Taking your faithful pooch or kitty on a flight? Make sure you’ve got your pet’s paperwork wherever you go—and bring it back with you, too. The United States expects the same documents regardless of whether your pet is a first-time traveler to the United States or is a returning from an international trip.
First stop—your vet’s office
Tell your veterinarian about your travel plans as soon as possible. Your pet will need veterinary appointments and paperwork completed before travel. Some countries require blood tests at least 6 months before departure to prove that your pet is vaccinated against rabies.
Warning: If the destination country’s requirements are not met, your pet may be detained or quarantined upon arrival.
A veterinarian will determine if your pet is healthy enough for travel and will help you with health certificates and other documents your pet may need for travel.
Your veterinarian will be the best resource to figure out travel requirements for your destination:
Microchips for identification
Health certificates or “Certificates of Veterinary Inspection,” often
required by airlines and the destination countries
Preparing to fly with your furry friend
Consider how your pet will travel:
Carried on and placed under your seat
Checked-in as baggage
Shipped as cargo
Pets are handled differently depending on how they travel. Only small dogs and cats are allowed in the cabin. Pets traveling in the cabin must be stowed in special carriers under the seat and be cared for by their owners during any layovers. Dogs and cats traveling in baggage and cargo must travel in sturdy containers with enough room to turn around normally while standing, to stand and sit, and to lie in a natural position. Pets being checked as baggage or cargo will travel in a quiet and pressurized part of the airplane, which may actually be less stressful than riding in the busy cabin. Depending on the airline, pet owners may have to use time during layovers to care for pets checked as baggage, while pets traveling in cargo are often cared for by airline staff or ground handlers.
Check with your airline about their rules for pets, such as how many pets are allowed in the cabin and what types of breeds they allow. Also check on rules for long flights. For example, many overseas flights don’t allow pets as carry-ons. In addition, most airlines have rules about the time of day or year they will accept pets as baggage or cargo. The International Air Transport Association offers detailed information for shipping pets.
Planning a night-time arrival to a hot destination may be better for your pet.
Consider your pet’s comfort
Loading and unloading can be the most stressful part of travel for animals, so consider the following:
Purchase flights with fewer layovers. Pick departure and arrival times to avoid extreme heat or cold. For example, planning a night-time arrival to a hot destination may be better for your pet. Leave sedatives at home. The International Air Transport Association discourages the use of sedatives or tranquilizers in animals traveling because they could cause harm to the animal while in flight. Always check with your veterinarian before giving your pets something to make them sleep easier on a trip. Feed your pet a light meal 2 hours before getting to the airport Walk your pet before leaving home and again before checking in.
Requirements for Dogs Arriving in the United States
The United States requires that dogs are healthy and have an up-to-date rabies vaccination certificate signed by a licensed veterinarian.* A veterinary examination before travel will tell you if
your pet is healthy enough to travel and if he or she is free of any contagious diseases. Some important things to remember:
Some states may require other vaccinations and health certificates. (Check with your state health department before you leave.) Certain breeds are restricted by some cities or states. (Pit bulls and
pit bull mixes are frequently restricted.)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires additional screening for shepherding dogs and dogs coming from a country with screwworm. Collies, shepherds, and other dogs from certain countries that are used to herd livestock must be inspected and quarantined at the port of entry until they are declared free from tapeworms. Screwworm is a pest that can be destructive to U.S. agriculture and can be carried into the country by dogs. Visit USDA for more information about requirements for shepherding dogs and screwworm.
What if your pet meows instead of barks? Cats don’t need rabies vaccinations to enter the United States. However, certain states and many countries require them. Be sure to ask your veterinarian before leaving.
*Rabies vaccination is not required to enter the United States if your dog has been in a rabies-free country for at least 6 months prior to traveling.
Pet owners are allowed to bring up to 6 small turtles into the United States.
If your companion animal is not a cat or dog, it may fall under an entirely separate set of regulations. For example, baby turtles don’t get rabies and don’t need any vaccinations. However, you cannot bring in more than small 6 turtles (shell length less than 4 inches) into the United States.
Illness or Death of a Pet during Travel
Although we don’t like to think about it, sometimes pets become ill or even die while in flight. As if dealing with severe illness or death of your furry companion wouldn’t be enough, travelers in this
situation have to deal with a few government requirements as well. Public health officials are required to make sure that your pet did not die of a contagious disease that could infect people. This might involve a necropsy (animal autopsy) or other tests, at your cost, to determine the cause of death. Unfortunately, in many instances the animal’s remains cannot be returned to you after this testing.
It is very important to know that your pet is healthy enough to travel by air. If there is any doubt, consider leaving your pet with a trusted friend, family member, or boarding kennel during your trip, or think about taking another mode of transportation if possible.
The bottom line: find out as much as you can in advance. If in doubt, prepare for the unexpected.
Consider the case of a couple vacationing in Italy, whose cat got out and fought with a stray just before their return to the United States. The cat was bitten by the stray, but because it had been vaccinated for rabies and its owners had the paperwork handy, U.S. Customs and Border Protection was able to clear the cat for entry immediately. The cat’s veterinarian at home was able to treat the wound without delay, and the cat is now doing just fine after its adventures abroad.