International Travel with Pets

By: David Landers, DVM

TVMA Member
Dallas, TX.

Published April 2016

The globalization of industries and businesses requires many Texans to travel internationally. Many people employed by the oil and energy industry frequently travel to the Middle East, the tech industry sends people to Asia and other locations around the world, and our military personnel are often deployed to the United Kingdom, Germany and many other exotic destinations. Many individuals choose to travel with their pets, which can be a time-consuming and stressful affair. Requirements for pet travel vary by country and are determined by the government of each country, so it’s important to be familiar with some important details to prepare your dog, cat or exotic pet for international travel.

Medical Preparation Ensures a Safe Visit

The medical preparation for shipping a pet to another country differs greatly from one country to another but will include microchipping, vaccinations and parasite treatments as well as rabies titers and blood tests. Some countries require quarantine at home before or after travel or government quarantine upon your pet’s arrival. Quarantine times may exceed six months if preparations aren’t carried out correctly, emphasizing the need for careful planning.

Just like other requirements, the need for vaccinations varies depending on the destination country. A good rule of thumb is to have all of your pets’ core vaccines up-to-date and to determine the additional vaccinations required for your destination. Core vaccinations for dogs include rabies, distemper/parvovirus and Bordetella. Core vaccinations for cats include rabies and the Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis Calicivirus Panleukopenia (FVRCP) vaccine. Your dog may also need the canine influenza or Leptospirosis vaccinations, and your cat may need to be protected by the feline leukemia vaccine.

There are a few things that may prevent it from travelling, such as failed blood tests like the rabies titer. In some cases, your pet’s rabies vaccination can be boostered and retested, but some pets never mount enough of an immune response to pass the test.

All of these factors emphasize the importance of starting the procedure early so travel plans with your pet are uninterrupted and stress-free.

Documentation Validates Pets’ Travel Affairs

In addition to medical preparation, there are many documents involved in pet shipping. For all destinations, one or more international health certificates are required. International health certificates are documents written by veterinarians attesting to the health of an animal or group of animals, and they specifically address contagious diseases. Many countries also require import permits, embassy or consulate legalizations and government endorsements. All of these documents, including international health certificates, take time to prepare—up to seven months in some cases—so don’t wait until the last minute.

When to Bring Your Pet Along

Just because you are going on a trip doesn’t mean you should take Rover. For international trips less than one month, it’s generally best to have your pet stay at a boarding facility or hire a pet sitter. The cost, frustration for you and stress on your pet will be much less.

If you decide to bring your pet along, have enough medications for the duration of the trip if the country allows it. However, some countries don’t allow the importation of drugs so you’ll need to see a veterinarian upon arrival to get the required medication.

Seek Veterinary Advice Prior to Your Journey

Before you embark on this journey, have a conversation with your veterinarian. He or she needs to be USDA-accredited to prepare the required documents. (Many veterinarians are not renewing their accreditation, so check early.) Ask your veterinarian if he or she can help prepare your pet for travel by conducting the necessary tests and treatments, signing off on health certificates and assisting with the required endorsements, permits and consulate legalizations. Alternatively, if this feels like a lot of work and stress, hire a quality pet shipping company. Your veterinarian can likely recommend a company that has proven results and will assist you through the process. Companies provide pre-filled documents and guide your veterinarian through the preparation process. It’s a complex process so get the assistance you need to ensure that your pet’s travel goes as smoothly as possible.

Common Veterinary Terms

  • Health Certificate: Document written by a veterinarian attesting to the health of an animal or group of animals specifically addressing contagious diseases.
  • Rabies Neutralizing Antibody Titer Test/Rabies Titer/Rabies Fluorescent Antibody Virus Neutralization (FAVN): These are common terms used to describe a test that evaluates an animal’s level of circulating rabies antibodies. These terms are interchangeable and give us an idea of an animal’s immune response to a challenge with a rabies virus. This test is required by many countries when shipping pets internationally
  • Pet Passport: Booklet issued by veterinarians in certain countries detailing all of the preventive health treatments a pet has received including vaccinations, parasite treatments, examinations, etc. Pet passports are not issued in the United States.

David Landers, DVM, is a graduate Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine who lives in Dallas. Dr. Landers works at AirVets Pet Relocation, which offers domestic and international pet shipping.