Imported dogs need better medical screening, veterinarian group says

As two cases of canine distemper are reported in Nova Scotia, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association reiterates its call for the federal government to tighten the rules around importation of dogs.

Unvaccinated dogs or dogs not up to date with vaccines at risk

Most pets are vaccinated against distemper, but the ones that are not and puppies are most vulnerable to it. (Shutterstock/826A IA)

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association wants the federal government to tighten the rules around importation of dogs. 

If someone wants to personally bring a dog into Canada now, they only need to show proof of rabies vaccination, CVMA council member Dr. Enid Stiles explained. 

CBC News reported Wednesday that two dogs brought to Halifax from Cuba have distemper — a disease they weren't vaccinated against. 

Stiles was part of a group that published a position paper recently calling on the federal government to strengthen the rules.

"We are asking that the Canadian government look at this a little bit more seriously.... Even if it's just slightly tighter control, it's a judicious thing for us to do to try and control disease in our own country," she said.

"Had those dogs ... been watched for two weeks prior, you would have seen the signs of distemper. They would have been showing signs of the illness."

Distemper often fatal

Distemper, which is uncommon in Canada, begins with respiratory symptoms and progresses to gastrointestinal issues and eventually seizures. It is often fatal.

It can sometimes be treated if caught in its early stages, but over time the prognosis worsens.

Stiles suggests dogs be pre-screened for antibody levels for rabies and other diseases before they're allowed into the country. 

Enid Stiles, a council member with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, says the federal government should look at screening pets at the border a little more seriously. (Submitted by Enid Stiles)

She also said dogs should require a medical check-up within a certain time after arriving from certain countries.

Finally, she said it's important for border agents and veterinarians to be well-educated about the issue.

Stiles said she didn't want to dismiss the people bringing back street dogs or cats from other countries, conceding that their intent is compassionate, if risky.

"The problem is those risks can be serious to other animals in Canada and people, so we want to be very careful about the choices of animals we bring in," she said.

The CVMA is meeting in Charlottetown for its AGM this week, and its position on importation rules is one of the topics it wants to highlight.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it isn't currently planning to change the regulations.

"The agency is in continuous discussions with stakeholders who have an interest in the import of dogs in Canada," it said in a statement. "The suggestions made by CVMA, provincial authorities and stakeholders are welcome and will be taken into consideration."

With files from Laura Chapin