All About Pet Shipping

Shipping a Pet

Before pets see the world, they'll need to see a vet.
Before pets see the world, they'll need to see a vet.

Thousands of pets and exotic animals are shipped successfully each year, though their travel options are somewhat limited to air and auto transport. Buses, trains and boats are usually out of the question for anything but service animals, though certain carriers may have their own rules. The Humane Society of the United States recommends that pets go by air only when "absolutely necessary" and question­s the safety of putting a pet in an air cargo hold [source: Humane Society]. While you could certainly drive a pet cross-country or fly an airline that will let you to take your pet as carry-on luggage, sometimes that air cargo hold is your only option. But there are many rules in place to make sure it's as safe as it can be.

If you're the kind of person with a disregard for authority and a penchant for rule-breaking, then shipping a pet via air cargo is not for you. The process of pet shipping involves a whole host of regulations that pet owners must decipher -- pretty much every airline that will carry a pet as cargo and every country that will receive a pet has their own rules and regulations for pet shipping. This is one of the reasons why many people pass the responsibility off to a pet shipping service, which will figure out all the rules, fill out the paperwork and ensure your pet meets you at your destination. You can expect to pay about several hundred dollars for the service, depending on the complexity of the move, in addition to the cost of the flight. (A good place to start your search for a reputable pet shipping company is with the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association.­)

But pet shipping services will likely be going on the same hunt for updated rules that do-it-yourselfers will. While it would be impossible to cover all the regulations for each possible destination, we can give you an idea of what to keep in mind during the process. To ensure that you meet all regulations, it's best to start the process of shipping your pet well in advance of the planned departure. It will also pay to remember that your pet's well-being takes precedence here. If going by air, you should fly major airlines with established pet shipping policies rather than no-name bargain lines. You may have to tweak your travel schedule to get a nonstop flight (few airlines will transfer a pet for you) or to avoid flying during extreme temperatures, when many airlines ground Fido and Fluffy.

For our U.S. readers, the best place to start planning your pet's trip is with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is charged with enforcing acts related to animal welfare and, as such, has regulations for shipping animals in a humane manner. But if the pet is being shipped to another country, you'll also need to check with the embassy or consulate for any regulations regarding animals brought into the country. Some animals, for example, require certain vaccinations or a quarantine period before they can be reunited with their owner.

After consulting with any applicable countries, it's time to check with the applicable airlines. And when you get off the phone with them, call up your favorite veterinarian. Most likely, you'll need a vet's appointment within the 10 days before your trip [source: Duncan]. Many airlines require a health certificate from the vet certifying that the pet is in good enough health to travel; that certification may be especially difficult to obtain for elderly or pregnant dogs or pug-nosed breeds, because they may have trouble getting enough oxygen through their short nasal passages. The airline may have additional regulations, such as full vaccination records or evidence of an implanted microchip for identification purposes. APHIS also requires that the pet be at least eight weeks old before shipping [source: Air Transport Association].

After that vet appointment, it's time to go shopping. Find out what you're looking for on the next page.