Feature Story | 6-Jun-2023

Pet passports: MU launches rabies lab for pets traveling abroad

Antibody testing within MU’s Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory helps prevent spread of rabies around the world.

University of Missouri-Columbia

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine has launched a rabies antibody testing service within their Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (VMDL). The service will provide certified test results for companion animals traveling with their owners to Hawaii and other international locations. Rabies is a fatal viral infection that attacks the body’s central nervous system, and pets in the United States can get infected from getting bitten by wildlife, such as racoons, skunks, foxes and bats.

The antibody testing service at MU — one of only four of its kind in the United States —  is currently intended for companion animals, including dogs, cats and ferrets, who will be traveling with their owners to Hawaii, Guam, New Zealand, Australia and St. Kitts & Nevis — places that require pet owners to show proof of rabies immunity protection for their pet before entry.

For people traveling with their pets from areas where rabies is present, such as the U.S. mainland, to large islands or countries where rabies is not present, historically pets were separated from their owners and required to quarantine in isolation upon arrival for four to six months, given how long the rabies incubation period is.

Celebrities that often traveled with their pets, including Elton John and Elizabeth Hurley, were concerned and advocated against these policies, and over time, the United Kingdom, Hawaii, and countries around the world developed new, less restrictive ‘pet passport’ protocols due to advancements in antibody testing and considerations for pets to be able to quarantine in their owner’s home before travel abroad.

“Now, you can submit a blood sample from your pet before your trip, and if the blood test shows adequate levels of rabies antibody immunity from previous vaccines or booster shots, the pet earns a certificate to avoid the inconvenience of having to quarantine in isolation upon arrival at the destination,” said Susan Moore, director of the new rabies lab at MU and an associate clinical professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. “Given how much people love their pets, this industry has grown tremendously over the years.”

Moore led the Kansas State University Rabies Laboratory for 21 years before recently coming to MU to launch a similar lab. At Kansas State University, she analyzed 50,000 blood samples for pet travel each year on average, of which approximately 15,000 each year were specifically for travelers to Hawaii. Her efforts have helped prevent the spread of rabies to large islands and countries around the world.

“The demand for this service continues to grow,” Moore said. “While I was at K-State, each year we would always receive more and more samples compared to the year before, and I anticipate that increased demand to continue to grow going forward.”

MU’s VMDL performs more than 160,000 diagnostic tests annually to support Missouri’s companion and agricultural animals, wildlife, and zoo animal conservation efforts. As a Level 1 Laboratory of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, and Missouri’s only full-service laboratory accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians, the VMDL plays a major role in the early detection, testing and post-outbreaks of foreign and emerging animal diseases.

The service is used by veterinarians throughout Missouri and across the country, including tests for chronic wasting disease in deer, African Swine Fever in pigs and highly pathogenic avian influenza in chickens. In September 2022, MU hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the $30 million renovation and expansion of the VMDL.

For pet owners interested in traveling to Hawaii, Guam, New Zealand, Australia or St. Kitts & Nevis in the near future, Moore recommends scheduling an appointment with a veterinarian, who can take a blood sample from the pet and then submit the blood sample to the MU VMDL for analysis. Moore estimates the turnaround time for analyzing the blood samples once they are received from a veterinarian to be approximately one week.


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