International traveling pets in tow

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that my dog travels with me.  Perhaps it was this Photo Wednesdaythat tipped you off. Or, you may have found this post, or other parts of my site by googling some combination of “travel and dog” or “plane and pet”.  Some of you have emailed me for advice.  Some of you, like me years ago, are combing the internet for info on traveling with your pooch or other pet.  Many of you live abroad and either have a pet or have thought of it.  Those of you that I know personally have already been barked and sneered at by my pet.  Still, in an effort to be helpful, here is my tips on traveling with your pet.

If you don’t have a pet yet, and are planning on traveling with that pet, choose something small.  Every trip I take with my little Harley Anne, I am thankful that she is small and can travel with me.  In order to travel in cabin, the pet must be able to comfortably fit in a carrier case that fits under the seat front in front of you.  This means they must be able to get up and turn around in the case.  Harley fits, but anyone much bigger wouldn’t.  If your pet will not fit with you in cabin, then you will have to send her with the luggage.  I don’t know about you, but I would be a nervous wreck.  Still, people do it every day.

Finding a good carrier case is really important.  More important is having that carrier case months in advance so the dog can get used to it and think of it as home.  If they dog feels safe in their environment, there is much less chance of something going wrong or the experience being utterly traumatic for all or any involved.  Personally, I have the Sherpa Pet Delta Air Lines Deluxe Pet Carrier.  I love it. Harley loves it. And it has been on over 14 plane flights without any problem. In fact, if you tell Harley to get in her house, she will go running and get in her Pet Carrier.

The next most important thing is to start planning long ahead of time.  Make yourself a pet vet folder.  You should keep records of everything!  Most importantly though you need records of all vaccinations including vet signature and expiration dates.  In the US, 3 year rabies vaccines are the norm.  Globally this is not true; most countries and most laws assume a 1 year vaccine.  Make sure that the fact that it is a 3 year vaccine is really clearly noted.  Also, it is important to know that for most travel, certainly all the travel I have done, the rabies vaccine needs to be administered at least 30 days before travel.

It is becoming more and more popular to require tracking chips to be placed in pets before international travel.  These ISO chips are fairly inexpensive– Harley’s was $30–and really easy.  They are placed just below the skin above the shoulder.  Then if your pet gets lost they can be scanned.  When/if you get the chip, make sure that it is a make and model accepted by the countries you plan to travel to.  Also, keep all paperwork in your already assembled pet vet folder.
Some places create a pet passport; Harley has one.  It is really cute.  In the front there is a description of her with a notarized picture. Then it continues with an accounting off all of her vaccines, surgeries and medicines. The document is in four languages. My parents think it is hilarious and like to pull it out at parties!

While I think that Pet Travelis a really great site for information, I still recommend contacting the closest embassy, consulate, or country’s customs website for information.  Remember, only rely on official documents, not internet chatter.  I, because I am anal overcautious, have always printed out the rules, laws, regulations, and letters from embassies to bring with me just in case.

Your dog, or other pet, will need a plane reservation. Yes, this does cost extra money but not the equivalent of an extra seat.  I have paid anywhere between 70 and 300 USD. There are limited spaces for animals on flights so book early– although I have never had a problem.  Also, keep in mind that if your animal is not traveling in cabin, then you may have additional hurdles.  Pets are not allowed as cargo if the weather at any point of the destination is either too hot or too cold.  Even if your pet has a reservation, they can be turned away for any reason.  Usually this reason is that the pet is overly aggressive.  In general, it is not good to drug your pets before flights because you don’t know how they will react.  This is why it is so important that the kennel feel like a home and your pet is able to stay calm.

If your flight is a long one, don’t give your dog much to eat or drink beforehand–remember better to be a bit hungry then sitting in their own vomit, excrement, urine or any combination thereof. Also, as you get closer to your final destination, you can feed the poor thing. Instead of giving Harley water in her bowl, which she invariably spills all over, I give her ice cubes.  That way she still gets some water, she doesn’t make a mess, and she has something to play with. Also, flight attendants will usually give you a half glass of ice cubes without blinking.

