Top 5 Tips for Animal Transportation

Brian A. DiGangi, DVM, MS, DABVP, University of Florida

ArticleLast Updated January 201811 min readPeer Reviewed
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Companion animals may be transported for various reasons, including owner relocation and travel, animal participation in competitions and exhibitions, and relocation of homeless animals by humane groups to areas where adoption is more likely.1

Animal health and welfare must be considered during all aspects of transportation. Veterinarians should be prepared to provide guidance to both humane groups and owners to ensure that companion animal transportation is safe and comfortable while adhering to state, federal, and international regulations. Below are the author’s top 5 tips for safe, comfortable, and humane animal transportation.

1. Review Travel Regulations

Regulations differ regarding intrastate, interstate, and international transportation of animals and vary according to species and purpose of travel (eg, sale, exhibition, vacation). Importation regulations are determined by the destination state; the office of the state veterinarian determines requirements for transportation of animals to or within that state. State regulations vary substantially and frequently are updated based on current trends and risks for pathogen transmission. Most states require proof of current rabies vaccination and a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection at minimum, although the minimum age for rabies vaccination varies. Dogs imported from a rabies-free country may be exempt from vaccination by the Centers for Disease Control but are subject to state regulations.2,3 

Other requirements can include additional vaccinations, diagnostic testing, and limitations on duration of stay, depending on the purpose of travel. Animals granted limited durations of stay (eg, those traveling only for short-term exhibition) may be exempt from some vaccinations and testing. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service maintains a pet travel website that details state-specific regulations that owners, humane groups, and veterinarians should review when planning travel with companion animals.4 

For animals traveling by air, options generally include travel in the cabin as a carry-on or checked as cargo. Individual airlines should be consulted for details and regulations. Restrictions on animal age, breed, species, and size are common, as are stipulations on crate size and construction, type of aircraft, flight route and duration, and ambient temperatures at both point of origin and destination. Additional regulations, including exclusions involving specific countries and quarantine periods, often apply for international travel. The International Air Transport Association annually publishes an extensive set of guidelines for safe and humane air transportation of pets to which most major airlines are expected to adhere.5

2. Explain the Importance of Preventive Care

Veterinary visits before long-distance transportation and/or relocation should include a review of preventive healthcare guidelines and travel preparedness based on risk.6 A thorough physical examination should be conducted, preventive treatments (eg, internal and external parasite control, core vaccinations) administered, and spay/neuter counseling provided as appropriate. A plan for follow-up assessment should be created for animals for which travel or relocation will be temporary, particularly if the travel destination has significant infectious disease risks. 

The veterinary team should assist the owner or humane group in formulating a plan for emergency care during travel, which should identify after-hours veterinary hospitals in the travel area and ensure timely access to the animal’s medical records. The owner may be provided with a printed copy of pertinent medical records or access to digitized versions. For animals with chronic conditions, an adequate supply of any ongoing prescription drugs for the duration of travel should be provided.

3. Recommend Permanent Identification

Animals that will be traveling must have adequate identification (ie, permanent identification with a microchip). Collars and tags are highly visible and do not require special equipment to read; however, they can be lost, stolen, damaged, or removed. The functionality of existing microchips should be confirmed using a microchip scanner and the accuracy of the registration information verified in the AAHA Universal Pet Microchip Lookup database (Table 1). This database is not a registry, so missing or erroneous information must be corrected using an independent pet recovery service, which may require a fee. Each microchip company has a different fee structure and package of services. Free, instant, lifetime registration of any brand of microchip, along with listing in the AAHA database, is available through the Found Animals Microchip Registry (Table 1). International travel may require additional identification with an International Standards Organization-compliant (15-digit, 134.2-kHz) microchip.

