DUBAI // From January, pet owners wanting to take their animals to Britain from the UAE will no longer have to put them in quarantine for six months.
Britain has traditionally maintained tight quarantine rules because of the fear of rabies - which is endemic in continental Europe.
But the rules meant huge bills for many British pet-owners - up to £1,500 (Dh8,800) for a cat and £2,300 for a large dog.
Faced with such a bill, many owners returning after a stint living abroad abandoned their pets, according to welfare groups.
"The UK's quarantine system was designed to combat the threat of rabies in the 19th century and has now been left far behind by scientific advances," said the British environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, this month.
"It's time we changed these outdated rules which have caused hardship to generations of pets and pet owners, and those who rely on assistance dogs, with too many animals cooped up unnecessarily."
Currently, animals must have a blood test six months before they enter the UK. If that is done ahead of time, there is no need for quarantine. However, if the test is done less than six months before departure, the animal has to spend six months in one of 20 quarantine shelters across the UK.
For many expatriates such long-term planning has not always been possible.
"There's been a lot of people who've lost jobs and had to leave the country quite quickly," said Janet Walker, a global relocation account manager at Dubai Kennels and Cattery.
"If you haven't prepared your pets, you have to board them for six months. It's both financially and emotionally quite crippling to have your pets shut up for that length of time."
The UAE is one of 54 non-EU countries to which the new, lighter rules apply. Under these, pets will have to be vaccinated against rabies, at a cost of around Dh275, and then microchipped - a further Dh150. Once this is done, owners need to apply for an EU health certificate for their pet, which through a relocation company can cost around Dh920. All this needs to be done 21 days before the animal travels.
The shipping itself is hardly cheap - around Dh1,000 for a cat and Dh5,500 for a big dog.
However a health test when the pet arrives in the UK, which can cost around Dh850, will no longer be needed.
"These new rules are going to be brilliant," said Leslie Muncey, the chair of Feline Friends, a cat welfare charity in Dubai.
"Hopefully it will take away the excuse that people won't be able to take their pets with them when they leave.
"We've had cases of cats being locked in cupboards in villas when people leave. A large number of those abandoning their animals are British."
But not everyone is so pleased. Jill Witte, one of the owners of Animal Inn, a UK government-licensed quarantine facility in Kent, expects to be hit hard.
"Half of our business comes from quarantine, so it's going to affect us a lot," she said. "It seems a bit bizarre that they can go from all these rules to nothing.
"It's a drastic change. One minute it's vital and the next it's not necessary at all."