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Adopting a Dog from a Foreign Country? Here’s What to Know

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In August of 2018, I adopted a rescued Sheltie puppy from Korea. He was so thin the rescue group thought he was only 3 or 4 months old, but my veterinarian determined that he was older because he had his adult teeth. I have learned so much since I adopted my dog, and I’d like to share some things to think about. Some puppies sold over the internet as pets are also shipped from foreign countries, so the same cautions apply.

Possible Health Issues

Foreign dogs pose a problem because they may bring in diseases or parasites that are rare or unknown here. That can be risky to existing pets who have not been vaccinated or developed any immunity to these diseases. Here’s what to be aware of and discuss with your veterinarian especially if you have other dogs at home or your new dog will interact with neighboring dogs.


When a dog’s vaccination status is unknown but he appears healthy, he should be vaccinated right away, says Linda D. Mittel, a public health veterinarian on the faculty at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Talk to your veterinarian about having your dog wait in the car until an exam room is ready so that if he is carrying an unusual disease or parasite, the risk will be lessened for other dogs he might encounter at the veterinary clinic.

Imported adult dogs who appear healthy, have a negative fecal exam, and have received all core vaccines should be quarantined at your home for at least 14 days, except for the initial veterinary visit. Puppies and adult dogs who come into the country having received only the rabies vaccine shouldn’t go out in public until core vaccinations are complete. That takes at least three to four weeks. This means no visits to the dog park, dog daycare, or other public places.

Distemper. A unique variation (Asia-1) of the canine distemper virus was discovered in dogs imported from Korea in 2018. It was previously unknown in the U.S. North American dogs who have been vaccinated for distemper may have some protection but Asia-1 is highly contagious to wildlife and can spread quickly to new areas.

Rabies. The rabies vaccine is required of all dogs entering the United States, but there is a chance that the paperwork that came with your dog has been falsified or relates to a different dog altogether. And as recently as 2018, dogs imported from Egypt have had rabies. Your veterinarian may recommend vaccination if your dog’s paperwork appears to be questionable.

Brucellosis. This canine sexually transmitted disease was almost eradicated in the U.S. but has recently reappeared in imported dogs. Two cases were reported in Wisconsin in March 2019, in dogs imported from South Korea. The contagious bacterial infection usually does not respond well to antibiotic treatment. It has public health implications because it can be transmitted to humans.

Canine Influenza

New strains of dog flu have been documented in the U.S. since 2004, mostly in dogs imported from Korea and China. The Centers for Disease Control has identified the H3N2 virus, which has now spread to 31 states. An infected dog can shed the virus for up to 21 days, spreading it to pets (including cats, although this is more common in shelter facilities) and local wildlife. Another strain of canine flu, H3N8, is less commonly seen.

Vaccines are available for both strains. The vaccines won’t protect an infected dog but consider them for other dogs in your household if there’s a chance your new dog is affected.

Internal and External Parasites

Your veterinarian should do a fecal exam for intestinal worms, Giardia, and coccidia. These parasites can be transmitted to humans and other pets and might take several months to eradicate. My own puppy tested positive for Giardia for more than three months.

Heartworms. Dogs in other countries are not routinely given heartworm preventive, and many adult dogs who come into the U.S. are affected. Puppies under six months old should be tested and put on preventive immediately to keep heartworm larvae from developing. Treatment for an adult infected dog takes up to three months and carries health risks for the dog. Dogs being treated for heartworms must be kept inactive during the treatment period.

Leishmaniasis. This parasite has been reported in dogs coming in from Mexico, South America, and the Middle East. Another parasite not commonly seen in the U. S. is alveolar echinococcosis, a species of “fox tapeworm” reported in some dogs coming from Canada.

Inspect your dog carefully for any sign of ticks or fleas as well. They are not only unpleasant for your dog, they can also spread disease to other dogs and to humans.

Behavior Challenges

Whether you’ve adopted a young puppy or an adult, there’s a chance he hasn’t been a family pet. Evaluate your new dog and work with a trainer to help him acclimate to his new home. Even if he is a mellow, easygoing adult dog, training classes will help you get to know each other.

My own Sheltie, Pepper, was about 6 months old when he arrived. He had clearly never seen a car or a child, been in a house, walked on a leash, or been brushed or trained. After seven months with me, he is still terrified of loud noises. He’s afraid of the garage door opener, the dishwasher, and lawn mower. He has barked aggressively at a lunchbox and a bag full of trash. I never know what will scare him. In some ways he is a normal pet; at other times, he acts feral.

Help your pet by letting him approach new things at his own speed, so he gradually gets over his fear. He might react by barking, cowering, or trying to run away. Praise and give him a treat when he is brave and don’t force him to do something that scares him. Start far away where he is comfortable and gradually move closer over a period of days as he gets familiar with the frightening item. For example, I set the scary lunch box out on the patio and surrounded it with treats. I left it there for several days until he had carefully examined it and decided it was no big deal.

A collar and identification tags are a must. A microchip is even better. A frightened, unsocialized dog can easily panic and get away from you. Be prepared. He could crash through a door or gate when it is just slightly open, so always block his way.

Be sure he can’t squirm out of his collar if he pulls on the leash. Don’t use a retractable leash; in his panic he could pull it out of your hand or wrap it around something and choke before you can get to him.

With time and patience, your new dog can adapt to his new home. I love Pepper, but he will probably always be fearful in new surroundings.

Questions to Ask

Before you agree to adopt or foster an imported dog, ask the rescue group or breeder the following questions:

Where is the dog from?

Has the dog been quarantined in that country or in the U.S? For how long?

Has the dog been a family pet or is he from a shelter, meat farm, or breeder?

How old is the dog? Puppies are not allowed to enter the U.S. until they are four months old.

What vaccinations, tests, or medical treatment has the dog had? Does the dog have any ongoing medical issues?

Has the dog been checked by a veterinarian in the U.S.?

Can you provide the paperwork that came with the dog, such as a health certificate and rabies vaccine certificate?

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Terry Albert is an award-winning writer and pet portrait artist in Poway, California. She has been active in rescuing homeless dogs for more than 20 years and has served on the board of directors for several nonprofit organizations.


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