U.S. Pet Travel Laws Guide

Service animals, like the seeing eye dog shown here, are welcome on nearly all modes of public transportation.­ See more pet pictures.
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­You've brought your furry friend home from the shelter or pet store, and everything's going swimmingly. You're getting along well, your pet's adjusting nicely, and everyone's happy. However, now that this four-legged critter is a part of your family, you want to treat it like one. There's no clearer way to show your affection for your new pet than to bring it along on your next family trip.

Pets m­ake great traveling companions on short trips or on cross-country excursions. However, traveling with a pet requires a number of extra considerations beyond simply remembering to bring its bed and some extra pet food. There are several laws in place that must be followed when traveling with a pet. For example, every U.S. state requires owners to vaccinate their pets against rabies before travel. However, planning trips with pets can still be complicated because the length between required vaccinations tends to vary. Check with your destination to ensure that your pet is properly vaccinated.


­Some locales have harness laws, while others ban specific dogs according to their breeds. When traveling with your pet, be sure to consult the laws that govern your de­stination and any intermittent states that you plan to stop in. If you're taking a road trip from Los Angeles to New York and plan to stop for a few days in Chicago, for example, make sure you know the laws for all three states and cities. You don't want to deal with big fines or face the quarantine or removal of your pet.

Preparation is key if you want to share an enjoyable trip with your pet. Start by reading about breed-specific travel laws on the next page.


Breed-specific Pet Travel Laws

Breed-specific pet laws, often known as breed-specific legislation (BSL), exist to protect people against traditionally aggressive canine breeds. While any breed has its good dogs and bad dogs, some breeds are considered more dangerous because people sometimes breed them specifically for aggression or fighting purposes. BSL most often applies to pit bull terriers, but can also include rottweilers, doberman pinschers or any mix that contains those breeds.

Municipalities in states all across the U.S. have different BSL in place. Laws can differ from town to town, with some locales banning one breed and the next town banning another. A third town can have no breed-specific laws in place, while a fourth might require thousands of dollars in insurance to own a specific breed. Some states have passed laws that prohibit local towns from enacting any breed-specific laws. This means that a single breed cannot be banned, regardless of previously passed local legislation. Those states are:


  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Virginia [source: Understand-a-Bull]

You should always check the laws before you leave town, as they change often. You may find that your buddy can accompany you on your trip -- or you might suddenly learn that you have to leave it behind.

Read on to find out about harness laws for your pet's safety.


Pet Safety Harness Laws

­You wouldn't ride in your car without a s­eatbelt on. Why would you let your pet ride without o­ne? You don't have to: Pet harnesses are a set of straps that work together to best restrain your pet and attach to a seat's safety belt. Nearly half of the states in the U.S. have laws in place that require a restraint for your pet when traveling with you in your car [source: Pet Travel].

They may seem like overkill, but pet harness laws exist for good reason. In an accident, for example, your pooch can easily go flying and become seriously injured or killed. Even a sudden, hard stop can slam a pet into your seat, floor or dashboard. Not only can the impact hurt your pet, but it can hurt you or other people in your vehicle. Dogs in a car traveling 30 mph (48.3 kph) can slam into you with hundreds -- or thousands -- of pounds of force behind them, leading to disastrous injuries for you and your pet.


Your pet can be a distraction even in the safest of environments. Your pet might see another dog, get excited, and start running back and forth in your backseat or jump up into your lap. That's enough to cause an accident. Generally, cats aren't comfortable traveling in cars, so you should keep them in their carriers and use harnesses to restrain your canine companions.

We've explored how to prepare to travel with your pet, and you're going to need lots of preparation if you're heading to Hawaii. Read on to learn about Hawaiian quarantine laws.


Hawaii Animal Quarantine Laws

­The H­awaiian Islands are completely free of rabies -- and officials want to keep them that way. It's understandable, since rabies is a dangerous and potentially lethal disease with no cure once symptoms appear. However, the state's quarantine laws can cause some problems if you want to treat your pet to a Hawaiian getaway.

In order to keep the state rabies free, Hawaii has very strict laws that require that your pet be quarantined for up to 120 days, on top of the state's many pre-arrival requirements. If you need your pet with you right away, you can try Hawaii's 5-day-or-less program, which can expedite your pet's quarantine process. You need to start planning now, however -- the OIE-FAVN rabies test must be given to the dog at least 120 days before your arrival in Hawaii. Your dog or cat also needs at least two rabies vaccinations over a certain period of time, as well as additional documentation. Be prepared to pay a hefty fee -- more than $200 for the 5-day-or-less program -- and you still might not get your pet right away. If you travel at off-peak hours when the inspection office isn't normally open, your pet could still be quarantined for the entire weekend before inspection.


If all the prerequisites needed to visit Hawaii are too much for you to handle, maybe a simple road trip in your old pickup is more your style. Read on to find out about laws for pets in pickup truck beds.

Laws for Pets in Pickup Truck Beds

You may think it's the epitome of Americana -- driving on the open road in an old pickup truck, with dust trailing behind and man's best friend in the pickup bed soaking up the wind and sun. Unfortunately,­ not everyone agrees with you. Pets riding in cars can be dangerous, and pets riding in the back of pickup trucks can be deadly. It's estimated that 100,000 dogs die each year riding in the back of pickup trucks by flying out after an accident, falling out accidently or sliding out the back of an open tailgate [source: Humane Society of Utah].

Dogs have gotten lost or killed when they exited the pickup and the owners didn't realize they were missing. A hard bump can jostle a standing pet from the back, and tying your dog to the pickup bed won't work. In fact, dogs have been dragged along the road and terribly injured falling from a truck while still leashed to it. Dogs that ride in pickups can be exposed to tremendous amounts of dust and road grime from the open bed, which can damage their eyes.


