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Meet Ellaria (Ellie) and Ms. Rumphius (Rumphie), your guides to all things animal-travel related.

Rumphie, a decidedly domestic kitty, will give you tips on all things practical for animal travel. Ellie will spice things up with ideas to keep your pets calm and occupied at your destination.

First things first: When traveling by air, there are only certain animals allowed on or in planes. Almost all dogs under 20 lbs are allowed in cabins, as well as all cats. Songbirds and parrots are also allowed, but very few airlines accept other types of animals (small mammals, reptiles, etc) in the cabin or cargo. The only real exceptions to this rule are service animals.

Rumphie Recommends: When you travel with pets, visit the vet before you jet.

I see one gleaming eye under the bed and I lunge. GOTCHA! Wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, I stuff one of my cats quickly in the carrier. Ms. Rumphius meows in protest; she knows what is coming.

Ellaria, on the other hand, is still on the run. Ellie is strong-willed, a skilled hider, and black — giving her a distinct advantage over me. I am thinking of the best way to entice her into the carrier when I see a black flash. She is dashing for the door, and the perceived safety of the underside of the dining room table. I lunge again, but miss.

She scampers into the bathroom, sliding on the smooth floor as she rounds the corner and jumps into the tub. I walk slowly into the room expecting her to continue this game. She loves a good chase, but she knows she’s been caught. And when I shift the curtain back and place the ancient carrier inside the tub, she glides in without protest.

It’s been 20 minutes, but we are finally ready to head to the vet. Although it may be a lot of effort to get your pet there, when traveling long distances it really is a necessity.

Even if you are traveling only within the US or Canada, it is imperative that you visit your vet before you leave. The laws of many states on animal control and regulation differ, and without proper documentation, travel with pets can quickly shift from easy to disastrous.

Get these things from your vet and any problem you encounter with an airline can be easily resolved:

  1. Rabies Tag and Certificate (signed by a licensed veterinarian). To make things easier for you, be sure to attach the tag to your pet’s collar. Your pet’s collar should also have an ID with your name and phone number in case of a location mishap (location issues can also be avoided with a microchip!).
  2. Full Vaccine Record. This record should include all of your pet’s vaccines and annual testing with both the renewal and given date listed clearly. For cats, that would include rabies, FVRCP (Feline Distemper), and a fecal test. For dogs. that would include minimally rabies, DHPP (Canine Distemper), fecal test, and heartworm test.
  3. Domestic or International Health Certificate/Official Bill of Health (signed by a licensed veterinarian). Who signs these certificates depends on your destination. If traveling within the continental US, usually your home veterinarian can sign all required travel papers for your pet. For international destinations, some countries may require your state veterinarian to sign travel documents.

Make sure you ask your home veterinarian to help you solve any health issues your pet may have before you travel. They may even have recommendations for veterinarians you might use on your travels! Be sure to ask your veterinarian any behavioral questions you might have as well.

Ellie’s Experience: Medicine might be needed for some pets to travel comfortably.

Ellie knows that many people like to avoid medicating their pets unless absolutely necessary, and she also wants you to know this should be considered a necessary time.

Air travel is often hard on humans, so imagine how much harder it must be on a small mammal who has no idea what’s going on. To ensure comfortable, calm, and safe travel, medication can be considered.

Ask your veterinarian what medicine they recommend, and the side effects. Finally, be sure to ask when the appropriate time to readminister medicine is, so that the whole trip is covered.

Rumphie Recommends: Know before you go.

Travel surprises are usually no fun for anyone. When pets are involved, they’re even less so.

These are the three things you should always know before you go on a travel adventure with your pet:

  1. What your airline requires for pet travel (every airline is different).
  2. What your destination requires for pet entry (every state and country is different).
  3. What the United States requires for pet re-entry (re-entry to the US may be different than entry to your vacation destination).

