UK pet owners could be forced to get their animals vaccinated up to four months before they travel to a European country in the wake of a no-deal Brexit.
Dog and cat owners are being advised to speak to a vet as soon as possible if they want to take their pet on holiday after March next year.
Government officials have issued the advice on the basis of a no-deal scenario and say that pet owners will have to start preparations by the end of this month if they intend on travelling to the EU.
Pet owners living in Northern Ireland could be forced to pay hundreds of pounds in veterinary fees and wait up to four months for paperwork before they can travel across the border to the Republic with their dog.
If prime minister Theresa May and EU officials fail to reach an agreement by next March, animals travelling to the EU will need rabies vaccinations and a blood sample taken 30 days prior to arrival.
The blood sample, which is taken one month after the rabies jab, is then sent to a laboratory – a process that will take three months to complete before the pet will be allowed to travel.
A certificate is issued by a vet to show the animal is fully up-to-date with its vaccinations. Anyone travelling to a European country may have to carry the certificate, including people from Northern Ireland who cross the border to walk their dog.
But once they return to Northern Ireland pet owners will have to go through a similar process as the certificates do not allow pet owners to move freely between north and south of the border.
Veterinary practices have been made aware of the steps they have to take to prepare for the possible influx of pet owners who need their animals vaccinated before travelling a couple of miles into the Republic.
All pet owners are now being told to ensure they have the correct health protection documents in place for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development (DAERA) in Northern Ireland also issued advice on its website.
A spokesman for the department said: “In line with DEFRA, we have issued practical advice for people who wish to travel to European Union countries with their pets in the event the UK leaves the EU in a no deal situation.
“We would urge all pet owners who wish to travel immediately after March 29, 2019 to consult with their vet as soon as they can.
“This is about planning ahead to ensure their pet has the correct health protection documented and in place for all possible scenarios. Please check the NI Direct website for the latest advice.
“DAERA has recently been in contact with Northern Ireland vets to highlight this issue.
“They are expecting pet owners to consult with them and plan ahead.”