Transportation Information Resources



AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines: Lifestyle-Based Calculator

Checklist for lifestyle characteristics to tailor vaccination recommendations

AAHA Universal Pet Microchip Lookup

Microchip information database; microchip and contact information must be provided by individual, independent pet recovery services

American Heartworm Society Transport Guidelines

Guidelines for minimizing heartworm transmission in relocated dogs

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: Pet Travel

Links to requirements for pet export and import to and from individual states or countries

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: International Travel with Your Pet

Owner-friendly resource with travel tips and links to government regulations

Found Animals Microchip Registry

Independent pet recovery service; user-friendly, free, instant, lifetime registration for any brand of microchip

Owner-friendly resource for airline policies, import requirements, pet-friendly accommodations, and travel supplies

International Pet and Animal Transportation Association

Resource for international animal transportation policies and requirements

Although not a form of permanent identification, collars and tags are still recommended in addition to microchips, as they can provide supplemental identification and increase the likelihood of lost pet recovery.7 Identification tags should include the pet’s name and the owner’s name, address, and phone number. Ensuring the pet’s microchip number also appears on an identification tag will aid in recovery in the absence of a microchip scanner.

4. Identify & Mitigate Travel-Specific Risks

Disease risks vary based on geographic region and should be discussed with the owner or humane group, along with activities that might enhance the animal’s risk for exposure. Exposure risks include contact with other animals, exposure to natural bodies of water, exposure to vector and reservoir host species, seasonal variations, and zoonotic potential of pathogens that may be encountered (Table 2).

Common Geographic Distribution of Infectious Agents of Dogs & Cats in the United States8

United States Geographic Region

Infectious Agent (Animal Affected)


Anaplasma phagocytophilum* (C, D)

Borrelia burgdorferi* (C, D)

Cytauxzoon felis (C)

Rickettsia rickettsii* (C, D)


Anaplasma phagocytophilum* (C, D)

Blastomyces dermatitidis* (C, D)

Cytauxzoon felis (C)

Histoplasma capsulatum* (C, D)

Leishmania spp* (C, D)

Rickettsia rickettsii* (C, D)


Anaplasma phagocytophilum* (C,D)

Babesia canis (D)

Blastomyces dermatitidis* (C, D)

Cytauxzoon felis (C)

Ehrlichia spp* (C, D)

Hepatozoon spp (C, D)

Histoplasma capsulatum* (C, D)

Leishmania spp* (C, D)

Pythium insidiosum (C, D)

Rickettsia rickettsii* (C, D)

Trypanosoma cruzi* (C, D)


Neorickettsia helminthoeca (D)

Rickettsia rickettsii* (C, D)


Anaplasma phagocytophilum* (C, D)

Rickettsia rickettsii* (C, D)

Yersinia pestis* (C, D)


Coccidioides immitis* (C, D)

Rickettsia rickettsii* (C, D)

Trypanosoma cruzi* (C, D)

Yersinia pestis* (C, D)

*Indicates agents with the potential for human impact

C = cats, D = dogs

Risk-based vaccinations are recommended for dogs in addition to core vaccines; these include “lifestyle” vaccinations against Bordetella bronchiseptica, parainfluenza virus, leptospirosis, Borrelia burgdorferi, and canine influenza.9 AAHA offers a lifestyle-based vaccine calculator that facilitates creation of an individualized risk-based vaccination protocol (Table 1). Fewer risk-based vaccination options are available for cats, but cats that travel should be evaluated for supplemental vaccinations against feline leukemia virus, Chlamydophila felis, and Bordetella bronchiseptica.10 

Pet owners should also consider seasonal, emerging, and otherwise timely disease risks when preparing for travel. In 2017, the American Heartworm Society reported increased incidence of canine heartworm disease across the United States and released guidelines for minimizing heartworm disease transmission during travel (Table 1).11 Heartworm disease remains a year-round threat across the United States, and precautions should be taken to protect animals traveling through endemic areas and animals that might be exposed to infected dogs. In June 2017, canine H3N2 influenza re-emerged in the United States, primarily throughout the southeast and midwestern states.12 If exposure is likely, vaccination against both H3N2 and H3N8 strains should be considered at least 4 weeks before travel.9

