Whether you regularly travel with your dog, are heading off travelling with your dog for the first time soon, or are relocating across the world with your dog, you probably have a long list of preparation steps. Steps like getting a rabies vaccination, if you don’t already have one or it’s time for a booster, getting a health certificate and researching pet-friendly transport options. But there’s one extra step you should consider, even if you don’t initially need it: a rabies titre test for your dog.
If you’re heading to Europe or Australia, depending on your country, your dog may require a rabies titre test. Additionally, if you’re currently in Europe or Australia and travelling abroad with your dog, read on to find out whether you should also get a rabies titre test for your dog now before your depart.
What is the Rabies Titre Test?
Often the only proof you need that your dog is immunised against rabies is a rabies certificate, filled in by your vet when they vaccinate your dog. However, sometimes further proof is required: a rabies titre test. It’s also known as a rabies antibody test, rabies neutralising antibody titre (RNAT) test or rabies blood test.
Basically, a small sample of blood is taken by an authorised veterinarian after your dog has been immunised for rabies. A certain period of time should have elapsed, around a month (depending on the particular regulations you are complying with). The sample is then sent away to an approved laboratory to test it for the level of neutralising antibody to rabies virus in the serum. Shortly after your vet will receive a lab report giving the level of antibodies. Usually a level of 0.5 IU/ml or greater is acceptable, to prove that your pet is immunised against rabies. In the case of tests done in Europe, there is a page in your EU pet passport for the result to be recorded.
Does Your Dog Need a Rabies Titre Test to Travel to Europe or Australia?
If you’re travelling to the EU from outside of the EU (or just transiting but need to pass through customs), your dog may need a rabies titre test to firstly be performed. This depends on the country that you are travelling to the EU from. There is a list of countries that are exempt from this requirement, including the USA, Canada and Australia. The full list of exempt countries are listed on this page.
If your dog does require the rabies antibody test to travel to the EU, it must be done at least 30 days after your pet has been vaccinated for rabies, and at least 3 months before your pet travels to the EU. This means the total preparation time to take your pet to the EU is at least 4 months. The approved rabies serology laboratories are listed here. Also, once your pet has had a satisfactory result, it doesn’t need to be renewed as long as your pet is always up-to-date with their rabies vaccination. For other countries in Europe outside of the EU, check with the individual country regulations. Many other countries have similar regulations.
Additionally, dogs travelling to Australia usually require a rabies neutralising antibody titre test, with a far shorter list of exempt countries. The only exempt countries are the Group 1 and 2 rabies-free countries as listed in this glossary. All dogs that have visited Group 3 countries (or any of the unapproved countries) require a rabies titre test as part of the long preparation process. While the test can be done anytime from 3-4 weeks after the rabies vaccination, the waiting period is even longer: 180 days until your dog can be exported to Australia. Plus it must have been done a maximum of 24 months before your dog is exported. The full details for this test, and the remaining steps for exporting a dog from Group 3 countries to Australia, are listed here.
Scenario 1: Leaving the EU While Travelling Around Europe
One of the things I love about travelling around Europe with a dog that it’s so easy from an administrative view. Usually no vet visits or certificates are required moving from country to country, unless a worming treatment is required. However, this only applies if you travel within the EU and some related countries. If you leave this group of countries and then return to the EU, you’ll need to re-review the paperwork requirements to enter the EU with your dog.
In particular, there are a few countries within Europe, with a high incidence of rabies, where you’ll need a rabies titre test to re-enter the EU from these countries. This currently applies for: Albania, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Ukraine and Turkey. (It’s always a good idea to double-check the country you are travelling from is still exempt, on this page.) This even applies if you’re just briefly driving through these countries, such as on your way from Italy to Greece.
Now, according to the EU regulations, if you wait until you enter these countries and then get a rabies antibody test, you need to wait 3 months before your pet is permitted to re-enter the EU. The better option is to get a rabies antibody test before leaving the EU, whether at home or somewhere along the way (but still in the EU). As long as the test is carried out and documented in your pet passport, with a favourable result, before your pet leaves the EU, there is no waiting period.
So, if you’re travelling around Europe with your dog and there’s a chance you’ll visit one of these countries, consider getting a rabies titre test for your dog now.
Scenario 2: Travelling to the Rest of the World from Europe
Just as you’ll need a rabies titre test to return to the EU from some countries within Europe, this is also the case if you’re travelling to many other countries around the world with your dog. In particular this applies for many developing countries in the world.
For example, if you are travelling to Asia with your dog, currently the only Asian countries or territories where your dog doesn’t need a rabies antibody test to return to the EU are Bahrain, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and the UAE. The list of countries currently exempt from this rule are listed here.
Now, you may be travelling to Asia for an extended period (or indefinitely), but it’s still a good idea to get a rabies titre test. Firstly, circumstances can change, and you may want to return to Europe quickly. If you get a rabies titre test as part of your return preparations, you’ll have to wait 3 months before travelling back to the EU. If you have the test done before you leave, you can immediately fly back, as long as your pet’s rabies boosters have been done before the last vaccination expired.
Secondly, the more difficult aspect is you’ll need to have the test performed by a laboratory recognised by the EU. The approved laboratories are listed here. There may not be a recognised laboratory in your country of residence, and it may be difficult to organise, due to rules on posting blood samples. It’s easier to get the test before you leave and keep your dog’s rabies vaccines up-to-date. (Although any overseas boosters should be certified separately, not in your dog’s EU Pet Passport.)
Read about about this dog’s experience travelling from Thailand to Europe
Additionally, if you’re from the US and are travelling to Asia or Africa with your dog, it’s also a good idea to have the rabies titre test done for your dog, though the rabies titre test is not required to return to the US. There’s a chance you may take a flight that transits through Europe, in which case you may need to fulfil the requirements to enter the EU with your dog.
Scenario 3: Travelling Overseas from Australia
Before I left Australia with my dog to travel to Europe, I technically only needed to have my dog immunised for rabies, as well as complete the standard paperwork. However, I also had the rabies titre test performed on my dog, just before I flew out.
This is because all dogs and cats travelling to Australia, except for those that have only visited a short list of rabies-free countries, need to have the rabies titre test done at least 180 days before the date of export to Australia. This means that most animals travelling to Australia take a very long time to prepare (at least 7 months), simply due to this one waiting period.
The countries that are currently exempt from the rabies titre test are known as Group 1 and Group 2 countries, as listed in this glossary (scroll down). They are mainly islands and include New Zealand, Hawaii, Japan, and Singapore. Note that EU countries and mainland USA are not included – if your pet has visited one of these countries, it requires the rabies titre test.
However, if you have the rabies titre test done before leaving Australia (and keep your pet’s rabies vaccination up-to-date), there is no waiting period, if you return within 2 years (the validity period for the test for the Australian authorities). This means if you’re overseas for a period less than 7 months or you need to quickly organise your return (if your circumstances change), you can complete the entire preparation in under 2 months. (Note that for the purpose of entering Australia only a rabies titre test within the last 2 years can be used.)
The other benefit from having a rabies titre test done on your pet before leaving Australia, if the test is conducted at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, is that the process to apply for an import permit is simpler. You don’t need to get an RNATT declaration completed by the official government veterinarian in the country of export and attach it to your permit application, as covered on this page. And considering how complex the process is to prepare your pet to return to Australia, every step you can skip is welcome!