If you are thinking about taking your dog elsewhere in Europe this year, then brace yourself for an expensive and time-consuming headache.
Pet owners say they are having to fork out hundreds of pounds for the necessary paperwork after post-Brexit rule changes.
Pet passports issued in Great Britain are no longer valid for travel to EU countries (you can still use a pet passport issued in an EU country, Northern Ireland or a few other places but check it will be accepted before you travel).
Now, before a pet dog – or cat or ferret – can travel to the EU or Northern Ireland, its owner has to obtain an animal health certificate (AHC) for it.
To get the certificate, the pet must be microchipped and vaccinated against rabies. A rabies jab typically costs about £50 but some vets charge as much as £80.
You must take your pet to your vet to get an AHC and – crucially – do this no more than 10 days before you travel.
Make three trips to the EU with your pet and you could face paying almost £1,000 for the certificates that are now required, although prices vary hugely.
Even if you are not going away until July or August, now is the time to act because some vets are already heavily booked up for this summer. If vet practices end up having to turn people away, it could threaten a pet version of the UK’s passport delay chaos.
The coronavirus pandemic triggered an explosion in pet ownership levels but surveys have indicated that the majority of dog owners are unsure of the rules concerning taking their animal to the EU.
Mairead McErlean was this week told it would cost £220 to get an AHC for her English bulldog, Pepper, plus another £65 for the rabies jab needed to get the certificate, and £15 for the worming treatment required for her trip – a total of £300.
She is traveling to Ireland in July and says £300 “is more than my ferry and my petrol … I’m so cross about the whole thing”.
McErlean has family in Ireland and says: “If I make three trips a year, which, pre-Covid, would have been pretty normal for me, that’s nearly £1,000 to take her with me.”
Pepper, who is almost five, is a rescue dog and has abandonment issues, so putting her into kennels is not an option, she adds.
Later in the summer, McErlean is going to France with friends, and is planning to take Pepper, so that is at least another £220 she will have to pay, plus whatever fees a vet in France charges for the paperwork for the return trip.
When she phoned her vet this week she was told that July was “really busy” and she would be lucky to get a slot as other people had already booked the AHC appointments.
Eventually the vet told McErlean, who lives in Milton Keynes, that they would squeeze her in.
However, she adds: “If my parents move to Ireland permanently, what do I do in an emergency? The only option would be for my partner to stay at home with Pepper.”
The Kennel Club says an AHC typically costs between £100 and £200. This usually includes the consultation and reviewing the paperwork. However, each veterinary practice sets its own price and there have been reports of some vets charging more than £300.
You can add up to five pets to an AHC, and often you will pay less for the additional animals.
One woman posted on Facebook earlier this month that she had paid £230 to take two dogs to France. “While there, I obtained two worming tablets and two French pet passports for €34 (£29),” she said, adding: “I did have to provide proof of a French address.” However, it was recently reported that the rules for obtaining French pet passports have been tightened up.
When Guardian Money did a price check this week, we found that many of the vets who are part of the CVS Group – which runs more than 500 practices – are charging £250 for the first pet and £50 for any additional animals.
At the cheaper end, we found a practice in Folkestone, Kent, that says it charges from £75, and one in Havant, Hampshire, that charges £99 for a standard AHC.
The certificate needs to be signed by an “official veterinarian”, or OV, not just anyone at the practice. Some practices do not have an OV, and those that do will often limit how many AHC appointments they book in. We spoke to a practice in north-east London that is booking in only one a day.
Once issued, an AHC lasts for four months, which includes any traveling around Europe.
However, the certificate is valid only for a single trip into the EU. So every time you make a new trip to an EU country or Northern Ireland from Great Britain, your pet will need a new AHC, even if your last one was issued only a few weeks earlier.
Vets say the reason the certificates can be pricey is that there is quite a lot of work involved: the form runs to about 10 pages and needs to be completed in English and the language of the “country of entry” to the EU.
Dr Ed Hayes, the head of public affairs at the Kennel Club, says Covid travel restrictions have delayed the impact of AHCs, adding: “It’s going to be a bigger issue this year.”
However, he says owners of second homes who make multiple trips may be able to obtain an EU pet passport issued by that country. “Try to find a local vet,” he says.
The British Veterinary Association says AHCs are considerably more complex and time-consuming than the previous EU pet passport system, so practices have to factor in the extra resources required to complete them when setting their costs and deciding how long they may need to offer for an appointment. “Some practices have had to make the difficult decision not to offer AHCs, as they simply don’t have the time and capacity to deliver them. It is also important to note that the vet needs to be a certified official vet, so legally only some vets can sign the certificates.”
BVA president Justine Shotton says changing the requirements is outside of the profession’s or the UK government’s control, as they are set by the EU, but it has asked ministers to offer practical support for “simplifying and streamlining” the process.
Other things to be aware of
A vet must treat your dog for tapeworm and record it on the AHC or pet passport if you are traveling directly to Northern Ireland, Ireland, Malta, Finland or Norway.
Also (although this is not a new requirement), when coming back to Great Britain, dogs must typically receive treatment for tapeworm one to five days before returning.
You cannot take more than five pets to an EU country or Northern Ireland unless you are attending or training for a competition, show or sporting event.