Traveling with Pets

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Follow these tips and double check with your veterinarian before traveling with your pet.

Bon voyage Fido! Many families won’t leave home without their fur babies in tow, but traveling with pets does require a bit of research and preparation. International travel with pets can be particularly tricky, and even traveling within the United States may require taking certain steps to take to ensure safe travels. We’ll dive into some of the common questions pet parents ask about traveling with pets and maybe even a few that were new to us! 

Air Travel with Pets

Each airline has different policies regarding pet travel. Generally, airlines will allow pets to travel in-cabin for a fee. Some airlines specify the types of animal, age of animal and breed that are allowed in-cabin, so be sure to ask before booking your flight. All furry friends travelling in-cabin must be in a pet carrier that can fit under the airplane seat. Be sure to check with your airline for the dimensions of the space because planes will differ. Of course, the most important goal is to make sure that your pet will be comfortable and safe during the flight. 

Larger pets, and certain types of pets besides cats and dogs, may be required to travel as cargo. When your pet is traveling as cargo, you must take precautions to ensure a safe trip. Make sure the crate is designed for air travel, and check with the airline for what is required for cargo travel. For example, some airlines require a single door, metal nuts and bolts (not plastic), and separate water and food dispensers. Airlines will also have specific size requirements for crates to ensure enough room for the pet. While traveling with pets in cargo is generally safe, accidents and mishandling can occur. 

Annual Air Transportation Incidents Involving Animals 2, 3, 4
  Deaths Injuries Lost Pets Total Incidents
2017 24 15 1 40
2018 10 7 0 17
2019 11 8 0 19

Almost every airline will require a health certificate for each pet prior to flying, and some require the certificate to be signed and dated by a veterinarian within 10 or 14 days of travel. Even if a health certificate is not required, you should consult with a veterinarian to ensure your pet is healthy enough to fly, and be sure to discuss the length of flight, preexisting conditions and any behavior issues that will assist your pet care professional in making an informed recommendation.    

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Other steps you can take to ensure your pet’s safety is to remind the flight crew that your pet is flying in cargo so that the pilot can be reminded to adjust the temperature in the cargo hold appropriately, and always book direct flights when possible. You may also consider hiring a pet transportation company, particularly if you are flying internationally. These companies will ensure safe ground travel domestically, or international flights in private planes designed for pets, so pets will not be placed in cargo.   

Finally, pet owners who travel from the U.S. to foreign countries with pets should be aware of requirements of the destination country. The travel requirements will be different in each country, and often strict guidelines must be followed to avoid your pet being denied entry or placed in quarantine upon arrival. You should consult your veterinarian or attorney if you have questions regarding what is required to travel internationally with your pet. 

Adopting a Pet Internationally

Sometimes you just don’t know when or where a dog or cat “picks” you and you decide to bring your new family member home. Perhaps you fall in love with a cat freely roaming the streets of Athens, Greece, or you find an irresistible puppy in Costa Rica at the Territorio de Zaguates (Land of Strays) where hundreds of strays roam free, waiting to be adopted. You should have no problem bringing your new fur baby home, but you will need to follow these steps: 

  • Have a local vet conduct a wellness check, and provide a health certificate for travel
  • Contact your airline and find out what the requirements are to travel with a pet
  • Purchase an appropriate crate or carrier, as well as any other travel supplies. 

Most importantly, make sure to comply with all U.S. requirements regarding rabies and other vaccinations. This may impact your travel plans, as there are strict regulations regarding vaccinations and time of travel.  

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Once you arrive safely in the U.S. with your new fur baby, be aware that there may be a mandatory quarantine period. According to the Centers for Disease Control, any pet entering the U.S. that does not have proof of a rabies vaccination, as well as puppies and kittens that are too young to be vaccinated, must be voluntarily quarantined by the owner until 30 days after receiving a rabies vaccination. In these cases, the owner must sign a “confinement agreement” and ensure the pet does not have any contact that could expose humans or other animals to disease.  

Also, under Federal law, every incoming pet must be inspected before entry is granted. If a pet shows signs of disease, or the certificate of vaccination is improper or expired, then the government has the authority to enforce “restriction of a dog or cat to a building or other enclosure at a U.S. port … in isolation from other animals and from persons except for contact necessary for its care or, if the dog is allowed out of the enclosure, muzzling and keeping it on a leash.” Exceptions are made for pets originating in countries that are rabies-free such as New Zealand, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom.5

The primary goal is to reduce the risk of spreading rabies, and therefore the government has authority to protect the public safety. If a pet is denied entry because of a great risk of spreading disease in the U.S., the pet is immediately returned to the country of origin at the owner’s expense. Furthermore, if a pet is admitted pursuant to a confinement agreement, failure to comply could result in federal criminal charges being filed against the owner.  

Traveling with a Pet within the U.S.

Domestic travel by air, bus, train or car may also require some planning. Currently, Hawaii is the only state that quarantines arriving pets in order to keep Hawaii rabies-free. Since 2003, arriving pets may qualify for the “Five Days or Less” program which will allow pets to be directly released to owners at the airport, and may require the owner to quarantine the pet at home for up to five days. The Five Days or Less program requires pre-registration with strict requirements that must be submitted prior to arrival. Interestingly, Hawaii has been quarantining incoming pets since 1912 and the original quarantine lasted 120 days. Any pet testing positive for rabies antibodies will be quarantined for at least 30 days.4

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No other state has a law that requires a pet to be quarantined upon entry, however, pets that cross state lines must have up-to-date rabies vaccination and a valid health certificate from a veterinarian within 30 days of travel. Many pet owners that travel with their fur babies by car are probably not aware of travel requirements when traveling to another state, but most airlines will refuse to transport a pet unless they have a certificate of good health issued within 10 days of travel. Guide dogs, however, are exempt according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that regulates travel of animals.  

Traveling with your pet is important for many families since your pet is part of the family. You should, however always consider whether bringing your pet is the best choice. In some cases, your pet may be better staying with a pet sitter, particularly if your pet is older, has health issues, or simply does not like new environments.  

Sources

1 State of Hawaii. (2020). Animal Quarantine Branch. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from Hawaii Department of Agriculture: https://hdoa.hawaii.gov/ai/aqs/ 

2 U.S. Department of Transportation. (2018, Februrary). Air Travel Consumer Report. Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/resources/individuals/aviation-consumer-protection/304371/2018februaryatcr_0.pdf 

3 U.S. Department of Transportation. (2019). Air Travel Consumer Report. Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/resources/individuals/aviation-consumer-protection/339541/february-2019-atcr-revised.pdf 

4 U.S. Department of Transportation. (2020). Air Travel Consumer Report. Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/2020-02/February%202020%20ATCR.pdf 

5 U.S. Government Publishing Office. (2010, October 1). 42 CFR 71.51 – Dogs and cats. Retrieved July 22, 2020, from govinfo.gov: https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/CFR-2010-title42-vol1/CFR-2010-title42-vol1-sec71-51/summary 

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