In the 16 years that James Nelligan has been helping families learn how to move to a new country with pets, he’s encountered more than a couple of Chihuahuas. His California-based company Pacific Pet Transport has moved everything from reptiles to rhinos, and he’s moved them all around the world.
“I’ve shipped it all,” he said. “I’ve seen every instance of relocation, and the key for movers to keep in mind is to treat pets like family.”
And thanks to pet shippers like him, furry friends aren’t being left behind when their owners change zip codes. Last year, 523,743 pets flew on U.S.-based airlines, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Many more traveled on international airlines, as well.
“(Many) animals are moving around because of the expat and military population,” said Kim Cunningham, the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association spokeswoman. “Moving your pets means you get to keep your family together.”
If you’re one of those movers heading abroad and looking to take your fur baby with you, keep reading for expert tips from Nelligan and Cunningham to help make sure you’re prepared for the big move.
Research Pet Rules and Restrictions Before Moving Abroad
Guidelines and rules for importing animals vary across the world, so start planning for your pet’s move between six and eight months in advance to make sure you meet the necessary criteria, said Nelligan.
“It all depends on the country you’re moving to,” he said. “Every country is different.”
Check the United States Department of Agriculture website for your destination’s pet requirements and restrictions.
Moving internationally with your furry friend can be pretty hard, said Nelligan, and that’s why he and hundreds of other pet professionals are prepared to help during this busy time!
If you go this route, talk to multiple companies in your area before you choose one, said Cunningham.
“Call at least three companies, get a few price quotes and most importantly find a pet handler that you have the best chemistry with,” she said. “Think of it like choosing a day care. You don’t just go to the first day care. It’s a big decision.”
Check out the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association website to find a pet shipper near you. But keep in mind, they can cost a hefty chunk of change, especially is they provide door-to-door service like Nelligan’s company. He charges a minimum of $2,000 for international moves.
Make Sure Your Pet is Healthy for Air Travel
Countries will likely ask for a health certificate and rabies vaccination documents from your veterinarian, to make sure the pet is healthy enough to live there. But it’s also important to check with a vet to confirm your pet is fit enough for the journey.
“There’s a lot of factors that can affect a pet’s ability to travel, like underlying conditions and age,” said Nelligan.
When In-flight deaths occur, it can often be because the animal is not healthy enough to fly, and not necessarily poor handling by the airlines, he added.
Last year, 26 pets died on domestic airlines, according to the Department of Transportation. Sedating animals is hard on pets, which is why airlines forbid the practice. Still, not everyone complies, and sedation could be a factor in these deaths, said Cunningham.
“The Humane Society, American Veterinary Medical Association and every big animal organization is against sedating your pet before travel, because you never know how they will react,” she said.
It’s also important to plan ahead and make sure your pet drinks enough water before the journey so it doesn’t get dehydrated.
Buy a Comfortable Pet Crate for International Moves
Airline flights can be uncomfortable for even the most seasoned flyers. There are things you can do, however, to make the journey easier for your best friends.
First, buy a crate or carrier that fits your pet comfortably.
“The pet needs to be able to stand up, sit and turn around without touching the top of the crate,” said Nelligan. “If a pet doesn’t fit in the crate, it will get rejected. The airline has the right to refuse any pet.”
You should also make sure it is familiar with the crate before the trip. It is a long journey, after all!
“Have them sleep in the crate for a week or two, so they’re comfortable,” said Cunningham. “And put something – like a T-shirt – that smells like you in there, so the pet can be comforted by that smell.”
To keep it at ease during the journey, you should also avoid feeding your pet within four hours of takeoff. This will help ward off the panicked begging for a walk on the grass or a visit to the box at 35,000 feet.
If you are planning to move your pet without professional help, make sure your airline of choice will take pets. Seven U.S.-based airlines, including Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Frontier Airlines, do not transport animals.
And remember to leave plenty of time to organize and plan for this important and tricky task.
“Moving a pet is like moving a member of your family,” said Cunningham. “You wouldn’t try to move your kid at the last minute.”