Rabies warning over pet passports
Loosening controls on pet passports could herald a return of rabies to the UK, experts have warned.
Relaxing the rules - part of a move by the European Commission to harmonise regulations - would require the UK to abandon specific controls to protect against the spread of disease.
This could mean rabies is passed from animals brought into the country on to children, the scientists said.
Writing in The Veterinary Record journal, Dr Paul Burr, Dr Susan Duthie and Dr Kate Turner Haig said rabies was "far from eradicated" in Europe and could return to the UK if safe-guarding tests are removed.
Though the risk of importing the disease is small, it has been detected in animals in France and Germany as well as in eastern European states and Northern Italy.
It has also been reported in dogs that have been vaccinated.
Dr Burr, Dr Duthie and Dr Turner Haig, who specialise in serological testing for rabies and related viruses, said a "significant proportion" of animals currently fail the tests and are consequently prevented from travelling.
"Free movement of cats and dogs between continental European states means all must be regarded as rabies-positive for movement purposes," they wrote.
Currently pets coming into the UK - a rabies-free zone - undergo a blood test to ensure they have been successfully vaccinated against the disease. But this check would not have to be performed if controls on the pet passport system are relaxed.