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Taking your dog or cat on a flight abroad? Make sure you have your pet’s documents when traveling internationally and returning home to the United States. Leave yourself plenty of time before the trip to take care of your pet’s required medical care and paperwork. Remember to start the process early.
First Stop—Your Vet’s Office
If you are traveling internationally, tell your veterinarian about your plans as soon as possible. Together, you can make sure your pet meets the requirements for your destination country and is healthy enough to travel. Requirements may include:
- Blood tests
- Microchips for identification
Airlines and countries often have different requirements, so make sure you know what the specific ones are.
Veterinarian with dog
Talk to your vet about your travel plans and your dog’s rabies vaccination. Photo credit: David Heaberlin, CDC
Woman walking through airport with dog
Research how to fly with your pet. Photo credit: Misty Ellis, CDC
Research How to Fly with Your Pet
Give yourself plenty of time to do your homework before your trip. A great place to start is the Pet Travel website of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
Different airlines have different rules about whether and how a pet can travel. Depending on the airline, your pet may be able to travel on your flight either in the cabin or in the cargo hold. Confirm this ahead of time with your airline.
On airlines that permit pets to travel, only small dogs and cats that can fit in special carriers under the seat are allowed in the cabin. Their owners must care for them during any layovers. Some airlines may not allow them in the cabin, and will transport them as cargo in a heated and ventilated hold. Cats and dogs may travel and rest better this way, since it is quieter and darker, according to the International Air Transport Association.
Another way for your pet to travel is on a separate flight as an air cargo shipment. If this is your preference, or a requirement based on your dog’s size or the destination country’s rules, then get your pet used to the shipping kennel ahead of time. Make sure the door latches securely to avoid any mishaps in transit. Ask your veterinarian for advice about when to give food and water. If a pet is traveling as an air cargo shipment, you must make arrangements for pickup at the final destination.
Some U.S. carriers don’t allow pets to be shipped between May and September, the hottest months for animals to travel in the Northern Hemisphere. No matter what time of year, safety is always a concern when pets travel by airplane. If absolutely necessary for a dog or cat to travel in cargo, it must be in a sturdy container with enough room to stand and sit, to turn around normally while standing, and to lie down in a natural position. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture pet travel website.
When waiting for a connecting flight, you may have to care for a pet traveling with you in the cabin, while the airline staff or ground handlers care for a pet traveling in cargo. Check with your airline(s) beforehand to see what is required.
Woman checking arrivals and departures screen.Consider your pet’s comfort when traveling. Photo credit: Misty Ellis, CDC
Consider Your Pet’s Comfort
Loading and unloading can be the most stressful part of travel for animals. Consider these tips:
- Get your pet used to its carrier before the flight.
- Purchase flights with fewer connections or layovers.
- Pick departure and arrival times to avoid extreme heat or cold. For example, planning a nighttime arrival to a hot destination may be better for your pet.
- Consult with your veterinarian. The International Air Transport Association discourages the use of sedatives or tranquilizers because they could harm animals while in flight.
- Walk your pet before leaving home and again before checking in.
- If your pet is allowed in the cabin, check in as late as possible to reduce stress.
- If your pet will be transported as cargo, check in early so it can go to the quiet and dimly lit hold of the plane.
- Man checking dog’s records
- Meet the requirements for dogs entering the US. Photo credit: Derek Sakris, CDC
Requirements for Dogs Arriving in the United States
Whether returning or coming to the United States, your dog is required to be healthy and have proof of its rabies vaccination:
- Dogs must be at least 3 months old to get the rabies vaccination.
- If this is your dog’s first rabies vaccination, you will have to wait 30 days before traveling to allow the vaccine to take effect.
- If you’re not sure or don’t have proof your dog was vaccinated before, have your dog vaccinated; then wait 30 days before traveling.
- If your adult dog’s rabies booster is current, you can travel without waiting 30 days.
- Your dog’s rabies vaccination certificate must be valid for the duration of your trip.
- Some states may require other vaccinations and health certificates. Check with your destination state’s health department before you leave on your trip.
Some cities or states restrict certain breeds.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has additional restrictions for some dogs arriving in the United States, such as working dogs.
Requirements for Cats Arriving in the United States
Cats don’t need rabies vaccinations to enter the United States; however, most states and many other countries require them. Be sure to check with your destination’s requirements and ask your veterinarian before traveling.
Other kinds of pets
If your pet is not a cat or dog, there may be different requirements. Some animals, such as primates (monkeys and apes) or African rodents, will not be allowed back into the United States. Even if they originally came from the United States, they cannot be brought back here as pets.
Dog at the beach
With careful planning, your pet can stay healthy and safe while traveling. Photo credit: Audilis Sanchez, CDC
Illness or Death of a Pet During Travel
Despite all precautions, pets sometimes get sick or even die on an airplane. Public health officials are required to make sure an animal didn’t die of a disease that can spread to people. They may have to do an animal autopsy or conduct other tests, at your cost, to figure out the cause of death. The animal’s remains often cannot be returned to you after this testing.
Think of Different Options
Make sure your pet is healthy enough to travel by air. If you have any doubts, consider leaving your pet with a trusted friend, family member, or boarding kennel during your trip, or taking another mode of transportation.
With careful planning, your pet will arrive both at its destination and return home healthy and safe.