There are several local laws in the works to prohibit or restrict pets from riding in the backs of pickup truck beds [source: Van Sant, Schwartzman]. Even without a law, it makes sense to protect something many people consider part of their families.

Keeping your pet healthy isn't just the right thing -- it's the law! Read on to find out about pet vaccination laws.


Pet Vaccination Laws

Just as you would vaccinate your child and yourself against certain diseases, the same holds true for your family pets. Some vaccinations are required by law, while others may not be required but highly recommended.

The rabies vaccine is not optional -- you must vaccinate your pet against rabies no matter where you live [source: Vet Info]. This is a good idea, not only because it protects them against a potentially fatal disease, because you'll also know your pet isn't carrying rabies if your pet bites someone. Animals have to be put down in some cases to determine if they have rabies to treat the human they bit. A vaccine is a small price to pay to avoid this.


Rabies vaccines can last anywhere from 1 to 4 years, depending on the vaccine used. Your local laws may require a new vaccine every year, or every 3. If you are traveling, your pet will probably need certain vaccines.

You should seek additional vaccines depending on your pet's habits. You may have thought you'd be safe from kennel cough once you brought your dog home from the shelter, but you should vaccinate your pet against kennel cough (also known as bordetella) if you plan on ever boarding the dog. Are you taking Spot to a dog park or dog beach? Though he won't be boarded with other dogs, he'll still be in close contact with lots of other canines, so you should consider the bordetella vaccine anyway. Similarly, if you love to go camping, hiking or spend a lot of time in the woods, think about vaccinating your pet against Lyme disease.

Lastly, it's important to protect your pet from harm. Visit the next page to brush up on anticruelty pet laws.


Anticruelty Pet Laws

Pets are great friends. They're never too busy for you, will comfort you after a hard day, and provide protection and companionship. For all they give to humans, it shouldn't be too much to ask for humans to give them basic care in return.

Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way, so states have enacted various anticruelty laws. They vary between municipalities, but they generally require that owners provide adequate food, clean water, protective shelter and any necessary medical treatment. In some places, it's also against the law to leave your animal in a motor vehicle for an extended period of time in extreme weather. Injuring, killing or showing deliberate cruelty to an animal is also illegal. These laws also aren't just for dogs or cats. They can include horses, livestock, pigs, birds or any animal that you can keep as a pet.


Traveling with your pet can be a lot of fun if you make a few extra preparations before you leave town. Start by checking out the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles:
  • Alley Cat Allies." Anti-Cruelty Law." (Accessed 1/26/09) http://www.alleycat.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=302
  • The Animal Council. "Breed Specific Laws: Basic Primer." (Accessed 1/26/09) http://www.theanimalcouncil.com/BreedSpecificLaw.html
  • DMV.org. "Dog Safety." (Accessed 1/26/09)http://www.dmv.org/how-to-guides/dog.php
  • Governors Highway Safety Association. "Seat Belt Laws." (Accessed 1/26/09) http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/seatbelt_laws.html
  • Hawaii Department of Agriculture. "Animal Quarantine Information." (Accessed 1/26/09) http://hawaii.gov/hdoa/ai/aqs/info
  • Hawaii Department of Agriculture. "Guide and Service Dogs." (Accessed 1/26/09) http://hawaii.gov/hdoa/ai/aqs/guidedog
  • Humane Society of Utah. "Dogs in Pickups - A Bad Idea." (Accessed 1/26/09) http://www.utahhumane.org/Education/Dogs/DogsInPickupsABadIdea/tabid/448/Default.aspx
  • The Humane Society. "Traveling by Car." (Accessed 1/26/09) http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/caring_for_pets_when_you_travel/traveling_by_car.html
  • The Humane Society of the United States. "Fact Sheet." July, 2008. (Accessed 1/26/09) http://www.hsus.org/web-files/PDF/state_cruelty_chart.pdf
  • Moritz, Rob. "Health Department Discusses Change in Pet Vaccination Law." The Morning News. November 22, 2008. (Accessed 1/26/09) http://www.nwaonline.net/articles/2008/11/23/news/112308lrpetvaccinations.txt
  • NOLO. "Flying with Your Pet." (Accessed 1/26/09)http://www.nolo.com/article.cfm/objectId/9D7B6272-6049-4929-9816F017ADADAED3/104/284/294/FAQ/
  • PetPlace.com "Canine Vaccination Recommendations." (Accessed 1/26/09)http://www.petplace.com/dogs/canine-vaccine-recommendations/page1.aspx
  • Pet Travel. "Pet Restraint Systems - It's the Law!" (Accessed 1/26/09)http://www.pettravel.com/pet-safety-harness.cfm
  • Schwartzman, Laura. "Law Would Punish Drivers with Loose Pets in Pickup Beds." Southern Maryland Online. January 24, 2008. (Accessed 1/26/09)http://somd.com/news/headlines/2008/7080.shtml
  • Texas Department of State Health Services. "Pet Vaccine Requirements and Protocols." (Accessed 1/26/09)http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/idcu/health/zoonosis/laws/vaccine/
  • Understand-a-Bull. "United States BSL Locations." (Accessed 1/26/09)http://www.understand-a-bull.com/BSL/Locations/USLocations.htm
  • Van Sant, Will. "New rule could boot dogs out of pickup truck beds." St. Petersburg Times. August 26, 2008. (Accessed 1/26/09)http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/article784594.ece
  • Vet Info. "Rabies Vaccination." (Accessed 1/26/09)http://www.vetinfo.com/dencyclopedia/derabvacc.html