Traveling with Pets: Know the Rules

[dog in a car]

Pet travel is regulated

“Most people consider pets as family members and often bring their pets with them when traveling,” says Dr. Adriana Roman-Muniz, a veterinary medical officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Veterinary Services. Recently Dr. Roman-Muniz spoke with students at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine about regulations governing pet travel.

“Pets travel with their owners by car, train, air, or sea,” notes Dr. Roman-Muniz. “These travel methods have requirements established to protect people, animals, and ecosystems from the spread of diseases, pests, and invasive or injurious animals.”

The advice offered here is also provided in more detail on a USDA pet travel website: The regulations vary depending on whether the pet will travel within a state, between states, or internationally. For the purposes of interstate and international travel, horses are regulated differently from pets such as cats and dogs.

Interstate Travel with Pets

When traveling between states with a pet, owners should contact the state veterinarian’s office in the state of destination to learn what documentation is needed, according to Dr. Roman-Muniz.

In most cases of interstate travel, the animal must be accompanied by a certificate of veterinary inspection issued by a veterinarian. This documentation requires the animal to have a full physical examination by their primary care veterinarian shortly before the trip. The animal should have no health concerns.

“Some states require certain vaccinations or laboratory tests in order to allow an animal to enter,” Dr. Roman-Muniz explains. “Most states will require the rabies vaccine that your veterinarian already recommends to you during your annual visit.”

Certain species are not allowed in some states. For example, ferrets and hedgehogs are not allowed in California. Owners need to research state regulations before traveling to avoid legal ramifications.

International Travel

Most species traditionally kept as pets in the U.S. can travel internationally when accompanied by an international health certificate. Restrictions are determined by the country of destination.

In many cases, a country-specific health certificate is required. If a country does not have its own certificate, the APHIS pet travel website provides a standard form that may be used.

“The required health certificate is completed by a veterinarian and, in most cases, needs to be endorsed by APHIS Veterinary Services,” Dr. Roman-Muniz explains. “For travel to most countries, the veterinarian completing the certificate must be accredited by the USDA in addition to being licensed.” The website above can help owners find an accredited veterinarian.

Some countries may require other documentation, such as an import permit, vaccination record, or owner’s declaration.

To make travel documentation easier, the Veterinary Export Health Certification System allows veterinarians accredited by the USDA to issue international health certificates electronically. In some cases, the certificate can also be endorsed electronically by APHIS Veterinary Services. Using this system can potentially save the traveler time and money.

Be Prepared

“It is so important for owners to be well informed about their travel requirements to avoid unnecessary stress and obstacles when traveling,” Dr. Roman-Muniz says. Some countries require a quarantine period during which the pet will be detained. In other countries, pets that do not comply with the country’s requirements, such as having the correct documentation, may also be placed in quarantine until they meet entry requirements. Quarantine expenses are the responsibility of the pet owner.

“Allow time to complete the necessary paperwork and forms for travel,” Dr. Roman-Muniz advises. Although some countries’ pre-travel paperwork may be completed in a few days, in other cases the process takes much longer. For example, Australia requires preparation for cats and dogs that will take up to 6 months.

Dr. Roman-Muniz recommends that owners start planning as soon as they know they will be traveling with a pet.

Visit Your Veterinarian

Veterinarians play a vital role in pet travel. They assist with interstate and international movement by advising owners of requirements, completing the proper certificates, and performing required examinations, tests vaccinations, and treatments.

“Veterinarians are a resource for client education and have a responsibility for making sure animals are healthy and fit to travel and meet all travel requirements,” Dr. Roman-Muniz says. APHIS Veterinary Services is here to help owners, and the organization’s pet travel website is another great resource.

If you have any questions about traveling with your pet, contact your local veterinarian.

By Beth Mueller

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay