Traveling With Pets


As travel restrictions have abated, pets are on the move once again. This is true domestically and internationally. Last month we featured cultural differences between Italy and the United States. How does a dog actually get to Italy? Or San Francisco, for that matter.

Within the United States, each state is its own jurisdiction, each with potentially different requirements for entry of animals and pets. The rules are generally easy for dogs and cats, but much stricter for cattle, goats, sheep, birds and exotic pets. Some states and areas, including the District, ban the importation of certain animals outright.

For travel to select states, a domestic health certificate or a state-specific certificate is requires. For states without requirements, no certificate is needed, for some with only vaccination prerequisites a simple health certificate, written within the specified period of time and printed on veterinary hospital letterhead, is sufficient. Others require state-specified forms. This is especially true if dogs are traveling from a breeder to a new owner.

Most people don’t drive their pet across the country – they fly. Airlines have added restrictions to such travel, but with planning, it has become easier. First all airlines require that the pets be vaccinated against rabies. Second most require a domestic health certificate written within a certain number of days prior to travel (usually a maximum of 10-30). Third to travel in the cabin, a special ticket must be purchased, which can vary from $100 per leg, up to $250, each way. Size restrictions for routine travel usually limit the dog or cat to a maximum of 20 lbs., sometimes this includes the weight of the carrier, too.

Travel on places with emotional support animals has been curtailed of recent. This is due to many people abusing the privilege. If you have a valid medical condition for which a pet is certified to assist you, airlines are generally required to allow your pet to travel. Such certification must come from your physician, with the veterinarian certifying that the animal is healthy to travel as above. Service animals are limited to dogs and maybe cats on most airlines. Previously people bought chickens, peafowl, ducks, pigs and even a kangaroo onto a plane.

Why stay in the United Sates? Let’s take Fido to Italy!

For many countries in Europe, this is readily possible, especially for pets capable of traveling in the cabin. Many countries have their own requirements and it is best to plan far ahead with your veterinarian. Europe is generally pretty easy – requiring rabies vaccinations and sometimes a dewormer. An international health certificate is needed, and must be certified by the USDA. For island nations, the process is much more complicated (England aside) as they may require rabies vaccinations, other vaccinations, rabies titer testing, and potentially wait times of 180 days between time of the rabies titer test and travel!  Many countries also require an import permit be obtained prior to import, too.

Recently the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) instituted a ban on importation of dogs from 113 countries – this applies to dogs from these countries and dogs who travel with their owners and are returning post their trip abroad. To import a dog from one of these countries, a special permit is required from the USDA – and these have proven difficult to obtain. Before traveling abroad it is essential to assess if your destination is one of the listed countries. This can be checked by your veterinarian or on the UDSA Pet Travel website. For diplomats and people traveling for long periods (years), taking your pet may be warranted, and will allow time to apply for a return permit.

There are strict restrictions for the transit of birds between states and countries. This is due to the ready transmission of avian influenza and Newcastle disease, two economically devastating pathogens for poultry production. Avian influenza is transmissible to people and can be fatal, too. For any travel of birds, the birds need to be inspected and certified by a veterinarian with advanced clearance by the USDA.

Dan Teich, DVM is Medical Director at District Veterinary Hospital Eastern Market.