There are important considerations to remember and follow when adopting and importing pets from overseas to ensure animals and humans in Toronto and Ontario are protected against diseases such as rabies. While the risk of rabies transmission in Canada from dogs and cats is considered to be low, the risk is considerably higher in many other countries. The Canadian government recognizes these countries as rabies-free for cats and dogs. According to the World Health Organization, rabies infection continues to cause tens of thousands of human deaths globally every year, mainly in Asia and Africa, and in up to 99 per cent of these cases, domestic dogs are responsible for rabies virus transmission to humans.

Information for Prospective Animal Owners

If you and/or your family are interested in adopting a dog from a breeder, rescue organization, or shelter, there is important information you should consider in order to avoid importing or accepting a sick and/or infectious dog that may pose a risk to your health, the health of others and the health of other local animals here in Ontario.

There are also animal welfare concerns associated with transporting dogs from overseas. Imported dogs can also have significant behavioural issues if they were not properly socialized and never lived in a home prior to being adopted, which can lead to an increased risk of biting.

Before adopting a dog, especially from another country:

  • Review the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s requirements for importing animals from other counties
  • Avoid adopting pets from countries considering high-risk for dog rabies by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
  • Be aware of the potential issues that may arise after adoption (for example, acute or chronic infectious diseases, unresolvable behavioural issues)
  • Ensure the organization from which you are receiving the dog is a reputable business/source (request references, speak to others who have adopted through the same agency, or consult your own veterinarian)
  • Ask about the dog’s medical history, including vaccinations, deworming, and prior treatment for any diseases or conditions, including injuries or illness. Ensure all medical records will be provided at the time of adoption.
  • Ask about where the animal lived and how it was cared for prior to importation. For example, was it a stray or did it spend time in a kennel / shelter (where it would be exposed to lots of other dogs), was it an owned dog that primarily lived outside (where it would have exposure to wildlife or livestock), or was it an owned dog that is used to living indoors (and would be used to being around people).
  • Talk to your veterinarian about specific disease risks that may be a concern based on the dog’s country of origin, and arrange to have the dog examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible after arrival.

After adopting a dog, especially from another country:

To help protect people and pets from rabies, if you adopted or imported an animal from outside of Ontario, you need to have a certificate of rabies immunization issued by the veterinarian who vaccinated the animal as required by Ontario Law (Regulation 567, Rabies Immunization). Some of the specific requirements required by Regulation 567, include:

  • Dogs, cats, and ferrets over three months of age must be vaccinated (immunized) against rabies.
  • The vaccine must be administered:
    • by a veterinarian or delegate of a veterinarian, who is registered in Canada or the United States; and
    • with a rabies vaccine licensed for use in the jurisdiction it was administered.

If your animal does not meet the above requirements, speak with your veterinarian immediately after importing your pet.

Additional precautions to follow include:

  • Have the dog examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible after arrival, in order to detect any signs of active or chronic infection or injury. Your veterinarian can also make recommendations for any additional vaccinations, vaccine boosters, diagnostic testing and additional follow up examinations.
  • Keep the dog segregated from other animals and high-risk individuals (e.g. people who are immunosuppressed, very young, elderly or pregnant) for 2-4 weeks after arrival to monitor for any signs of illness (including infectious diseases) or significant behavioural concerns.
    • Remember that rabies may present in an animal up to six months after it is exposed to the virus from a rabid animal, even if the pet was vaccinated after the exposure.
  • Have a behavioural assessment performed by a professional organization.
  • Adhere to local licensing requirements. For more information contact Toronto Animal Services.

Information for Organizations (e.g., Rescue Agencies)

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for regulating the importation of animals, including dogs, into Canada. The importation of animals is regulated to prevent the introduction and spread of diseases, such as rabies, that could have adverse health impacts on local animals and people.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is responsible for conducting inspections on behalf of the CFIA. If an animal is found to be non-compliant with the CFIA’s humane transport and/or import requirements, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) may refuse the animal entry or refer it to the CFIA for further inspection.

Breeders, rescue agencies and shelters should review the CFIA’s requirements for importing animals from other counties. Be aware that new regulatory requirements for importing commercial dogs less than 8 months of age for breeding or resale (including adoption) came into effect in May 2021.

In addition, these organizations should ensure prospective owners or caretakers of all animals they provide, including imported animals, are given appropriate and sufficient information (see above) to manage any risks to animal and human health.