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Four-legged friends: keeping pets in Belgium
There are several places where you can pick up a pet, namely pet shops, shelters and breeders. In Belgium, pet shop owners need a licence, and they are not allowed to sell cats and dogs: only breeders can. Visit your pet shop instead for birds, reptiles, fish or small rodents, and always ask the shop owner where the animal is from. There’s no restrictive list for what reptiles, fish and amphibians can be pets as of yet, though the government is working on one. In any case, if you’re in the market for a more exotic pet, make sure the animal isn’t on the list of endangered species.
Unfortunately, many pets end up in shelters, waiting for a new owner. If you’d like to give a pet a second chance, this is where you need to go. Online animal community Pets.be gathers identified dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, horses and birds of all ages and breeds, from several shelters in the country. You’ll find everything from an abandoned kitten to a rescued Spanish dog; just click on the animal for more details and to get in touch with the shelter that’s housing it.
If you’re looking for a special or specific dog breed, a good way to get started is to contact a dog training school as they’re often in contact with the breeders. Dogs have to be registered in Belgium before the animal is four months old. If you buy a dog that’s older, it should have an identification chip already. If the animal changes owner or address, or dies, the details on the chip need to be changed straight away. Dogs bought in another country must be registered within eight days of their arrival in Belgium.
If you plan to take your pet from Belgium to another EU state or vice versa, there are certain rules and regulations you need to follow. For cats, dog and ferrets, a European pet passport and a recent rabies vaccination are mandatory. You can apply for a pet passport by contacting your vet, who will contact the national authorities. Your animal will be linked to this passport via a microchip or a clearly readable tattoo (if the passport was issued before July 2011). Before leaving the country, make sure the rabies vaccination is still valid.
If you’d like to travel outside the EU or visit the EU from elsewhere in the world, ask your vet to complete a health certificate in English or the language of the country you are visiting. The document must state that your animal was vaccinated and tested three months before travelling.
For other pets, there’s no harmonised EU legislation, which means national rules are applicable. Check with the local embassy for more information. If you’re travelling by plane, contact your airline. Some allow dogs and cats as hand luggage (up to 6kg) or as check-in luggage, in a special cage.
What if you can’t take your animal with you on holiday? Even though some owners leave them at an animal shelter, these places are by no means equipped to cater for your pet during your holidays. You could start by asking a relative or friend to look after it. Alternatively, there are animal hostels, where a dedicated team will see your pet through your absence. Make sure you plan everything well in advance, as these places sell out quickly during school holidays. Try Pento Animal Boarding, for instance, in Overijse near Brussels. If you’re away for a short time and would rather have your pet stay at home, you can rely on the services of somebody who’ll walk your dog every day or come to give your cat some attention. For a daily stroll in the Bois de la Cambre, contact Isabelle.
Even when in seemingly good health, it’s advisable to take your pet to the vet once a year. Bring your pet passport if you’re planning to get a vaccine. Should your animal need regular medical care or expensive tests and surgery, it’s worth looking into pet health insurance. Belgian pet shop Tom&Co has one for cats and dogs, starting at €110/€135 a year.
If you’re looking for answers to questions such as ‘Can I leave my horse outside when it’s freezing?’ and ‘What dimensions does a dog kennel need to be?’, contact the authorities here. If you suspect animals are being neglected or mistreated, there are several ways to tackle the issue. Inform the police or fill in a form online.
If your dog barks too much for no apparent reason, shows his teeth or even bites, you need to take action. Visit your vet or enrol your dog on some dog training classes. Rules about dangerous dogs vary from commune to commune. Similar clubs exist for cats as well, and you might find the answer to your problem on the International Cat Care website. A 1998 law places restrictions on 13 dog breeds that are potentially dangerous. Owners are obliged to register their dog with the local commune (and ensure the dog is muzzled, kept on a lead and possibly undergo training), although enforcement is variable. Contact your commune or local police authority for more details.