It is important to note that when traveling with your pet, you have to consider both the airline you are traveling with and your destination. There are often different requirements between airlines regarding weight and type of pets allowed. American Airlines, for example, will not allow brachycephalic pets (whether dogs or cats) to travel, but Delta will.

There are also varying requirements for destinations regarding what needs to be done before entering the space. This is true intra-continentally, internationally, and within the legal boundaries of the US but outside of the continental 48 states.

A few special circumstances:

Traveling to Hawaii from any state/country. Hawaii is rabies-free and intends to stay that way. They have the most intense procedure for pets entering the state. There are two ways to enter: either by having done a five-day quarantine procedure, or not. When a pet does not go through the five-day quarantine, it will be quarantined for 120 days. Note: The five-day quarantine also includes a way for pets to be directly released into the airport, although this can only be done at the Honolulu airport.

Rabies is handled differently going to Canada and reentering the US. Compared to Hawaii, Canada has very loose pet entry requirements. If your animal is under three months old, it does not need to be vaccinated against rabies before entering. If it three months old or older, vaccination needs to have happened within three years of entry into Canada, but can also happen immediately after entering Canada. This usually presents a problem for people traveling for a short time within Canada, then returning to the US (as the US has more guidelines than Canada for pet entry). The US requires a valid rabies shot 30 days prior to entering the country, so — for instance — if you bring your pet into Canada, have it vaccinated there, and then stay for only two weeks, your pet will not be allowed to cross the border back into the US.

Flying to Jamaica from the US with a pet is nearly impossible. Jamaica has very strict regulations regarding pet entry onto the island. Unless the pet is entering from the UK, pets are not allowed entry into Jamaica (this is due to the fact that Jamaica is rabies-free).

Rumphie Recommends: If you have a service animal, read up.

There are two laws in the United States that regulate travel with regard to service animals.

The first is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which defines service animals and what they and their handlers can do in public spaces.

The second is the Air Carrier Access Act, which outlines the rights of people with disabilities with regard to air travel. One such right is access to your service animal at all times, with few exceptions (such as the service animal in question posing a safety threat to other passengers).

Ellie’s Experience: Know that your service animal should be able to fly free of charge, and is not required to stay inside a kennel.

If you cannot fit yourself and your service animal in the space where your original seat is located, airlines are required to move you to a suitable seat, only suggesting the animal shift to cargo as a last resort.

But unfortunately, the ADA and the ACAA define “service animal” differently.

The ADA only includes dogs as service animals, while the ACAA includes all animals that meet the requirements of service animal and do not pose an immediate or unmanageable threat to the general public. This includes cats, miniature horses, pigs, and and other animals not considered exoctic. If you have an exotic animal — or really if you have any animal other than a dog as a service animal — you may run into trouble with taking them on a flight.

From personal experience, I can tell you that many airport personnel — TSA specifically — do not (although they should) know this difference in the laws, and try to enforce the ADA regulation on some travelers.

I saw this firsthand on a recent trip to California. One family had a service dog with them, and they breezed through security with no problem. Another family had a service cat with them (who I will add was walking on a leash, just the same as the dog), but the TSA agents put up a fight.

“Only dogs are allowed outside of their kennels,” one officer actually said. This is flat out not true, as all service animals are allowed outside of kennels in the airport.

Thankfully, the family in question had documentation of the cat’s status as a service animal, and the issue was resolved quickly.

When traveling by air, you should know that in airports and on airplanes, the ACAA is what mainly applies, as it regulates air travel. If you are at any other point in your travels (within the United States), the ADA regulations apply. Regardless do sometimes overlap with the ACAA, therefore it is important to know both.

It should also be noted that there is a difference between service animals, emotional support animals, and psychiatric service animals. Airlines usually require more paperwork for emotional support and psychiatric service animals, which usually has to be submitted within 48 hours of departure.

Ellie’s Experience: These rules change constantly.

