Travel with a pet can be as short as a car ride into town for a veterinary appointment or as lengthy as a permanent relocation to another country. Regardless of the type of travel, adequate planning and preparation will help avoid surprises and make the trip less stressful for both you and your pet.
Planning for US Travel
Even travel within the United States (especially between states) will be easier if you plan ahead. Remember to consider both the journey itself and the final destination when making plans. In all cases, your pet's vaccinations should be up-to-date; in particular, evidence of rabies vaccination may be needed for interstate travel.
Check your pet carrier or crate to ensure that it is in good condition, large enough for your pet, and (if traveling by plane) approved for use on an airplane. Note that there are significant differences between carriers for use in the cabin, which are soft-sided, and those for use in the cargo hold, which are rigid. If possible, let your pet become accustomed to the carrier while you are still at home by feeding your animal in the carrier, having it take naps in the carrier, or leaving a favorite blanket or toy in it.
Make sure your pet's collar has identification tags including current contact information. If possible, attach a tag with your cell phone number, the phone number of where you will be staying, or the number of someone who can quickly locate you. Collars for cats should be of the breakaway type to avoid strangulation if the animal accidentally snags its collar.
Both libraries and online listings have phone numbers for veterinary clinics along travel routes or at destinations. The appropriate state veterinary association may also have listings. Knowing where to call for emergency veterinary care could save your pet's life.
If your travel is part of a relocation, your moving company may be able to provide helpful advice for transporting your pet and supplies (such as a fish tank), as well as how to help your pet adjust to its new home.
Planning for International Travel
The United States has become a nation of international travelers. In 1995 almost 19 million US citizens traveled to overseas sites. There are no records kept as to how many of these people traveled with pets; however, taking companion animals on overseas travel has certainly increased over the last several decades.
If you are considering taking your pet on a trip outside the US, you should first consult your veterinarian. The best advice that any veterinarian might give is simply to avoid, if possible, traveling abroad with your pet. Even with careful planning, traveling with a pet can be difficult. A pet traveling abroad can become separated from its owners or face a lengthy quarantine period. Even worse, the pet can acquire an unfamiliar disease or parasite. The danger of bringing these “uninvited guests” back into the US or other home country is a constant concern. For this reason, most countries have developed complex restrictions for the introduction (or reintroduction) of animals, animal products, and contaminated articles to prevent exotic infections from entering the country.
Some recent data show that during international trips, travelers from the US spent an average of 18 nights outside the country. For short trips such as these, the duration of overseas travel is far shorter than the length of the pet quarantine period often required by foreign countries. Thus, it makes sense that for short trips, pets should usually remain at home. The situation is far different for citizens temporarily residing outside of the country (for example, military personnel, consular personnel, missionaries, or expatriates). These citizens sometimes live outside of the US for months or years—and they often own dogs or cats that were either acquired in the US and transported to that foreign country or acquired in the foreign country.
If you decide to travel internationally with your pet, you should contact the embassy or consulate of the nation(s) to which you will be traveling to ensure that all necessary import requirements have been fulfilled and that the quarantine requirements (if any) are clearly understood. This should be done at least 9 months in advance of travel. Embassies are usually located in large metropolitan areas, such as New York City, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC. The US Department of State maintains a list of consulates and embassies on its web site.
As you are planning the details of your trip, be sure that the airports you intend to use will be able to provide the necessary customs and/or quarantine services you may require. If quarantine will be needed for your pet, find out whether a reservation is required and what the cost will be.
In addition to the regulations discussed below, you will want to know where to locate veterinary help if it is needed. If possible, research ahead of time (or ask a friend or colleague in the destination country) to find contact information for local veterinarians or a veterinary association that can provide referrals. If you do not speak the language of the country you are traveling to, search for veterinarians that speak English or another language you understand. Phrase books often have sections for human medical emergencies and may be helpful if you need to explain your animal's condition to a veterinarian who speaks a different language.
Last full review/revision July 2011 by Charles M. Hendrix, DVM, PhD