What to do when your pet has babies? Again, there are no official rules for every species. But if you are a dog owner, here’s what you need to do. Occasional breeders (with a maximum of two litters a year) don’t need a licence. However, if you’re planning to sell your puppies, you can only do so via specialised press and websites, and you need to have the animals identified. Due to the increasingly large number of stray cats that have to be put down (around 12,000 a year), a Cat Plan introduced on September 1 now requires domestic cats to be sterilised. All cats need to be sterilised, identified and registered before being given away or sold. Only cats intended for a registered breeder or someone abroad may be sold without first being sterilised.
Hobby breeders (with between three and 10 litters of dogs and cats a year), professional breeders (more than 10 litters a year) and breeder-sellers (has more than 10 litters a year and sells animals from other litters) need to be officially registered. For more information on how to obtain a licence, contact email@example.com (in Dutch) or firstname.lastname@example.org (in French only).
Losing a pet causes great grief. While some people would prefer to bury their animal in their garden, note that this isn’t allowed everywhere (check your commune’s rules). Small animals that die of natural causes can be buried at least 50cm underground, without any plastic or other non-degradable covering. As a general rule, animals weighing more than 10kg need to be collected by professional services. You can choose to have your animal cremated or buried in pet cemeteries. Contact your vet for more information, as the rules regarding dead pets differ in Brussels, Wallonia and Flanders.
Tom&Co is Belgium’s best known chain store for pets. You find them in every city and as well as food, clothes and accessories for most pets, they often sell some small rodents, fish, plants and birds as well. The website is packed with useful information.
For lovers of the underwater world, we recommend a visit to Brussels Aquariums. It’s one of the largest specialised shops in Europe with a huge range of salt- and freshwater fish, plants, tanks and decoration. It’s a bit like a museum, but everything is for sale.
If you know what you’re after and prefer to buy in bulk and have heavy items such as cat litter filling delivered to your home, try online pet supply shops such as Zooplus.
Talking to the animals
Belinda White lives on a farm in Wallonia with husband Arthur and children James and Sophie. Whether it’s stray cats or breeding alpacas, the former air stewardess and radiographer can’t resist animals
Pets: where do I start? Since moving from the UK 10 years ago, we’ve experienced so many different types. As well as the usual dogs and cats – including at least two bags of abandoned kittens every year and once a litter of deserted day-old puppies – chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys called Noel and peacocks have all been members of the family.
We inherited five sheep when we moved in to the six-hectare farm. They were all given names and one of the original five, Deborah, is still here. We briefly had three cows, all with names, goats by the dozen, and we unintentionally bought two pigs, Mr Jambon and Spot. Both were destined for the freezer but died here of old age. They resembled 150kg dogs, albeit with tusks!
If you’re tempted to rear farm animals, sheep, pigs and goats all need to be officially registered and must have official ear tags from the age of six months. They can make good pets but beware, they need to be fenced in. Goats in particular prefer your favourite flowers to the good grass you want them to eat. And if you want to raise animals on a farming basis, DON’T give them names!
We have acquired a number of horses and ponies, most of whom are older and will end their days here. I’ve always kept horses and used to be a keen rider. Now my 12-year-old daughter Sophie has her own pony and enters local show-jumping competitions.
People used to ask me “what are you getting next”? My joking answer was “a llama”, so for Christmas nine years ago my husband bought me two. I had to choose them so we went to an animal dealer who had five llamas for sale in a box with one alpaca. The was a considerable difference in price so we carried out some research, I took some courses, and around seven years ago, we started our own alpaca farm. The first herd was imported from Chile, but there’s no longer any need to go to South America as the alpaca business in Belgium is small but rapidly growing. People buy them both for breeding and as pets as they’re easier to keep than sheep and goats, and they’re prettier. We now have about 100 alpacas of all colours roaming the fields. They are calm and kind, and although they’re timid animals, you can build a personal relationship with them.
There is one animal still on my wish-list and that’s a wallaby. You can find them in Belgium but you need an exotic pet licence to keep them. And we would also need to raise the fences as you never know what is going to run, hop or fly into our little Noah’s Ark!
This article was first published in The Bulletin Newcomer, Autumn 2014