Rabies and travelling with pets

More than 50,000 deaths, over 150 countries affected, including popular tourist destinations: that is the sad record of rabies, every year...

Rabies also affects Europe. The EU therefore enforces strict rules to help stop the spread of rabies

Rabies and travelling with pets

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease that can infect all mammals, yet is mainly found in wild carnivores, bats and also domestic animals. Humans can be infected when they come into contact with the saliva of an infected animal, for example when they are bitten, scratched or licked.  Dogs are responsible for 99% of rabies cases in humans. Once symptoms appear, a rabies infection is always fatal in humans and animals.

Which clinical signs can arouse suspicion?

Classic symptoms observed in infected animals are aggressiveness, restlessness and abnormal behaviour (e.g. wild animals suddenly becoming very tame)  Other - less common- clinical symptoms are: fever, general malaise, hypersalivation, refusing food, agitation, hypersensitivity to light and loud sounds and muscle twitching. Infection of other animals and humans can occur as early as 2 weeks before the first clinical signs appear.  It is also important to know that an infected animal may not show any symptoms for months, even though it is definitely infected!

In October 2017 a French child died from rabies, about two months after having come into contact with an infected dog which apparently showed no symptoms of rabies, while on holiday in Sri Lanka.

How is rabies diagnosed?

The symptoms are usually already a serious indication of a rabies infection.  The disease can only be diagnosed with certainty by conducting laboratory tests on the brain. These tests can only be performed after an autopsy.  So, there is no test that can be used to diagnose rabies with certainty on a live animal.

Can rabies be treated?

Treating an infected animal is not possible.

An infected person can survive, provided that an antiserum to the disease is administered within 24 hours.  In many cases this life-saving treatment is not started until much later, because at the time of the bite the animal did not show any symptoms yet and people therefore do not realize that an infection has occurred.  In that case, there is no guarantee that the disease can be effectively stopped.  Once symptoms become visible, treatment is no longer possible.  The patient will then die within 2 weeks.

What is the situation in Belgium?

Our country had to deal with many cases of rabies over the course of the previous century, but has been officially free of the disease since 2001. This means that the virus has not been circulating for many years.  However, a certain degree of risk remains.  The disease can, for example, be reintroduced at any time by an infected animal from a country where rabies is still present.  In 2008, for example, we had two cases of infected dogs that people had brought back from their holiday in Africa. These dogs showed no symptoms of rabies at the time, but they were definitely infected.  After the symptoms appeared, about a 100 people who had come into contact with the infected animals had to be given a prophylactic serum and rabies vaccination. Also in our neighbouring countries, most cases of rabies can be attributed to the return of pets from a trip abroad.

What should I do if I want to take my dog, cat or ferret to another country or bring it to Belgium from another country?

The animal must always be identified by means of a microchip and must be accompanied by a health certificate or a European pet passport in which the rabies vaccination is recorded.  Although rabies vaccination is no longer mandatory in Belgium since 1 March 2016, people who want to take their dog, cat or ferret abroad or want to bring their pets to Belgium must still get their animals vaccinated.  Animals can be vaccinated from the age of 12 weeks and in the case of a first vaccination they are allowed to cross the border 21 days later at the earliest.  A vaccination of an animal that has not been identified is not valid.  So always make sure that your animal is only vaccinated after the microchip has been implanted.  The table below summarizes the requirements:

I want to take my animal to a country within the EU
I want to take my animal to a country outside the EU

Identification by means of a microchip

Vaccination against rabies

Pet passport

No additional requirements, except treatment against the worm Echinococcus multilocularis when travelling to Northern Ireland, Ireland, Finland and Malta.

Identification by means of a microchip

Vaccination against rabies

Required documents, depending on the destination:
• pet passport

• a vaccination certificate drawn up by an approved veterinarian
• a health certificate drawn up and/or signed by the FASFC
• a serological test (blood analysis) to verify that the vaccination was carried out effectively.
I want to bring my animal to Belgium from another EU Member State
I want to bring my animal to Belgium from a country outside the EU

Identification by means of a microchip

Vaccination against rabies

Pet passport

No additional requirements.

Identification by means of a microchip.

Vaccination against rabies

Depending on the place of origin:
• an EU pet passport or a health certificate drawn up according to the EU model by an official veterinarian in the country of departure, depending on the situation
• a serological test to verify that the vaccination was carried out effectively.

- The test must be carried out in the EU, prior to departure to the third country (non-EU country): the test result is immediately valid for travel to and from the EU (no waiting period required; the test must be recorded in the pet passport)
- The blood sample for the test must be taken in the third country (travelling to the EU is only allowed from 3 months after the date of the blood sampling).


The risk of a rabies infection is very low in our country. Nevertheless, we must all remain vigilant, so as not to bring back rabies from other countries!

So, always abide by the rules and when in doubt contact the FASFC.

To travel abroad with your pet in full safety, please consult:


Source:  Based on an article in FASFC Newletter n°65, pages 10 and 11.

Last updated: 04/10/2023