Japan eases quarantine rules for pets of Ukrainian evacuees

In a rare move, Japan has eased its restrictions on bringing pets from abroad for evacuees fleeing war-torn Ukraine, allowing pet owners to take home their four-legged friends, also deemed victims of war, almost right after arrival in Japan.

On Monday, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced that the quarantine period for dogs and cats accompanying evacuees from Ukraine has been be significantly shortened as long as the owners take all required measures against rabies.

Under the eased rules, which will only apply to evacuees from Ukraine, the owners of vaccinated, microchipped animals will be allowed to take their feline or canine friends to their accommodation right away once the pet’s antibody levels are confirmed.

Under normal regulations, dogs and cats are required to spend up to 180 days at a quarantine facility after entering Japan.

According to the ministry, five dogs have already entered the country from Ukraine with their owners. Once the required level of antibodies has been confirmed, they will be allowed to be taken out of quarantine.

The owners will also be obliged to check the condition of their dogs twice daily and report the status to the animal quarantine station once a week. The dogs will not be allowed to come into contact with other animals for a period of time, although the ministry has not specified how long that will be.

“We hope that the owners will spend time with their pets, who are like family members, and become accustomed to life in Japan,” a ministry official said.

A dog wanders past the wreckage of an apartment building in Horenka, a suburb of Kyiv, on Wednesday. | DAVID GUTTENFELDER / THE NEW YORK TIMES
A dog wanders past the wreckage of an apartment building in Horenka, a suburb of Kyiv, on Wednesday. | DAVID GUTTENFELDER / THE NEW YORK TIMES

The government’s decision has drawn backlash from the public, especially on social media, with some people expressing concerns that a shortened quarantine period will pose a health risk to animals and people in Japan.

There have been no cases of rabies in Japan since 1957. Once the second phase of symptoms appear, rabies is virtually 100% fatal.

In response to such concerns, however, the agriculture ministry explained to the media on Wednesday that “there is no increased risk of rabies” with regard to dogs brought by Ukrainian evacuees, given the need for vaccination.

At present, dogs and cats must be microchipped for identification and given at least two anti-rabies shots, with a 30-day interval between doses, before travel to Japan. They are also required to undergo tests to prove their antibody levels are above normal.

Relaxed measures with a 12-hour quarantine period apply to Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, the Fiji Islands, Hawaii and Guam, which are designated as rabies-free by the government.

Under the Rabies Prevention Law, enacted in 1950, pet owners are required to vaccinate and register dogs, and pets are also subject to quarantine inspections upon departure from and entry into Japan. It is believed the measures have helped eliminate the disease in the country.

According to the World Health Organization, rabies is estimated to cause 59,000 human deaths per year in more than 150 countries, with 95% of cases occurring in Africa and Asia. It is believed the numbers are underreported.

In up to 99% of cases, domestic dogs are responsible for transmission of the rabies virus, and infections mostly occur in poorer populations in rural areas.

Information from Jiji Press added.

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