Health Certificates for Dogs and Cats

Health certificates are sometimes required for pets to travel. The purpose is to allow veterinarians to fulfill our public health role and prevent the spread of contagious disease. In addition, some airlines require a statement of acclimation, which means the pet can tolerate the temperatures it will be exposed to during travel.  Here are my suggestions for navigating this issue.

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL: Before traveling with your pet, it is important to find out what kind of documentation is required. For international travel, each country sets their own regulations including required vaccinations, parasite control, laboratory tests and the timing of veterinary examinations.  I recommend contacting the country’s embassy for the most current regulations and forms. Do not rely on websites as they often contain outdated information.  Remember that you sometimes may have to begin this process up to six months before travel! 

TRAVEL WITHIN THE UNITED STATES: Health certificates are not required when the owner is personally transporting dogs and cats in their vehicle or on foot within a state or across state lines. Horses, livestock and exotic animals are usually required to have a health certificate for travel between states.  Some states have entry inspection sites to ensure compliance.  When dogs and cats are traveling by air, all of the airlines used to require a health certificate.  Now, some do not if the pet is traveling in the cabin with the owner.  

In America, each state sets their own rules regarding animals. Therefore it is important to check with the state veterinarian’s office to determine what is required.  Most states require proof of rabies vaccination for dogs and cats. I also recommend asking if there are any restrictions which apply to pets.  Some states outlaw keeping certain types of animals as pets. For example, California outlaws ferrets and Hawai’i does not permit snakes.  There may also be city ordinances against specific breeds such as pit bulls.  

Here are my tips to make the process of obtaining a health certificate go as smooth as possible. 

1) Only accredited veterinarians may sign a health certificate. All veterinarians must pass an accreditation exam and fulfill continuing education requirements in order to sign health certificates. When booking your pet’s appointment, verify that the examining veterinarian is accredited as not every veterinarian will be.
2) The pet must be examined within 10 days of signing the certificate.  Clients complain when they must bring their pet in and pay for another examination when the pet had a physical a month prior. Unfortunately, this is the federal rule that all veterinarians must honor.
3) Some airlines ask veterinarians to verify that a pet is acclimated to extremes in temperature. I, personally, will not do this as it is detrimental to the pet. I have read accounts of eight week old puppies freezing to death in cargo holds. I have also read of pets suffering heat stroke when left on the tarmac.
4) Make sure you have the documents to verify your pets vaccinations. If you are going to your regular clinic, then the vaccination record will be part of your pet’s medical record. If you bring your pet to a new clinic, bring copies of the vaccinations to avoid revaccinating your pet. 
5) Bring the address of your travel destination. A health certificate cannot be issued without this information.

Once the veterinary exam is completed and the required information is added to the health certificate, the veterinarian will sign the triplicate form. One copy will accompany the owner while the others will be sent into the state veterinarian’s office.  

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

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