“He who would travel happily must travel light.” – Antoine de St. Exupery
In recent years international travel has become much more accessible and easy with technology. Don’t speak the language? Google translate to the rescue, just down load maps, travel apps and you have most of what you need. We travel not only because we love it and to explore new places but also out of necessity ex: job transfers, family needs, etc. Pets are no longer left behind and many of us consider them members of our families. Antoine de St. Exupery was likely referencing possessions and not animals, but many of us would gladly leave behind our possessions to bring our beloved pet with us.
With all of this in mind, when we need to move internationally we are now including our pets and this can quickly become complicated. Each country has their own requirements for allowing pets/animals entry and these can change without warning.
I will tell you a secret, many veterinarians’ anxiety level spikes to a 9 out of 10 when we get a phone call for an international health certificate. I cannot count the number of times we hear “We are moving abroad next week and need to schedule a health certificate exam,” now the veterinarian’s anxiety is at a 10 out of 10!
Why do so many veterinarians dread international health certificates? They are a legal document and one minor detail that is wrong can invalidate them. If this happens the pet can be refused at the border. This means that the pet either has to quarantine at the owner’s expense, go back to the country of origin or in some cases euthanized (this is becoming increasingly rare). There is a lot on the line.
Veterinarians can lose their license/get disciplinary action if health certificates are incorrect or falsified. Many veterinarians are asked by the public to falsify health certificates. People do not think of this in these terms as “all they are asking is to move the date of the Rabies vaccine by 1 day”. This can and has caused veterinarians to lose their license. However, if you plan in advance, work with a veterinarian skilled in researching and issuing health certificates, you and your pet can travel the world. Here’s two recent success stories.
For September we have two pets of the month!
Hamish the cat recently moved to Norway and Mel the dog just moved to Latvia.
Hamish was brought in to Hawthorne Hill’s Veterinary Hospital about 3 months prior to when he needed to travel to Norway. He required an international microchip and updated vaccines. A requirement review for travel to Norway was done at this time. After his vaccines he could not travel for 21 days. Since the process was started early this was not an issue. He was also sent with anti-anxiety medication to trial while at home. Hamish does not enjoy traveling, yet he was able to travel with reduced stress as his owner was able to plan ahead.
While Hamish was stress free, his owner was not! Unfortunately, her travel dates abruptly changed. Since most of the Hamish’s travel requirements were met well in advance, we were able to quickly reschedule his health exam with minimal impact. Hamish’s travel went smoothly and he has quickly adjusted to his new life in Norway!
Mel is a very sweet and loving boy who has separation anxiety and gets nervous in new situations. His owner had been working on improving his separation anxiety and while he had made progress, it was still an issue. When Mel’s human family found out they need to move to Slovenia, everyone was concerned how Mel would handle the long flight (including his veterinarian!)
The process of Mel’s travel preparation started several months in advance as well. He required an additional vaccination and a 21 day waiting period as well. He was also started on a daily maintenance anti-anxiety medication. In addition, Mel was trialed on several different anti-anxiety medications for travel and we eventually found the right combination that worked for him. His owner also worked very hard to get him used to his travel crate and reduce his separation anxiety. Due to pre-planning and hard work Mel’s travel went well and he is enjoying his new home in Slovenia with his family.
What is Involved in Issuing an International (or Hawaii which is ‘Rabies free’ and so requires similar documentation) Travel Certificate?
The requirements require research and are time consuming. We encourage pet owners to be familiar with what goes into allowing their pet to travel to another country (or Hawaii), but the veterinarians will still do their own research (and charge you for their time) as they must be certain of anything that they put their name to and sign. Here’s an overview of the scope of requirements and documentation that veterinarians must be knowledgeable about.
- Verify first that your pet can travel to the location you have in mind (some countries prohibit certain breeds of dogs)
- Review your pet’s medical records, and locate past records if you have been to other veterinarians to gather all information
- Ensure that your pet has a proper microchip implanted at the appropriate time (must be implanted before a Rabies vaccine for the vaccine to be accepted)
- Verify the exact timing of vaccines, in particular Rabies vaccinations; were they done in the correct sequence, at the correct time years ago!
- Determine which blood tests need to be done and how long you must wait before your pet can travel
- Create a timeline of exact requirements – when do you need to file paperwork with the destination country, are there special forms and arrangements you need to make in advance of arrival. Some countries require your pet to be in quarantine upon arrival and you will need to make arrangements and file paperwork to ensure that your pet’s accommodations are set in place.
- Determine the time frame for when the health certificate must be signed (usually no more than 10-14 days before departure) and who needs to sign off on it beyond your veterinarian. Many documents must be endorsed by a USDA Aphis Government Veterinarian, and you’ll need to FedEx the paperwork to them and arrange for FedEx return to you in a very short time frame
- Does your pet need to be on Heartworm preventive
- Clarify if the pet requires last minute deworming or application of flea & tick medication (often within 72 hours of arrival in the destination country)
- If you are taking a pet bird or exotic animal out of the country there are multiple agencies that are involved – USDA APHIS Veterinary Services (VS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ALL of their requirements must be met
If you need to take your pet internationally start EARLY! Some countries require you to start the process at least 6-12 months ahead, sometimes even earlier. If certain steps are not done correctly, then things must be redone which changes the timeline and raises the possibility that travel will be delayed.
Contact a USDA certified veterinarian to schedule an appointment to discuss the requirements well before you need to travel. Not all veterinarians are USDA certified as this requires additional training and not all USDA veterinarians are willing to do international health certificates. If you are working with a pet relocation service, they will help guide some of the process. However, the veterinarian who is providing the specific services – vaccinations, blood testing, administering any medications, or signing any documentation – will want and need to do their own research to ensure that they are meeting a specific country’s requirements. They won’t ‘take the word’ of someone else.
Travel is also stressful for your pet. Getting them comfortable with the crate they will travel in is essential. Again start this EARLY. While your pet cannot be sedated during the flight for health and safety reasons, there are anti-anxiety products that can help them without sedating them. You should trial these at home well before travel. Again start this EARLY (sensing a theme here?). Also think about your pet’s new home – how will they adjust, what will their new home be like, who will take over their veterinary care? Does your pet have health issues, do you need to bring their medications, special food or make other accommodations or arrangements?
Traveling internationally with your pet is not to be undertaken lightly. Early planning makes the experience go smoothly for you and your pet. The veterinarians at Hawthorne Hills Veterinary Hospital are experienced with pet travel and are available to help facilitate your move.