Friday, July 5, 2013

#FurbabyFridays: How To Travel With Pets Safely And With Less Stress

Welcome to Furbaby Friday where I devote a bit of time to share with you my experiences as a veterinarian and hopefully answer some of the questions about the most common topics typed into the Google search engines. This week I thought it would be a good idea to talk about traveling with your pets, especially flying. It's not as simple as many think. In fact, if you just go by what the airline rep tells you when you call them to inquire about their rules, you may just end up in a huge mess...and your pet in quarantine. 

Why is that? The airline is only a small part of the equation. The destination state or country is who has complete control over what kind of and how many animals can enter. The airline may not require that you have a health certificate, but where that plane lands is a whole other story. 

Flying within the continental United States or traveling between EU countries is definitely easier with your pets than if you must fly to Hawaii or internationally. Many other countries have strict rules concerning what breeds of dogs, cats, and other species of animals are allowed to cross their borders. Some have specific steps that must be followed TO THE LETTER if you hope to bring Fluffy with you. 

Traveling to Hawaii

Practicing in California, I see a lot of client's who wish to take their pets on vacation with them in paradise, but many of them fail to do their homework and find out they'll have to make alternative plans.  

Hawaii is a rabies free state. This means that all animals on the islands are free of this virus and they intend to keep it that way. In order for this to happen, all pets entering the state have to be vaccinated with at least two rabies vaccines in their life time AND have a test done to be sure their rabies antibodies are at acceptable levels. Once the pet's blood test is received by the lab, a count down begins. Your pet cannot arrive on any of the Hawaiian Islands unless at least 120 days have elapsed.  If those two requirements are met and can be DOCUMENTED, then your veterinarian must do an exam and fill out a health certificate for your pet certifying it's safe for your furbaby to travel. They also have to apply flea and tick control and note that on the health certificate as well. 

If these details are not carried out to the letter, you may find your pet has to spend some time in quarantine on Oahu, maybe up to the full 120 days until all requirements are met to the Hawaiian State Veterinary Officer's satisfaction.  These rules will not be waived, even for guide dogs and other service animals so it's best to be prepared for any contingency.

Traveling Internationally

Tips for pet travel abroad

This is where doing your research is the most important and contacting your veterinarian to help you plan it all well in advance. There are also many pet transport companies that help do all the leg work for you and can be a valuable resource. Check your local listings for the companies near you. 

Lucky for many people traveling to countries in the European Union, some of the strict rules have been changed. As of January 1, 2013 pets can now enter the United Kingdom, Ireland and Wales without having to spend six months in mandatory quarantine. Japan has also adopted these new rules. Having proof of at least two rabies vaccinations, rabies titers, other routine vaccinations, deworming, and application of flea/tick control are all that's needed to be done in preparation. Of course the health certificate must still be filled out by a USDA Accredited veterinarian AND then also signed off by the USDA-APHIS veterinarian of the state the flight departs from.  This requires a visit to Sacramento in my state of California.

Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and many other countries still have very strict rules and timelines that have to be followed. Just because you want to take a two week vacation on an African safari does not mean that you can take your "Boo Boo" with you without doing the required tests or filling out reams of forms. Your veterinarian cannot just call up South Africa and ask them to waive their requirements for you because you need your little dog with you to keep you from having a panic attack.

One of my clients never dreamed that a veterinarian had to be involved in getting her pets ready to travel to Germany when her husband was transferred for his job. She called our office in a literal panic because she wanted us to sign a paper saying her pets were healthy and could travel. My receptionist informed her that she needed a health certificate as well as vaccination updates in order to go, but she insisted she emailed the German consulate and was told all she needed was that letter from us. 

She insisted so much that I finally relented, examined her cats, updated their rabies vaccinations and wrote her the letter. Then I had her sign a waiver stating I had explained the rules of traveling to Germany as I knew them and she was choosing to not follow that advice.

Needless to say, the client didn't actually email the consulate until AFTER our visit and had a rude awakening. I was right. Now she had to make alternative plans to have friends take care of the cats until the proper waiting period had transpired after the rabies vaccine. All of this could have been avoided if she would have simply picked up the phone to call our office to find out what she had to do and where to go for her research.

Take Home Lessons

As the pet's owner, you have the responsibility to be sure you have the most up to date and CORRECT information for traveling with your furbaby. Showing up a day or two before you plan to fly out of the country and demanding your veterinarian "make it all happen," isn't going to get you anywhere. It takes careful planning to be sure all goes as smooth as possible and by including your veterinarian in your plans...well in advance...can help you eliminate quite a bit of the stress.

The veterinary hospital where I work has established additional guidelines to help our clients get through all the details. We have them set up a consultation with or without bringing their pet with them so we can go over all the details needed. Our receptionists try to schedule these appointments as an hour long so that we can go over all the paperwork the pet owner has with them and do any additional online research as needed. This way we can set up all the future appointment dates in order to meet all the specific guidelines required by the destination country. Once our client's have a plan in place, they have one less thing they have to worry about during their travel or move to another country.

You too can have this sort of relationship with your veterinarian. Start your research early and make an appointment to discuss it all with your vet. Trust me. All of us want you and Fido to be able to travel with minimal stress. 

So go on, plan that trip or accept that job offer overseas. With a little time, effort and planning, it will all work out for your ENTIRE family!

Here are some valuable links to help you in your research. You can also call the embassy of the country you wish to travel to in order to find out their latest rules and regulations.

More pet travel tips


  1. i have a dog, everytime i traveled,i left my dog with my neighbour.
    but i want to travel with my dog,now i know how to do .
    thank you for you share.

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