December 13, 2018

Cats, dogs, rabbits, turtles, and other household pets are often considered part of the family in many cultures. Taking a beloved pet on vacation or moving abroad with your pets can be stressful for humans and animals alike. Policies regulating entry of animals vary from country to country and can be difficult to navigate. Additionally, pets will often have to fly to their new destination, and flights can pose a health risk for certain animals. Further, airlines often have their own policies regarding pets on flights. Traveling internationally with your pets requires thorough planning well prior to departure.

Pet owners should discuss travel with their veterinarian as soon as possible to determine if their pet is healthy enough to make the journey. Veterinarians will also be a valuable source of information to help determine the necessary tests and documentation your pet needs to enter a new country. Planning is critical: Some countries require blood tests at least six months prior to departure to verify that a pet is free of rabies. If animals do not have the necessary paperwork and tests to meet a country’s requirements for entry, pets may be detained or quarantined upon arrival and at the owner’s expense. Many countries require certain blood tests, vaccinations, microchips for identification, and health certificates. “Certificates of Veterinary Inspection” are often also required by airlines. Be sure to discuss requirements to bring the pet back to the country of origin. Further, pet owners should ensure that they have not exceeded the number of pets allowed to be transported. For example, only six small turtles may be carried into the US at one time. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) provides a useful website with access to country regulations for the EU, Australia, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, and US.


Air Travel

Pets can fly in a few different environments: carried on and placed under the seat, checked-in as baggage, or shipped as cargo. Pet owners will need to determine which location on the plane is best suited for their animals. Only small dogs and cats are allowed in the cabin, and owners must provide care for the animal during layovers. Pets who fly with checked baggage or cargo will be in a quiet and pressurized compartment. This method of travel may be less stressful for pets than flying in the cabin which can be busy and noisy.

Rules regarding number of pets allowed on a single flight vary among airlines. Travelers should confirm with their airline that their pet will be allowed to travel on the preferred date and flight. Only a certain number of pets may be allowed on flights, so giving the airline notice is helpful. Travelers should reconfirm that their pet will be able to travel with the airline 48 hours before departure.

When choosing a flight, consider the operating hours of the air freight facility at the destination country. Ensure that the facility is open at the time of arrival if pets are flown as cargo. Also consider the time of year and weather conditions of destination and layover cities. In general, pet owners should try to travel at times that avoid extreme heat or cold. For tropical or hot destinations, planning to arrive in the evening might be better for your pets as the temperature should be less severe than during the day.



IATA discourages the use of sedatives and tranquilizers in animals that will be flying as cargo or in the airplane cabin due to potential adverse effects that could occur during travel. The American Veterinary Medical Association concurs with this assessment. Certain drugs used for sedation can cause animals to lose their righting ability and their sense of balance. Additional concerns include determining appropriate dosing that will maintain the desired effect for a significantly long amount of time in various modes of transport and environments. During travel, there is little-to-no ability to administer additional doses of medication or to adequately observe animals to ensure there is not a risk to the animal’s health. Sedation or tranquilizers should not be used specifically to reduce the risk of panic attacks or destructive behavior during travel.


Conclusions and Advice

When planning air travel with pets, consider purchasing flights with fewer layovers and loadings, and be aware that unloading can be the most stressful leg of the journey for animals. Starting several weeks or months before travel, allow pets to become familiar with their crate or kennel that will be used during transport.

Research the airline you will plan to use, as the reputation for handling pets may differ significantly among carriers. Decisions and guidance for selection should be made on an individual’s overall needs and preferences.

Try to keep the amount of time an animal spends in the airport to a minimum, as the constant activity in an airport can stress pets. For travelers carrying their animals into the cabin, check in as late as possible. For those whose animals are being transported as checked baggage or cargo, check in early so the pet can be placed in the baggage area and in a quiet and dimly lit area to relax.

Travelers with pets should prepare for unexpected events and carry all paperwork and documentation for their pets with them. Additionally, pet owners should be certain that their pet is healthy enough to travel on a plane. If pet owners are unsure about whether or not their pet will be able to tolerate air transit, travelers should consider leaving their pet at home with family, friends, or at a boarding facility during the trip or choose a different mode of transportation if possible.


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