Traveling With Your Pet? 5 Key Things You Need to Know About Health Certificates

Dog in crate under airplane seat
Before you travel with your pet by air, you'll need to take him to a USDA-certified veterinarian to get a health certificate.

Did you know that 61 percent of human infectious diseases come from animals, and that 75 percent of newly emerging infectious diseases are spread to humans from animals? It's true. 

Ensuring that traveling animals are healthy is a key part of minimizing the spread of infectious diseases. This is accomplished by governmental regulatory agencies and USDA-accredited veterinarians, who function as disease surveillance ambassadors and help keep you and your pet safe by examining animals for import/export and endorsing health certificates.

Planning to  travel with your pet? Here are five things you need to know about health certificates.

1. Flying within the continental U.S. requires a health certificate and proof of a rabies vaccination.

All animals traveling by air within the continental U.S. need to have an exam performed by a USDA-accredited veterinarian less than 10 days before travel. You will also need to give your vet an address for where you will be staying at your destination, as the veterinary staff is required to include that information on the health certificate. If your pet checks out and has been  vaccinated for rabies, you will get a health certificate to take with you on your trip with your pet.

Extra tip: Check with your airline — some airlines have restrictions about transporting brachycephalic dogs and cats, as well as traveling during seasonal temperature extremes.

2. Air travel to Hawaii with your pet is more complicated. Start preparations early!

Hawaii is rabies free and plans to stay that way. If you want to take your dog or cat to Hawaii, start your process six months before travel. Upon arrival in Hawaii, there are two programs for your pet: the 5-Day-Or-Less Quarantine Program or a 120-day quarantine. Pets traveling to Hawaii require a series of rabies vaccines, a rabies titer, a specific microchip, treatment for parasites and a series of examinations by a USDA-accredited veterinarian, all timed precisely. Get the timing wrong or miss a step, and your pet will be quarantined for 120 days. To avoid lengthy quarantine, follow the program set forth by your veterinarian exactly.

Extra tip: Talk with your veterinarian about the costs associated with obtaining a health certificate for Hawaii so that you are not surprised. The process requires a lot of staff time, so expect to pay extra for the service.

3. Flying internationally may be slightly less complicated than travel to Hawaii, but not by much.

Import requirements vary by country, so if you are planning on taking your pet over the pond, my advice is the same: Start the process early. Plan six months in advance, if possible. Call your veterinarian to discuss where you are traveling, when and what you need to do. Your veterinarian is responsible for researching the requirements of your destination, and you are responsible for following your veterinarian’s instructions. Failure to do so could result in costly delays, quarantines or the country flat out refusing to allow your pet's entry.

Extra tip: As with traveling to Hawaii, time constraints are tight and specific. Pets traveling to the EU must be microchipped with an ISO 11784 or ISO 11785 Annex A microchip. Also talk to your airline so you are clear on their pet rules. 

4. Various agencies oversee your journey. 

It can help to know which governmental agency manages what. If you are traveling with your pet out of the country, then the USDA-APHIS is the governing agency. It provides entry requirements for other countries, endorses health certificates and sets up transportation, handling, care and treatment standards of animals that leave the country.

If you are bringing an animal back into the United States, then the Department of Health & Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are in charge, because the focus is on preventing disease from entering the country.

Extra tip: The USDA has a helpful website that has a lot of information.

5. Different pets have different travel requirements. 

Want to travel with your pet pig or pet bird? Be aware that the requirements are different for those animals. Dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits and reptiles are considered category 1, or companion animals. Pigs and birds, even pets, are considered category 2 animals and have special restrictions on import and export.

Extra tip: APHIS does not have animal health requirements for sugar gliders, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, mice, rats, chinchillas or other rodents as long as they have not been inoculated with any pathogens for scientific purposes.

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