I’ve written before about concerns I have with international rescue programs. We’ve been seeing various "foreign" diseases in dogs that have been imported to Ontario, and some of these could pose a risk to the broader dog population. I also have a hard time justifying someone spending a few thousand dollars to import a dog when we have lots of dogs right here in local shelters looking for homes. Often, people just want to be able to say they have an “[insert exotic sounding country here] rescue dog.”

There’s been a lot of discussion about stray dogs in Sochi, Russia, where there is a large stray population and reports of culls being undertaken by Russian authorities. Not surprisingly, even such a concerted effort isn’t going to get rid of all strays. More than a few people at the Sochi Olympics have bonded with local strays and are looking into bringing home a canine souvenir.

To me, this is a different situation than the one above, since these people have bonded with a specific dog (or dogs) and I can more easily justify the effort and cost to bring those dogs home.

However, disease risks remain the same.

Unfortunately, rules for importing dogs are very limited for most countries and don’t do much to protect the local dog population or public health. Typically, the only government concern is rabies, and even for that disease the rules are pretty lax.

Importing a dog into the US (click for link)

  • If it’s been vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days prior to entry, that’s all that’s needed.
  • If it has not been vaccinated, it can still be imported if the importer agrees to vaccinate the dog within 4 days of arrival and keep the animal confined for at least 30 days after vaccination.
  • If the dog is less than 3 months of age (too young for rabies vaccination), it must be kept confined until 3 months of age, at which point it needs to be vaccinated and confined for 30 more days.

(I doubt anyone actually follows up to see if vaccination or confinement are done.)

Importing a dog into Canada

So if you’re coming back from Sochi with a puppy, you’re not going to get a lot (or any) guidance from federal authorities. What should you do to protect the puppy, other animals and yourself?

  • Take the dog to a veterinarian ASAP to identify any problems, and have it dewormed and vaccinated. Make sure it gets treated right away with praziquantel to eliminate any Echinococcus multilocularis (a highly concerning tapeworm) that might be present. (I have no idea what the prevalence of this parasite is in the Sochi area, but I’d err on the side of caution and assume the dog’s infected, particularly since a single dose of this very safe and inexpensive drug will eliminate it.)
  • Keep the dog away from other dogs for at least a few weeks. That means staying away from parks and other areas where it may encounter local dogs. This helps to protect the other dogs AND the new arrival, since it takes time for vaccines to work and there may be some impact on the immune system from the stress of travel and adjusting to a new home.
  • If the dog gets sick, get it to a veterinarian.  Don’t mess around.
  • If the dog develops neurological disease, make sure rabies is considered. The incubation period can be months, and while we need to think about rabies in all neurological cases, it’s of particular concern in dogs imported from some other areas of the world.

If someone bonds with a dog while and Sochi and wants to bring it home, good for them. However, they should take some measures to reduce the health risks to their new furry friend, other animals and themselves.