What do I do if my pet gets sick in a foreign country?

Having a sick pet in a foreign country won't be quite so scary if you're prepared. See more pet pictures.

­There are few things more frightening than the feeling of helplessness you get when a pet becomes ill and you don't know what to do or where to turn­. Being in a foreign country when your pet gets sick can be doubly difficult. Beyond the anxiety you feel about your pet's health problems is the challenge of communicating your need for help to others, and the importance of making certain that your pet is getting the best possible care. When you plan a trip, you're usually not thinking about the things that can go wrong, but doing some research and planning now can save you time and anxiety later when you're traveling with an animal companion that becomes ill unexpectedly.

A beloved pet can be your best friend, and it's natural to think of it as a good travel companion, but make sure that you're doing the best thing for your pet before you include it in your plans. All travel spots aren't created equal, and knowing the specifics about your destination, like import restrictions, potential predators and pet-related illnesses, will help you make the right decision. And, if you do travel with your pet, be prepared for the problems that arise.


­Ask yourself some important questions. Is your pet a good tra­veler? Is it young enough to meet the challenges of the trip? Will it really enjoy the rigors of being quarantined without you close by, long plane rides or potentially long delays confined in a small carrier?

Honestly evaluating your pet's fitness, researching your travel plans with your pet's welfare in mind, and planning in advance for your pet's possible needs are the best ways to prepare for and handle a pet's illness when traveling.

In the next section, we'll talk about planning ahead for a trip to a foreign country with your pet.


Planning Ahead for Pet Travel

Find out where you can take your pet if an emergency arises.
Find out where you can take your pet if an emergency arises.

­Before you travel, understand the pet-related laws governing the country you'll be visiting, and what, if any, restrictions that may be placed on a returning pet by the U.S. Government, like having it inspected by a veterinarian before being allowed back into the country. You can contact the embassy of a host country or countries to get information, and also check with the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for additional information about foreign travel with pets. This is the best way to understand the potential hazards and your best course of action should something happen to your pet abroad.

Pets can suffer stomach upsets, constipation, sleeplessness, anxiety, aggression and other symptoms as a common part of the travel process. Unfamiliar surroundings are often stressful to pets and can lead to the­se and other symptoms. Be prepared to deal with them by bringing along with you the things your pet may need, including a first aid kit, pet prescription medications, blankets, disposable items and a pet first aid booklet. Include some of the foods your pet is accustomed to eating. If your pet will be quarantined for a period of time, try to leave something with it that smells of you, like a T-shirt or sock, which will help it stay calm until it's released back into your care.


Purchase a sturdy kennel for your pet. This will be its home for most of the journey, so make sure that it's safe and secure. Make a checklist of general items, like grooming tools, a leash, a current photo and other materials, as well as the phone number for the American embassy for the areas you'll be visiting. With this information and some supplies in hand, you'll be better equipped to handle any pet health emergency that arises.

On the next page, we'll discuss the types of paperwork you need when traveling with your pet.

Pet Travel Paperwork

Before you travel abroad with your pet, you'll need to check with the embassies in the countries y­ou'll be visiting for a list of requirements and restrictions. You can do this by visiting the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) foreign country listings. The laws regarding pets vary from country to country, so don't assume that you have what you need without checking first. Don't rely solely on a third party's paperwork or recommendations, either. Regulations change frequently, so it's important that you verify that you've met the current requirements close to your departure date.

Your pet will also need an International Health Certificate issued by APHIS before it leaves the United States. An APHIS-accredited veterinarian will issue the certificate after physically examining your pet and making sure it's had its vaccinations. APHIS, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has offices across the country and can provide you with a list of accredited vets in your area and the address of the nearest regional Veterinary Services office where you can submit the signed certificate for validation. Check the APHIS Animal Health Area Offices Web site for addresses and phone numbers.


Once you know the rules for the countries to which you'll be traveling and have complied with APHIS regulations, it's time to get packed up and ready to go.

When Your Pet Gets Sick

If your pet becomes hurt or ill when you're traveling in a foreign country,­ stay calm. Sometimes a minor ailment can seem worse than it is because you're anxious that it may be difficult to find help. Although emergencies should be treated immediately, minor problems, like vomiting and diarrhea, can occur as a part of traveling because of changes in your pet's diet and its reaction to unfamiliar situations. If you're sure it's more serious than that, evaluate what you've been feeding your pet and what it's been doing that might be causing problems. Have a sample of anything it may have eaten to take to a local veterinarian, and above all, don't panic. Isolate your pet and keep it comfortable. Injured or sick animals can become violent, so use caution.

If you're staying in a hotel, the concierge may be able to make a recommendation about a good local veterinarian, particularly if the hotel advertises that it allows pets. This may be your fastest means of finding help. If not, U.S. embassies abroad offer assistance to U.S. citizens 24 hours a day, every day of the year. You can call the Office of Overseas Citizen Services, part of the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-501-4444. You can also check the State Department's online listing of Embassies and Consulates for more information on how to find help when visiting abroad [source: U.S. State Department].


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More Great Links


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  • USDA. "Taking Your Pet to a Foreign Country." Undated. 1/8/2009. http://www.aphis.usda.gov/import_export/animals/animal_exports_pets.shtml
  • Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society. "Clinic Directory." Undated. 1/14/2009. http://veccs.org/hospital_directory.php