You are not allowed to take your pet out of the carrier in the plane or in the terminals except when passing through xray machines.  At that point you can carry your pet through.  I always warm the guards before I take her out.  Also, since you can’t take her out, it makes cleaning up a mess hard.  This last trip I think I finally came up with a solution.  I lined the bottom of the carrier with newspaper, then put on a blankie she likes, then another layer of newspaper, another blankie, another layer of newspaper, another blankie.  After she threw up (in the car on the way to the airport no less), I was able to pull out the first layer with her still in the bag.  It wasn’t a perfect solution, but better then her sitting in the filth. (Since it was before we got there, I was able to actually wash her up before boarding the plane and luckily she had no more incidents).

If you are going through customs, be prepared.  You must declare your pet.  It should be easy and hassle free.  I have found that if I know what I am doing and saying, I get questioned a lot less. It is also helpful if your dog is an American dog returning home (assuming you are American).  I bet the same would be true for other countries. You most likely will have to have gotten a certificate of health within 7 days of flight. Be really careful and conservative about how long it will take you to get this document.  On my way to Chile I didn’t realize that it had to be certified by the USDA, not just my vet.  I ended up making an emergency road trip from Milwaukee to Madison to get the appropriate stamp. In Chile, I had to leave all the documents with SAG for a day for review including the original vaccination records and the note from my Chilean vet. This along with vaccination records and any other requested documents must be presented.  They may ask to see the animal.  You will need to hand over all food and treats as most countries do not let you enter with that. Be courteous, have all the forms you possibly might ever need, and have a healthy animal and you should be fine.

Finally, stay calm. If you are calm, your pet will be.  Also, Harley likes to watch me during the flight.  The Sherpa carrier has mesh on the side and throughout the flight, whenever I look down, I can see her little hopeful eyes, reassuring herself that Mama Clare is still there.

Good luck and happy travels!

Harley in her carrier



  1. Lots of useful information, thanks Clare! I am not looking forward to the day I have to travel with Papi, not because I’m worried about her, just because I know that it will mean we have to leave her for a year and my heart is breaking already just thinking about it. She’s a very calm dog though and adjusts well to every situation she’s ever been in with us so I think as long as we get her used to a carrier, she’ll travel just fine.

  2. Thanks for sharing all of this info! My only lingering question is about barking – have you ever had problems with that? I don’t even know if Lola would be small enough to go in the cabin with us whenever we end up going back to the US, but I can just imagine her being fine for a few minutes and then kind of going “ok, I want to get out now” and starting to bark. Which would make for a very long trip!

  3. If she is barking before the plane takes off, they can request that she deboard or be put below. I haven’t had a problem with Harley barking, but we “practiced” traveling in her carrier and sitting in her carrier at my feet for long periods of time (aka while I was working at my computer). We also praciced traveling on buses and in cars. We practiced walking, with me carrying her in her carrier, through really crowded areas. I also started doing this clucking thing to sooth her. Remember dogs hear really well, so it is pretty soft. Seba rolls his eyes and thinks everyone is looking at me stragely. They may be, but I think most of the time people don’t notice my clucking. Also, if you get a bag with mesh that has flap covers then you can control what the pup can see. Usually I make it so Harley can only see me or Seba.

  4. Very good post!

    We have a big and a small dog, talk about a pain in the behind and about the money spent worth a small car, but we would never leave them behind.
    I had my good share of scares regarding those kind of travel preparations & I’m usually good prepared 😉

    Tip for the ones planning on heading to Europe.
    It is even tougher there in most cases.
    I don’t know for all, but for Germany for example you need a paper that is called a Titer test. It tests the vaccination level of the rabies shots.
    It is taken (I think) 30 days after the latest shots or any time in between the old and the new shots. Test results are valid 30 days after the blood was taken and you have to renew the vaccination once a year to keep that Test valid.

    Once a year vaccination is a must in Germany, plus some other vaccination that usually go along right with that.

    Let me know, if you need anything for Europe.

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