Over the last few years, we have seen a huge rise in the number of pets registered with us that originate from outside of the UK. Many dogs from overseas have come through some extremely hard times and been through so much. Providing them with a loving, happy home is a beautiful thing to do.

Here at Westport, we pride ourselves on giving you and your pup the very best service and up-to-date information, which includes preventative medicine. That means testing or treating to prevent serious illness. It is the opposite of reactive medicine, which is treating animals who are already sick.

Dogs who originate from or travel to overseas countries are at risk of having been exposed to certain diseases which we don’t generally find in the UK. Many of these are through parasites such as heartworm, brown ticks, and sandflies. Exposed dogs can appear perfectly healthy, but they may be carriers of disease, which can pose a serious health risk to other animals and humans. They can also have chronic/incipient disease, which is when their body tries to fight off the condition but becomes slowly depleted until reserves are low and they become suddenly extremely unwell.

Many dogs who originate from overseas have little or no medical history, so we don’t know if they have been exposed to ticks or other parasites, or if they have had a period of illness that they have managed to recover from.

The conditions we are particularly concerned about are:


Ehrlichia is a rickettsial disease carried by the brown dog tick. It can cause fever, respiratory distress, weight loss, bleeding disorders (spontaneous bleeding), neurological disease (suddenly seem unsteady or develop meningitis), anaemia, blindness, lameness, and bone marrow disease (meaning the dog can’t manufacture new blood cells, which is fatal). You can’t catch Ehrlichia directly from an infected dog, but if a tick bites an infected dog and then another animal or a human the disease can be transmitted. If caught in time this condition can be treated with antibiotics and diligent anti-tick control. Some dogs may need a blood transfusion, or this disease may be fatal.

Brucella canis –

Brucella is a contagious bacterial disease. It typically causes reproductive problems such as infertility, abortions, epididymitis (swollen testicle), or persistent vaginal discharge. Occasionally it can infect the intervertebral discs, eyes, kidneys, or brain. Large numbers of the bacteria are shed in the genital secretions, and smaller amounts are in the urine, saliva, and blood. Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be transmitted from dogs to humans. People who have a compromised immune system (for example due to chronic illness or chemotherapy treatment), or who come into contact with breeding dogs are at higher risk of infection. Antibiotics can be used to help control this condition, but not eliminate it – any dog diagnosed should be considered a carrier for life. This is a reportable disease, which means any positive diagnosis must be reported to the UK government. The UK government (APHA) recommends that positively diagnosed dogs are either euthanased or treated with antibiotics pre and post neuter and for the dog not to take the dog anywhere where other dogs frequent.

Leishmania –

Leishmania is a parasite transmitted by the sandfly (not present in the UK). Dogs develop skin lesions, become depressed, lose weight, drink excessively, and some develop kidney failure. Treatment involves taking a combination of two drugs for several months, however, treatment is not curative so relapses and repeated treatments are commonly needed. Humans can’t catch Leishmania directly from dogs, and there is no risk of transmission in the UK because we don’t have the sandfly needed to pass it on to other dogs or humans.

Babesia –

Babesia is a parasite (a protozoan) transmitted by ticks. It invades red blood cells causing anaemia. Dogs may collapse, have dark urine, fever, weakness, pale gums, depression, or sudden death. Babesia is sometimes fatal but may be able to be treated by a combination of drugs depending on which strain of Babesia the dog is infected with and which body system is affected. Previously infected dogs remain as carriers and may suffer relapses, which can be a source of further infection if ticks bite a carrier dog. Humans can’t catch babesiosis directly from dogs, but if a tick bites an infected dog and then another animal or a human the disease can be transmitted.

Heartworm –

Heartworm is a parasite passed via a mosquito. It takes 5-7 months for the heartworms to mature into adults and cause clinical disease. Adult heartworms clog the heart and major blood vessels and interfere with the valves of the heart. Blood supply to other organs is reduced, such as the lungs, liver, and kidneys. Common signs are a soft dry cough, weakness, listlessness, reduced stamina, fainting or collapse after exercise, heart failure, swelling of the abdomen or legs, or sudden death. If the disease isn’t detected until the dog is ill, it can be dangerous to kill the heartworms as they can cause further blockage to blood vessels and there is substantial damage to organs. Preventative or early treatment is more successful. Heartworm does not infect humans.

Hepatozoon –

Hepatozoon is a protozoal parasite spread by ticks. Dogs typically show signs of fever, lethargy, inappetence, weight loss, muscle pain, discharge from the eyes/nose, and enlarged lymph nodes. Without treatment, it can cause kidney failure and is often fatal. Treatment depends on which strain of hepatozoon has infected the dog, some can be treated with antibiotics, and others need life-long management. Hepatozoon does not infect humans.

Lymes disease –

Lymes disease is a bacterial illness that can be transmitted to humans, dogs, and other animals by ticks. Typical signs of disease are fever, loss of appetite, reduced energy, lameness, generalised stiffness/discomfort, and joint swelling. Treatment involves at least a month of antibiotics, occasionally prolonged treatment might be needed. You can’t catch Lyme directly from an infected dog, but if a tick bites an infected dog and then another animal or a human the disease can be transmitted to them.

Anaplasma –

Anaplasma is a bacterial organism transmitted by the deer tick. It often causes lameness, joint pain, fever, lethargy, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhoea, coughing, bleeding (such as nosebleeds), laboured breathing, or rarely seizures. Treatment involves an antibiotic for up to four weeks. You can’t catch Lyme directly from an infected dog, but if a tick bites an infected dog and then another animal or a human the disease can be transmitted to them.

Although these diseases sound potentially very worrying, many can be managed or treated by us, however, this can only happen if we know they are there. If you have a dog originally from overseas, talk to one of our vets or nurses about health testing available to check their infectious disease status. We can run tests in-house after blood sampling them, which helps us ensure their best long-term care.