Although it is important to be prepared, looking up this information a year out from travel could hurt more than help, especially with regards to airline rules and regulations.

Two to four months is a more reasonable time at which to begin research, and keeps you within the 30-day period for rabies effectiveness in young pets.

Rumphie Recommends: Bathroom breaks, no double takes.

Dealing with what comes out of your pet’s bottom end can be daunting.

Will there be place for your pet to go? Will it be easy to access? What should be done with the waste?

Thankfully, every airport in the United States is required to have a pet relief area. The catch is it is up to the airport where these pet relief areas are located. In many airports, there are areas designated for relief both before and after security checks, but you should always check the location of pet relief areas before departing.

Most pet relief areas are designed with dogs in mind, but can be used by any animal present in the terminal at the time. Please be aware of your pet’s signs that they need to go to the bathroom. Because they will need to stay in their kennel — unless they’re a service animal — this may involve frequent checks on your pet’s behavior through the kennel.

Accidents happen. And if one does to you on your trip, simply clean it up thoroughly and alert an airport service member so the spot can be properly disinfected. The person you inform may be upset and remind you of the pet relief area, but it is better to inform and have the spot properly cleaned than to leave the waste in the open at the airport or on a plane.

Ellie’s Experience: For bathroom breaks, use the rule of three.

I’ve found that it’s best to follow the rule of three for pet bathroom breaks. Try to ensure you give your pet a chance to use the bathroom before you travel, while you are waiting for your flight, and then after you land.

If you are traveling with a cat, you should not need to bring them to a relief area. Instead, make sure they’ve used the litter box before leaving for the airport.

Rumphie Recommends: When you go far, use a car.

Things can be a whirlwind of chaos after your flight is over and you’ve reached your destination. If a sedative has been given to your pet, it is most likely wearing off now and new surroundings are coming to light.

Now that you have arrived at the airport, you and your pet still have to journey to your home-base for the duration of your vacation. When traveling by yourself, there are usually a variety of transportation options, but not all of them are suitable for pets that have just experienced air travel.

Cars are a way to isolate you and your pet, and give you both a moment to regroup together, unbefuddled by the chaos of the outside world. A bus or a shuttle can be very overwhelming for a pet because of the amount of people and smells present and constantly changing. Your pet also will most likely have to stay in its kennel in other modes of transportation, whereas in a car you could take your pet out for a brief period of cuddles and reassurance before reaching your final destination.

Ellie’s Experience: International car services are much more relaxed about animals accompanying you on trips than US car services.

“Get out!”

My bottom has just barely grazed the backseat of my Uber when the driver yells at me to get out of his car. Apparently, my forewarning of having pets with me wasn’t sufficient.

“You didn’t say you had cats. I only take dogs.”

This is the second Uber that has denied us. The first driver was allergic, but didn’t mention this when I told him three cats one person over the phone.

I try Lyft. Denied.

I try again and finally we are accepted as transportable beings!

We make it safely to our destination, but it was definitely a hassle. Imagine having to deal with this after traveling a long distance.

Note that Uber and Lyft definitely do allow animals to ride in cars, but only at the driver’s discretion. Within the US, I have found regular taxis to be much more reliable and when called beforehand there is no flaking.

Traveling with your furry friend can be a lot of work.

There is a lot of research to be done and requirements to be met, but it is all worth it for an adventure of a lifetime!

Double- and triple-check the rules and regulations, and you should not run into any trouble when traveling with your pet. But if you do run into trouble, be armed with both knowledge and paperwork, so issues can be resolved quickly. Your pet will thank you for being prepared, and you will thank yourself as well.

Ellie and Rumphie wish you the best of luck on your flight, and hope their tips have been helpful!


Have you ever traveled with a pet? Share in the comments!

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Jamayca Williams

Author Jamayca Williams

Traveler. Teacher. Animal Lover. On the look out for the next great adventure.

More posts by Jamayca Williams

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