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How to reduce the risks if importing rescue dogs from abroad

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When agreeing to adopt a dog from abroad, it can be difficult to know exactly what you are signing up to. With limited communication, limited information available and unknown long-term history, rescuing a dog from abroad really can be a real risk… Below we will discuss how to minimise the risks involved and optimise the chances of a rescue success story!

Check the rescue organisation

There are major concerns around some rescue organisations. Unfortunately, many of these “charities” are acting illegally; illegal importation procedures, incorrect or even falsified vaccine records, and sometimes even a front for puppy farming. If you do decide to use such an organisation, try to keep a clear head. It’s terribly sad to see the (often carefully photographed) pictures of suffering dogs; but you need to make sure you are really helping, not perpetuating the problem. Check that the importations are being done properly, that all the dogs have a proper medical history (see below), and then check for reviews or reports from people who have used the organisation. Don’t trust the glossy website or testimonials – they may well be fake!

Ideally, talk to your vet about the potential risks and pitfalls, so you can avoid them.

What support do the rescue centre give you after you’ve taken responsibility for the dog?

It is vital that you research your rescue centre thoroughly. Look at the reviews and make sure people have had positive experiences with them. When you adopt a dog, you adopt them for life. This means you are signing up to a long commitment, which you may need support with throughout. Communication is key. The rescue centre must be responsive. Some rescue centres have specific points of contact within the UK making it much easier and smoother to gain information. Ensure you understand what responsibilities the rescue centre keeps once they have given you the puppy. Some will require proof of the quality of life the dog is having, whilst others may never contact you again; potentially leaving you with all the problems they never told you about.

Medical history

Understand your new pet’s medical history. You should request a full and detailed medical history from your new pet’s veterinary professional. If there isn’t one – AVOID.


In order to travel, your dog must have up to date vaccinations plus up to date flea and worming, which means they will have received veterinary care prior to their arrival. Remember, while it is a legal requirement to vaccinate against rabies before importing dogs to the UK, the other vaccines we would consider essential are commonly not included. So “fully vaccinated” might not mean what you think!

There have been recent outbreaks of distemper (a disease almost extinct in the UK) due to infected unvaccinated rescue dogs being travelled together. Make sure that the dogs were vaccinated against distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus as well as rabies. 

Flea and worm treatment

It’s a legal requirement for a dog to be treated for tapeworm before coming into the UK from most places. But other worms and ticks carrying nasty diseases are common and potentially fatal. Make sure that your new dog is fully protected against whatever the major threats are where they’re coming from.

These preventative health precautions do not last forever and it is up to you to continue this level of care once the dog is in your possession. If you struggle to understand the scientific terminology within your future pet’s medical history, take it to your local vets and ask for a consultation so the vet can inform you on what this medical history means. If your pet has any pre-diagnosed, long term medical conditions, this could affect your pet’s quality life and could become very expensive, very quickly; especially after the stresses associated with travelling. If the medical history reveals any problems, seek advice regarding how these problems may progress, the prognosis and any common side effects, before you agree to rehome.

Is the dog correct for you?

Most rescue dogs from abroad are due to unwanted, accidental matings, meaning it is often impossible to know which two dogs mated to produce the puppies. In cases like this, we cannot determine the nature of their parents, nor their characteristics or physical traits. It is difficult to estimate how large puppies will grow, so if you do not want a large dog, rescuing a slightly older dog may be advisable. Larger dogs need a larger amount of space to move around, commonly need more exercise and will eat more food! If you are very keen to learn about the genetic make-up of your pet, you can have a DNA test done on your pet’s hair or saliva. This will tell you what breeds make up your pet.

Behaviour testing

It is important to know whether the dog you are adopting will fit your lifestyle. Knowing whether they can live with children, other dogs or other cats is important, especially if these things are deal breakers for you! Many rescue centres now do behavioural testing to allow these behaviour traits to be challenged and analysed. Although you can never fully predict how an animal will respond to different stimuli. 

Unfortunately, many international “rescue charities” do not have this data. You need to be aware that if the dog was previously a street dog, they will not have been socialised to normal UK family life. The dog may not be able to tolerate other animals, or contact with people. And even being kept indoors may be a significant stressor, causing major behavioural problems. Aggression is sadly common, and behavioural issues (in some cases posing a threat to human safety) is the most common reason for rehoming failure and euthanasia of rescue dogs.

If you choose to adopt a dog with a history of behavioural issues, you are taking on a challenge and patience is essential. Training a dog with learnt negative traits can take a long time to improve; and they may never resolve, especially if the dog was never socialised to humans. You will need time and dedication. You will almost certainly require help from a clinical animal behaviourist which can be costly. And you must remember that as soon as you rescue a dog, they become your responsibility. If they were to bite a child or attack another animal, you need to take responsibility and act appropriately. 

Ensuring you can commit to a dog is essential prior to the arrival of your pet.

Please remember that there are plenty of rescue centres within the UK with many amazing, friendly dogs seeking their forever homes. You are able to meet and socialise with these dogs prior to making any commitment to adopting them, with no risk of importing dangerous diseases, helping to make sure you are ready to change a dog’s life!

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