Taking a dog to the EU after Brexit might cost £300 every trip.
If you plan on transporting your dog to another European country this year, be prepared for an expensive and time-consuming headache.
Following post-Brexit law changes, pet owners claim they are having to pay hundreds of pounds for the essential paperwork.
Pet passports issued in the United Kingdom are no longer valid for travel within the European Union (you can still use a pet passport issued in an EU country, Northern Ireland or a few other places but check it will be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).
A pet dog – or cat or ferret – must now obtain an animal health certificate (AHC) before traveling to the EU or Northern Ireland.
The pet must be microchipped and rabies-vaccinated in order to receive the certificate. A rabies vaccination costs around £50, although some vets charge more to £80.
You must receive an AHC for your pet from your veterinarian no later than 10 days before your departure.
If you take your pet to the EU three times, you could end up paying about £1,000 for the credentials that are now necessary, though prices vary greatly.
Even if you aren't planning on leaving until July or August, now is the time to arrange your appointment because some veterinarians are already fully booked for the summer. If veterinarians are forced to turn patients away, a pet version of the UK's passport delay pandemonium could emerge.
The coronavirus pandemic sparked a surge in pet ownership, but surveys show that the majority of dog owners are unaware of the rules for bringing their pet into the EU.
Mairead McErlean was told last week that getting an AHC for her English bulldog, Pepper, would cost £220, plus £65 for the rabies vaccination required for the certificate, and £15 for the worming treatment needed for her journey, for a total of £300.
She plans to visit Ireland in July and claims that £300 "is more than my ferry and my gasoline... I'm furious about everything.
If I make three visits a year, which would have been very usual for me before Covid, that's over £1,000 to take her with me, McErlean explains.
Pepper, who is almost five, is a rescue dog with abandonment issues, so kennels are out of the question, she says.
McErlean is going to France with friends later this summer and plans to take Pepper, so she'll have to spend at least another £220, plus whatever expenses a vet in France charges for documentation for the return trip.
When she called her veterinarian this week, she was told that July was "very busy" and that she would be lucky to get an appointment because the AHC appointments were already filled.
McErlean, who lives in Milton Keynes, was eventually notified that she would be admitted.
What do I do in an emergency if my folks go to Ireland permanently? she asks. My partner's only option would be to stay at home with Pepper."
An AHC normally costs between £100 and £200, according to the Kennel Club. The consultation and paperwork review are normally included. Each veterinarian office, however, sets its own pricing, and some vets have been reported to charge more than £300.
You can add up to five pets to an AHC, and the extra animals usually cost less.
Earlier last month, a woman reported on Facebook that she had spent £230 to transport two pets to France. "I got two worming medicines and two French pet passports for €34 (£29) while I was there," she claimed, adding that she had to present confirmation of a French address. The restrictions for getting French pet passports have recently been strengthened, according to recent reports.
When Guardian Money checked prices this week, we discovered that many of the CVS Group's (which has over 500 practices) vets charge £250 for the first pet and £50 for any additional animals.
We discovered a practice in Folkestone, Kent, that charges from £75 for a typical AHC, and another in Havant, Hampshire, that charges £99 for one.
Not just anyone at the practice may sign the certificate; it must be signed by a "official veterinarian," or OV. Some practices lack an OV, and those that have will frequently limit the number of AHC appointments they schedule. We spoke with a practice in north-east London that only accepts one patient each day.
An AHC is valid for four months after it is issued, including any travel inside Europe.
The certificate, however, is only good for one trip into the EU. So, even if your last AHC was given only a few weeks ago, your pet will require a new one every time you go to an EU country or Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom.
According to veterinarians, the certifications are expensive because they require a lot of work: the form is roughly 10 pages long and must be filled in English and the language of the "nation of entry" into the EU.
The Kennel Club's head of public affairs, Dr. Ed Hayes, says that Covid travel restrictions have pushed back the impact of AHCs, but that "it's going to be a bigger concern this year.
Owners with second residences who travel frequently may be able to obtain an EU pet passport from that country, he says. Try to locate a local veterinarian, he advises.
According to the British Veterinary Association, AHCs are far more complicated and time-consuming than the previous EU pet passport system, thus practitioners must take in the additional resources needed to complete them when determining their costs and how long they can offer for an appointment. Some practices have had to make the tough decision not to provide AHCs because they lack the time and resources to do so. It's also worth noting that the veterinarian must be a licensed official veterinarian, which means that only certain veterinarians are allowed to sign the certificates.
Because the rules are imposed by the EU, BVA president Justine Shotton says modifying them is out of the profession's or the UK government's authority, but it has requested ministers to provide practical help for "simplifying and streamlining" the process.