Disease risks of holiday travel

Are there health risks for your dog when travelling within Europe?

The quick answer is yes! – and these dangers are significant.

People take their holidays in more and more exotic destinations and are familiar with the need to have particular vaccinations or medications for themselves as a precaution.

Protection for all diseases is not possible – the “locals” may have some immunity to the diseases occuring in their area. Visitors may not have such immunity, so disease risks when travelling are a reality.


The same concerns relate to your dog, and in Europe, the risks are increased when travelling to Mediterranean areas that are especially popular holiday destinations. As well as the specific risks outlined below, it is strongly recommended the dog’s normal vaccinations are up to date.




What are the specific risks?

The specific risks include the following diseases: Heartworm, Leishmaniasis, Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis. All are prevalent in Mediterranean areas.

Heartworm  is a worm that is transmitted to dogs by mosquito bites. The mosquito injects the immature worms into the skin and from there they migrate through the body and reach the chambers of the heart. Here the worms mature into adults and may grow to a length of 30cm.

Treatment of affected animals is not without risk. Prevention using appropriate medications is effective, though it is better to start this prior to travelling. Your veterinarian can advise you.


Leishmaniasis is caused by a tiny parasite that is transmitted by sandflies. There may be a long incubation period (months to years) and the skin and most internal organs can become affected.
There is no vaccine available, and permanent medication may help to control the disease but not cure it. The only practical method to reduce the risk of infection is to prevent sandflies biting. Repellents are available and may help. As an additional precaution, it is best to keep your dog indoors between dusk and dawn as this is the time when sandflies are most active.



Babesiosis  is caused by a microscopic parasite that is transmitted by ticks. The red blood cells are destroyed resulting in anaemia. There are drugs used in the treatment of this disease, but these are not available in the UK. Ehrlichia is a disease that is also transmitted by ticks. In both cases, prevention is best achieved by effective tick control.
Your veterinarian can advise on the best products to use. However, even with the best repellents, the occasional tick may become attached – if found, they should be removed without delay using a “tick hook”. Blankets in the back of cars could also harbour ticks, and it is recommended that these be sprayed with appropriate products.

Are there any safe areas within Europe?

In general the Mediterranean areas are considered to be the most dangerous, and northern Europe relatively safe. However, there has been a gradual spread of these diseases in a northerly direction, and as the number of pets travelling on holiday increases, this trend is likely to continue.

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