Dispatches from the North: Owning a Dog in Britain

We are coming up on the one year anniversary of adopting our dog Max from Dogs Trust, a charity that rehomes unwanted and abandoned dogs in the UK from several centers throughout the country. Max has been an amazing companion and this past year has been so memorable with him in our lives. Owning a dog in the UK isn’t that much different than in the US, but there are a couple key points that I can touch on.

Our Max the day we brought him home from Dogs Trust, so skinny and needing lots of love!

Banned Breeds

There are four breeds of dogs that are illegal to own and breed in the UK. These breeds were banned through the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991 and include the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa and Dogo Argentino and Fila Braziliero (aka Argentinian and Brazilian Mastiffs). These are dogs associated with being bred for dog fighting. I am of the school of thought that there are no dangerous dog breeds, only dangerous and irresponsible dog owners, but I will save that argument for another day. These breeds have a deep stigma in the UK which is reflected by legislation so they are not allowed here.

Identifying Your Dog

Sadly the UK government hasn’t done much to ensure dogs are properly identified. Dog owners are legally required to indentify their dogs through ID tags on their collars, although this law is loosely enforced. Dog charities like Dogs Trust are working hard to encourage new legislation to make microchipping compulsory for dogs, an action that I fully support to reduce the number of abandoned dogs and hold dog owners accountable for their pets. Dogs can be microchipped at a vet’s office for around £20-30 and discounted microchipping is available at all Dogs Trust rehoming centres in the UK and also many local councils sponsor reduced cost microchipping events to encourage the public to take this extra step in being responsible for their pets.

Restraining and Cleaning Up After Your Dog

Every council has different rules and regulations regarding keeping your dog on a leash and cleaning up after your dog. Most councils will fine you for having your dog off a leash in unauthorized areas and there are also fines for not cleaning up after your dog’s waste in public. Here in Hartlepool there are strict rules about keeping dogs on leash in parks and fouling laws that cover the whole town. Not cleaning up after your dog here can cost you £80!

Pet Insurance

This is probably the biggest difference I have found in owning a dog here in the UK, the cost of getting doggy health insurance is very affordable so it is more common for dog owners to take out insurance policies to cover vet bills for their pets. There are several companies that insure pets at different levels. The cost of insurance depends on the size and breed of your dog and if they have existing health problems. It is more expensive to insure a pure bred dog, and the cost goes up from there if your breed of dog is prone to certain health conditions. The cost is also higher for breeding dogs. Our Max is a neutered mutt so we only pay £12 a month for his coverage and he is covered for any vet bills over £75. It is a small price to pay to know that if he needs an operation or gets injured that vet bills won’t be a worry.

Bringing your Dog to the UK

The UK has some of the most stringent guidelines for bringing dogs into the country. Simply put if you are moving to the UK for an extended period of time (over a year) it might be worth it to jump through all the hoops and bring your canine companion along, but if you are only coming for a few months it is best to find a friend or family member to care for your dog until you return from your stay here. The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs has set out a kind of “pet passport” program called the Pet Travel Scheme (or PETS for short) which allows certain pets to travel to the UK without quarantine. However the process is extensive and requires quite a bit of planning and attention to detail. If you choose not to follow PETS or fail to correctly complete the process, your dog must stay in quarantine for 6 months.

Under PETS dogs are required to be microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and also blood tested. These processes must be carried out in a certain order and within a certain amount of time so this isn’t something that can be undertaken on short notice and you should allow about 6 months to go through the whole process to prepare your pet to come to the UK and meet the requirements of PETS. There are also specific procedural guidelines for how the vaccinations and blood tests must be carried out and any small discrepancy could land your dog in quarantine. More details and factsheets related to PETS can be found here on the Defra website. Animals must also travel on specific routes meaning you don’t have much choice of which flight you take and it could cost significantly more for you and your pet to travel to the UK and require you to travel far out of your way to get onto an approved route.

I think the biggest downfall of PETS is that animals traveling to the UK by air are required to travel as cargo. I would never allow my dog to travel as cargo as it can be a traumatizing experience for an animal and many animals that travel this way can end up injured or killed from shifting cargo and fluctuating temperatures in the cargo hold of the plane. I find it puzzling that a scheme aimed at protecting animals in the UK requires animals to travel in such an unsafe and high-risk manner. The only exception to this rule is for guide or service dogs which are allowed to travel on approved routes if the airline allows service animals in the cabin.

If you are planning to move to the UK and are a dog owner, carefully consider your options and plan well in advance.

Read More at Anglotopia


  1. avatar says

    Two things – one, the process to get over is actually 7 months. You have the rabies shot administered and one month later they get a blood draw to test their titre levels, and it is 6 months from that date that they can fly.

    Second, flying cargo is not as bad as it used to be. They are in a temperature and pressure controlled area of the plane, not with the luggage and other things. Many vets actually say it is better for pets because they are in a calm, dark environment and will sleep more than if they were in the cabin, particularly as sedatives are not recommended, and some airlines won’t accept animals who have been sedated.

    We moved over and back to the US with 2 cats, and it was fine, expensive but fine.

    • avatar says

      Thanks for the clarification, I’ve looked into the pet travel scheme quite a bit but haven’t actually been through it myself. It is certainly quite a process and I know many people think “Oh, I’ll just take the dogs with” when their trip is a couple months off and don’t fully understand the restrictions.

