INISTERS in the UK are preparing for extension of the Pet Passport scheme that came into law in 2000.
Dogs and cats from the United States and Canada will soon be able to enter the UK without the statutory six-month quarantine period, as pets from most of western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Hawaii do at present. North American pets will be included in the scheme from next year.
Elliot Morley, the Minister for Animal Health, hopes the plans will be finalised and he will be able to make a formal state-ment with a definite timeframe in June.
He acknowledges, however, that the laws governing the new extension are likely to be stricter than those in place at present. A history of the animal's recent travel may also be required.
Scientific personnel believe after a study that relaxation of the rules will be possible as long as the pet has been microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and blood tested to see that the vaccine has worked.
They must also be de-loused and wormed, and have a full veterinary inspection before they leave for the UK.
North American pets will also be obliged to register with a vet in Britain to ensure that regular checks are made after their arrival in Britain.
As rabies is rampant in the USA, especially on the east coast, every effort had to be made to protect British wildlife from such diseases, said Joe Brownlie, professor of veterinary pathology at the Royal Veterinary College.
He said the main threat to humans was ringworm and to pets it was the introduction of heartworm, but these can be revealed in a veterinary check.
The British government has been under pressure from the USA to relax the laws because they have been the reason for many Americans turning down postings in Britain.
If approved, the extension of the pet passport programme would mean the end of many jobs in the pet quarantine industry.