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Adopting and importing pets from high-risk rabies endemic areas

There are important considerations to remember and follow when adopting and importing pets from high-risk rabies endemic areas to ensure animals and humans in Simcoe Muskoka and Ontario are protected against rabies. While the risk of rabies transmission from dogs and cats in most areas of Canada is considered to be low, the risk is considerably higher in many other countries, and certain communities within Canada.

According to the World Health Organization, rabies infection continues to cause thousands of human deaths globally every year, mainly in Asia and Africa, and in up to 99 per cent of these cases, domestic dogs are responsible for rabies virus transmission to humans. Click here for a map of high-risk rabies areas.

The Canadian government recognizes these countries as rabies-free for cats and dogs.

According to OMAFRA, in recent months there have been multiple cases in which rabies has been identified in a dog in Ontario that has been imported from a high-risk country.

Information for prospective animal owners

If you and/or your family are interested in adopting a dog from a breeder, rescue organization, or shelter, there is important information you should consider in order to avoid importing or accepting a sick and/or infectious dog that may pose a risk to your health, the health of others, and the health of other local animals here in Ontario.

There are also animal welfare concerns associated with transporting dogs from overseas. Imported dogs can also have significant behavioural issues if they were not properly socialized and never lived in a home prior to being adopted, which can lead to an increased risk of biting. 

Before adopting a dog, especially from another country:

  • Review the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's requirements for importing animals from other countries.
  • Avoid adopting pets from countries considered high-risk for dog rabies by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
  • Be aware of the potential issues that may arise after adoption (for example, acute or chronic infectious diseases, unresolvable behavioural issues).
  • Ensure the organization from which you are receiving the dog is a reputable business/source (request references, speak to others who have adopted through the same agency, or consult your own veterinarian).
  • Ask about the dog's medical history, including vaccinations, deworming, and prior treatment for any diseases or conditions, including injuries or illness. Ensure all medical records will be provided at the time of adoption.
  • Ask about where the animal lived and how it was cared for prior to importation. For example, was it a stray or did it spend time in a kennel/shelter (where it would be exposed to lots of other dogs), was it an owned dog that primarily lived outside (where it would have exposure to wildlife or livestock), or was it an owned dog that is used to living indoors (and would be used to being around people).
  • Talk to your veterinarian about specific disease risks that may be a concern based on the dog's country of origin, and arrange to have the dog examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible after arrival.

After adopting a dog, especially from another country:

To help protect people and pets from rabies, Ontario law (Regulation 567, Rabies Immunization) requires animal owners to vaccinate dogs, cats, and ferrets over 3 months of age against rabies. The vaccine must be administered by a veterinarian registered in the province of Ontario and with a rabies vaccine licensed for use by Health Canada.

If you have imported an animal from outside of Ontario, you must ensure it is vaccinated against rabies in Ontario as required by Regulation 567, Rabies Immunization, even if the animal has a current rabies vaccination certificate from another jurisdiction. Additional precautions to follow include:

  • Have the dog examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible after arrival in order to detect any signs of active or chronic infection or injury. Your veterinarian can also make recommendations for any additional vaccinations, vaccine boosters, diagnostic testing, and additional follow up examinations.
  • Keep the dog segregated from other animals and high-risk individuals (e.g., people who are immunosuppressed, very young, elderly, or pregnant) for 2-4 weeks after arrival to monitor for any signs of illness (including infectious diseases) or significant behavioural concerns.
    • Remember that rabies may present in an animal up to six months after it is exposed to the virus from a rabid animal, even if the pet was vaccinated after the exposure.
  • Have a behavioural assessment performed by a professional organization.
  • Adhere to local licensing requirements.

Information for organizations (e.g., rescue agencies)

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for regulating the importation of animals, including dogs, into Canada. The importation of animals is regulated to prevent the introduction and spread of diseases, such as rabies, that could have adverse health impacts on local animals and people.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is responsible for conducting inspections on behalf of the CFIA. If an animal is found to be non-compliant with the CFIA's humane transport and/or import requirements, the CBSA may refuse the animal entry or refer it to the CFIA for further inspection.

Breeders, rescue agencies, and shelters should review the CFIA's requirements for importing animals from other countries. Be aware that new regulatory requirements for importing commercial dogs less than 8 months of age for breeding or resale (including adoption) came into effect in May 2021.

In addition, these organizations should ensure prospective owners or caretakers of all animals they provide, including imported animals, are given appropriate and sufficient information (see above) to manage any risks to animal and human health.

Adapted from the City of Toronto

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