the number of dogs inadequately vaccinated against rabies that importers are attempting to import into the United States has created a public health risk,” and managing the dogs is unsustainable during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Register notice states.

CDC officials estimate that the suspension will reduce importation from high-risk countries by 75% and that the number of dogs denied entry at ports would drop 90%.