5. Discuss Steps to Protect Behavioral Health & Welfare

An animal’s behavioral health and welfare must be protected throughout its transport. The Five Freedoms (ie, Freedom from Hunger and Thirst; Freedom from Discomfort; Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease; Freedom to Express Normal Behavior; Freedom from Fear and Distress) provide a useful framework for assessing animal welfare during the transport process and can guide individual animal treatment plans.13 Environmental stressors (eg, temperature extremes, the impact of various modes of transportation), methods for reducing individual animal stress (eg, the use of pheromones, toys and treats, opportunities for exercise and elimination), and acclimation to expected travel conditions (eg, crate training, habituation to car rides) must all be assessed. Use of anxiolytics for individual patients may be considered. Use of sedatives or tranquilizers (eg, acepromazine) is not recommended and may even be prohibited for air travel.14


Clinicians play an important role in ensuring safe transportation of companion animals. Familiarity with state, federal, and international travel regulations is essential to prevent travel delays and potentially unsafe and inhumane conditions. Companion animals should undergo physical examination prior to transportation, and appropriate treatment should be provided when necessary. Protection against seasonal and/or emerging diseases and prevention of infectious disease transmission should be given special consideration. Microchipping ensures that animals can be identified in the event of loss, and planning ahead for emergencies helps facilitate treatment of unexpected illness or injury. Becoming familiar with the Five Freedoms will help veterinarians counsel clients and humane groups on minimizing an animal’s stress during travel and relocation.

Global Commentary

Adam Parascandola, Director Animal Protection & Crisis Response, Humane Society International

Animals are transported globally for a variety of reasons, including the rehoming of animals through adoption, the sale of animals online, and owners traveling internationally with their pets.

Requirements and procedures for transporting animals can vary widely between countries. Some countries require animal identification (eg, microchipping) and proof of rabies vaccination (eg, vaccination certificate, titer testing, quarantine upon arrival) for animal travel. In addition to identification and vaccination documentation, some countries require government inspection and approval before an animal is allowed to leave the country. For example, South Korea requires animals to be presented for inspection before a certificate may be issued by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection service allowing the animal to leave the country. 

Animal transport in most countries is strictly regulated to prevent the spread of rabies and zoonotic diseases, but often, laws and regulations are slow to change and have not kept up with the prevalence and emergence of diseases in animals. For example, the Asian strain of canine influenza (H3N2) has been transmitted to several western countries through the import of dogs. Though there may not be legal requirements for canine influenza screening and vaccination, a responsible importer should test and vaccinate for canine influenza before importing a dog from a country where this disease is present. In addition, international animal rescue efforts have increased with the emergence of the Internet and social media. While this global awareness and connectivity has helped save the lives of thousands of animals, individuals or groups transporting rescue animals are responsible for preventing the spread of disease. Pet owners adopting internationally may import an animal with unknown, incomplete, or inaccurate medical records; internationally adopted pets should always be thoroughly examined by a veterinarian upon arrival at their final destination. Veterinarians should be aware of the risks of international pet travel and potential disease transmission and may recommend that pet owners consider at-home quarantine until the health of an imported animal can be examined.

Animal travel regulations also vary depending on whether the animal is being transported as a personal pet or for commercial purposes. In the United States, animals being transported for adoption or rehoming may be considered a commercial purpose, while in the European Union, animals traveling separately from their owners may be considered commercial. Entry requirements for working dogs being transported internationally for the purpose of disaster responses may be expedited or waived if the dog is certified under an internationally recognized response agency. Import and export restrictions can vary not only by country, but even by region, and some countries impose breed restrictions that prohibit the importation of certain breeds entirely. For example, importing and exporting dogs in Indonesia is legal when traveling to or from Jakarta, while the island of Bali forbids both the import and export of dogs. People transporting animals internationally may benefit from the services of an international pet relocation service or broker, required by some airlines and some countries (See Resource). These companies ensure people transporting animals are compliant with laws, while also handling customs fees and retrieval requirements for unaccompanied animals. Ultimately, when transporting animals internationally, it is important to know import and export laws of the animal’s country of origin, as well as the country and local jurisdiction of the final destination.