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Traveling with pets

August 15, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

I can think of no finer travel companion than a furry best buddy! I think it's just wonderful to live in a time where pets truly are family. They go where we go and are incorporated into almost every aspect of our lives. This includes travel. As your veterinarian, I want to make sure your travel buddy gets safely to your destination and that you have an easy and enjoyable experience with him/her. What I want you to know is ... this takes a little planning!

Now, you can make it to grandma's house across the state easily enough (though you may need motion-sickness meds or anxiety meds!). But, I'm talking about long-distance traveling; out of state or out of country. Are you aware that each state and each country have their own requirements for pets entering their region? Let's look at two examples:

Mrs. Catlover wants to visit her sister in New York and plans to stay for six weeks. Of course, "IttyWitty" must come, too! To make that happen, "IttyWitty" will need a health inspection exam performed by a USDA-accredited veterinarian. She must be current on rabies vaccination, and be found free of any contagious illness, including parasites and skin infection. The inspection exam must occur within 30 days of travel. Mrs. Catlover should keep in mind that if "IttyWitty's" exam is abnormal, she will need to allow time to cure that condition and re-evaluate her precious feline before traveling. It's important that she not wait until the last minute to schedule her visit with the vet. A health certificate for travel cannot be issued unless the veterinarian finds no evidence of potentially contagious disease. It will also be important to check with the airline Mrs. Catlover plans to travel with about their requirements for pet travel. Sometimes, there are additional steps to take.

Mr. Packslite will be spending his summer in Hawaii. While at the vet's office, he mentions his plans to bring "Sugarfluff" along. An appointment is scheduled right away to begin the process. Because Hawaii is a rabies-free state, the preparation for travel is much more involved. Animals who fail to meet the requirements for entrance will undergo and mandatory quarantine period, without release from the airport until the quarantine is completed. In order to avoid quarantine, "Sugarfluff" must first be microchipped as a means of identification. He will need at least two rabies vaccinations given over his lifetime up to this point. They must be at least 30 days apart, and the most recent rabies vaccine must not expire prior to entering Hawaii. Next, a blood test must be performed to verify effective vaccination against rabies. The blood sample must be sent to an approved lab, and the lab must receive the sample no less than 30 days, and no more than three years before travel. Assuming "Sugarfluff's" test result is within the acceptable range, Mr. Packslite will then need to complete an import permit form. A veterinary health certificate will be needed within 14 days of travel to Hawaii. This requires an exam by a USDA-accredited veterinarian (similar to the example above). Also within 14 days of travel, the veterinarian must administer a long-acting flea and tick preventive and document the product being given. Mr. Packslite will need to submit all documents to officials in Hawaii less than 10 days before traveling. The traveling duo's flight will need to arrive in time for inspection of documents and animal to occur during office hours. Only if all requirements are met will "Sugarfluff" be released to Mr. Packslite upon arrival in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Many foreign country destinations have similar requirements to that of Hawaii as explained above. However, every state and every country can have variations in required treatment and documentation to enter. Proper documentation may take anywhere from 10 days to six months. Airlines also may have specific requirements for pet passengers. It's important to have all paperwork, documents, vaccinations, and other treatments performed within mandated time frames so that you and your pet can enjoy your travel experience. For more information on USDA travel requirements for pets, visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel, and talk with your veterinarian.

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