      I suppose it is a personal choice whether you are comfortable with allowing your pet to travel as cargo on a plane. For a Transatlantic flight I couldn’t take the risk and although conditions may have improved there are still risks and I don’t think my dog would do well in a closed, noisy space for such a long time not being able to go to the bathroom. That is my specific dog though, if I had cats or a small dog I might feel differently.

  2. avatar says

    But if you have a big dog you wouldn’t be able to take them on with you in the cabin anyway, right? I don’t know the rules with that but I would *think* that a pet has to fit under the seat in front of you or they have to fly cargo.

    Apparently the noise in the cargo hold is actually quite lulling to animals, and helps them to sleep. You also put a pad in the crate in case they go to the bathroom, but they advise that you don’t give them food right before the flight regardless. I agree it is a personal choice, but I also think it isn’t as horrible as people think it is.

    • avatar says

      It is my understanding that no airlines allow dogs of any size on transatlantic flights, so size isn’t really the issue. Domestically my dog would be too large to fly in a cabin, but for the purposes of flights between the US and the UK to the best of my knowledge even small dogs and cats aren’t allowed in the cabin. The only option for flying in a cabin transatlantic would be to fly on a charter or private plane, which aren’t allowed under PETS. In an ideal world there would be more favorable arrangements, but sadly there are few options.

      Cats might be more accustomed to peeing on a pad, but my dog and many other dogs I know wouldn’t go to the bathroom in a crate and holding it until he no longer could might be damaging to his health and urinary tract. My dog finds the sound of a helicopter outside unnerving, so I highly doubt the noise of a jet engine in close proximity would be lulling to him. Possibly the advice you have received is specific to cats? I just can’t imagine this to be an acceptable way to transport my dog.

    • avatar says

      Ah, it looks like Delta/KLM/Air France allow pets under 11 lbs and there are many regulations and rules to get an animal on their flights. So I guess a small cat or very small breed of dog might be allowed on some Delta/KLM/Air France flights but most airlines don’t allow it.

  3. avatar says

    I completely understand what you are saying in regards to reluctance to transporting your dog between the US and the UK, but I can tell you that people do it all the time – I know people who have done it with dogs from the US to the UK. If you have to move between those 2 countries you don’t have another option. You can fly to almost any country in Europe that doesn’t have the strict quarantine laws with a pet in cabin, if they are small enough. I guess my point is that while your dog may not do well in this situation I don’t think you can say that no pets should do it, since many families have no other options. Well, except maybe the QE2 :)

    • avatar says

      Andrea, I’m glad that you and your friends have had no incidents while allowing your pets to travel in the cargo hold of a plane. I never said that nobody should do it, I only said that I would never allow my dog to do it. While your experience may have gone smoothly, there are still incidents every year of animals being lost, injured or dying as a result of being transported in the cargo hold of a plane.

      The US Department of Transportation releases reports every month detailing the incidents of death, injury and loss and even as recently as last year an average of about 3 animals per month died during air travel in the US alone. The most recent report from February 2010 reports that 3 animals died during air travel and those are just reports covering US airlines. You may argue that people do it all the time, but people who choose to transport their animals in this way are undertaking a very real risk that their pet may die or be injured in the process and for me personally its a risk I could never take with my pet under any circumstances.

  4. avatar says

    And my whole point was that if you are giving people information on how to move pets to the UK adding in that it is dangerous and shouldn’t be done via cargo is unfair to say, since that is the only way you can move pets over. I, as I said below, understand your reluctance and that is a valid fear – but wonder what you will do if you and your husband end up moving back to the US?

    I am 100% not trying to argue about it, just trying to post an also valid viewpoint from the other side.

    • avatarLisa says

      My husband and I would never move to the US, there are several reasons why which I won’t go into but it is really irrelevant. I never would have adopted a dog if I had thought there was a chance we would be moving to the US at any point within the next 10 or more years.

      Hypothetically speaking if for some unforeseeable reason we were forced to leave the UK I would find a new home for my dog before I would risk putting him in the cargo hold of a plane. Luckily there are so many things keeping us here that I am confident I would never be faced with that choice.

  5. avatarEmily says

    We relocated with our two dogs from the US to the UK last year and they were wonderful travelers. The process was long and seemed tedious at the time, but in retrospect it really wasn’t that bad. The cost, however, was significant. In the end, bringing them over with us was the best decision as it has helped our family (particularly the children) feel more settled and at home here in England. The dogs seem to love their new dog friendly home too! :)

    I agree, it is wise to begin the process as early as possible and make sure you work with a vet who is familiar with the protocol. It could save you a ton of money, time, and hassle.

  6. avatarKathy says

    Actually, to Andrea’s point that cargo is the “only” way over isn’t true. My sister has looked into traveling with her Golden Retriever by ship. Pets are not in your stateroom, but housed below deck where you can monitor them. It would be a much safer mode of travel than cargo by airplane if someone found it necessary. She ruled out air travel because of the risk of injury and death. Trans-Atlantic travel by ship for a pet is really expensive. She also hesitates even to drive her dog into Canada, every country has different laws concerning animals and she read that her dog could be taken from her in Canada if it was suspected he was stolen and brought over the border. She could bring his papers but she just wouldn’t take any chances.