The Finnish Food Authority warns of a growing risk of diseases in Finland due to the rising number of dogs imported into the country.
The agency says that such dogs usually have documents indicating that they have been inoculated against rabies, but that they may not actually have enough vaccine antibodies. A fresh study by the authority found that animals brought in from Russia were most likely to lack sufficient antibodies.
"Dogs brought to Finland must be vaccinated against rabies, but some those tested had insufficient antibody levels or lacked them altogether," says Suvi Joutsen, a veterinarian and senior researcher at the Food Safety Authority's Risk Assessment Unit.
The authority analysed samples from 85 dogs that were imported between March and November last year, mostly from Russia and European countries as well as Thailand.
Unvaccinated dogs most often from Russia
Of these, 28 percent lacked rabies antibodies. By far the largest number were from Russia, followed by Romania and Spain. About 35 percent of the dogs imported from Russia did not have rabies antibodies. Another eight percent of animals tested had antibodies, but below the recommended level.
Officials estimate that at least 400 unvaccinated dogs arrive in Finland from rabies areas annually, as well as around 80 with insufficient antibody levels.
Rabies can be transmitted to humans and can be fatal to both humans and dogs. The disease has not been found in Finland – except in imported animals – since 1989.
Meanwhile about 30 percent of the dogs were carrying ESBL and/or AmpC-resistant bacteria such as E. coli.
Street dogs' history usually unknown
According to the agency, dogs imported into the country can be roughly divided into registered dogs, often imported for breeding, and so-called rescue dogs and dogs from puppy mills.
Adults imported from Romania and Russia are usually street dogs whose background is murky and may have been exposed to various illnesses. Those brought in from Spain are typically abandoned pets or hunting dogs that probably have not been street dogs for long, but their background, too, is often mostly unknown.
The Finnish Kennel Club notes that while dogs have been imported for breeding purposes throughout Finland's history, there has been a surge in recent years of people bringing in homeless dogs from abroad.
"There are probably many reasons for this, but people are readily driven by the desire to rescue something," says Kennel Club chair Harri Lehkonen.
Buying a dog abroad may also be cheaper than doing so in Finland.
"But this price difference often pales in comparison to the cost of rehabilitating a dog that falls ill, though," Lehkonen points out.
Illicitly imported pets may be put down
The canine association has praised the new government's plans to regulate online sales of animals and to require dogs to be chipped and registered. The Kennel Club is calling for stricter monitoring of online sales of dogs in particular, which Lehkonen says is a key risk factor related to dog imports.
"The vendor's identity must be able to be firmly certified so that he or she cannot disappear after making a sale," he argues.
If authorities find that an animal has been illegally imported, it must be either returned to the country where it came from, placed in quarantine at the importer's expense, or euthanised. If there is a suspicion that it may be carrying a disease, officials say that in practice the only alternative is for it to be put down.