Fear of an outbreak of rabies has led the Agriculture Ministry to tighten regulations on the import of pets. The new regulations, which will go into effect on May 1, require pet owners to present blood tests proving the animal’s active immunity before it can enter the country.The number of animals detected as infected with rabies has increased dramatically over the last year, with most of the cases discovered among domesticated dogs. Since the beginning of 2010, the Veterinary Services have identified 12 cases of rabies, which is equal to the total number discovered in all of 2008. Fifty-eight cases were identified in 2009.A large majority of the confirmed cases of rabies were discovered in the North. The most recent detection was March 16 in the town of Poriya, near Tiberias.The aim of the new import regulations is to protect the public and local animals from the disease, which causes acute inflammation of the brain, is very hard to treat and leads to death within days. Rabies causes animals to be aggressive and hostile, even to their owners. Other symptoms are foaming at the mouth, apathy and paralysis. A single bite, and in some cases even a sneeze or a lick, by an infected animal can pass on the disease to humans.The existing regulations require that every dog or cat entering Israel must undergo a veterinary exam and provide certificates proving vaccination against rabies given no more than a year before and no less than 30 days before its arrival in Israel.According to the new regulations, the owner must also present results of blood tests from an authorized laboratory confirming that the animal’s body actually responds to the vaccine and is producing antibodies 48 hours before boarding the flight. The cost of the test is estimated at $100. If the pet owner or importer does not meet the requirements, the pet will be refused entry and returned to the country of origin at the owner’s expense or put into lengthy quarantine.“The purpose of the new guidelines is to ensure the health of dogs and cats imported to Israel and thus ensure the public health,” said Dr. Moshe Chaimovitz, director of Veterinary Services in the Ministry of Agriculture. “Stricter guidelines are required in light of the outbreak of rabies in the past year, which saw a sharp rise compared to previous years,” he said. In 2003 the ministry identified an outbreak of rabies in wild foxes, and put in place a vaccination program to eradicate the disease. Since then, the number of rabies cases gradually decreased until last year, when the numbers began climbing again.Dr. Eytan Kreiner, an Israeli veterinarian and the founder of Terminal 4 Pets, a company that specializes in animal travel products and services, said that people who plan to visit or move to Israel with their pets should start preparing the animal’s journey several months in advance of their arrival. He said that in addition to the medical procedures, which include vaccination, blood tests, a veterinary examination and the implant of an electronic chip under the pet’s fur, it is necessary to plan a suitable flight route for the animals and provide time for the pets to get used to their kennels.Terminal 4 Pets is part of an international organization called AnimalAirways. Kreiner said that the often-changing regulations of animalimport ordinances in different countries and the variance in airlinerestrictions means that pet owners have great difficulty in arrangingthe flights of their pets. He said the services provided by flightmanagement companies, like his own, help reduce uncertainty and assistin creating the best possible experience for the animals.