International Health Papers: How to Avoid a Justin Bieber Epic Fail

International travel with pets is a complicated affair. Each country has its own set of rules about vaccinations, blood tests, deworming and microchipping. For island countries free of rabies, an elaborate scheme of testing and vaccination is required to prevent a dog or cat from introducing the disease to the country.

Some families handle the international health paper requirements better than others. Take for example Justin Bieber and his pet Chapuchin monkey, Mally. Passports are required for band members on the Believe Tour to enter a foreign country, and Mally the monkey needed special health papers to enter Germany. The problem was, proper papers were lacking and Mally’s concert touring days prematurely ended. Apparently, Mally remains overseas.

Here’s a better story of a family that did their homework regarding international pet travel. Today I saw a cute dog named Avatar, in need of an international health certificate. One of the requirements for entry into her home country is a health certificate signed by an accredited veterinarian. Not every veterinarian is accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), but this family knew to ask for an accredited veterinarian because they had carefully researched this information.

Avatar came to my office with a pile of papers carefully detailing all her vaccinations. I need this information to be sure she meets the entry requirements and to document vaccinations on the international health certificate. Another requirement for Avatar’s destination country is vaccination against leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is an infectious disease caused by a bacteria spread in the urine of wild animals. Happily, the paperwork indicated a vaccination against leptospirosis and I quickly checked off that requirement.

Avatar’s destination country did not require a microchip, but documentation of a microchip is a common requirement for entry into many countries. Some countries also have their own import paperwork, but Avatar’s accepted the USDA form. Once I signed off on my part of the health certificate, Avatar had another stop: the USDA area office at JFK Airport, where she received the endorsement of their New York area veterinarian.

How can you avoid a Bieber epic fail when traveling internationally with your pet?

  • Start early to ensue you have enough time for required testing or vaccination protocols.
  • Do your homework. Start with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website and the website of your destination country for pet import requirements.
  • If you need the signature of an accredited veterinarian like me, check to see if your veterinarian is accredited or ask for a recommendation.
  • Keep your pet up to date on vaccinations and other preventive health care measures to avoid any delays in getting your pet’s international health certificate.

Plan Ahead for International Pet Travel

With the holidays over and summer not yet here, now is a good time to think about advanced planning for the upcoming trip you and your pet will be taking. If you haven’t thought about taking a trip with your pet, think again. Millions of Americans travel with their pets both locally and internationally and according to an August 2012 TripAdvisor.com survey, 49% of the pet owning public have plans to travel with their pets.

Get some ID

Entrance into many countries requires your pet to have a permanent form of identification. The best form is a microchip placed by your veterinarian. Even if you don’t plan to travel anytime soon, every pet should have a microchip to help get them back home if they are lost. If your pet already has a microchip, double check and make sure the registration information is paid and up to date. Inaccurate information in the microchip database prevents animal rescue groups from contacting you when they find your pet.

Do your homework

Research the pet entry requirements for your destination. Every country is different. As a start, review the information provided by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Their website contains both general information and some country-specific information about pet travel.

You should also locate information on pet travel on the website of the country you plan to visit. Although you and your pet are simply going on vacation, the information about pet entry requirements may be found under import/export regulations. If you cannot find the information or you need further clarification, call the country’s consulate or embassy. The United States Department of State has a listing.

If you find conflicting information about entry requirements, the destination country holds the trump card, so rely on their website and embassy.

Pack the paper

Not newspaper, but your pet’s papers. According to TripAdvisor.com, only 45% of pet owners travel with health certificates and rabies documentation. I find this surprising. Keeping your pet’s vaccinations up to date and keeping their vaccination certificates on file will help streamline obtaining critical travel documents. Bring copies with you and ask your veterinarian for a summary of your pet’s medical conditions and medications.

Important reminders

  • Start early. Some countries require your pet to have a special rabies blood test performed. Only certain laboratories perform this test and timing is critical.
  • Even though you may have started preparing early for your trip, certain travel documents must be signed only days before departure. Allow time in your schedule to finalize any of your pet’s travel documents.
  • Some countries require your pet’s health papers be signed by a USDA accredited veterinarian. Not all veterinarians are accredited, so check with your veterinarian well in advance of your trip to make sure you have an appointment with one who can sign the travel papers.

Traveling Internationally with Your Pet

By Deirdre Chiaramonte, DVM, DACVIM, The Animal Medical Center

The key to successful international travel is to start planning early. First, review the pet policies of your foreign destination and call the consulate at least a year in advance to determine what vaccinations, blood tests and paperwork are required for your pet to successfully enter a foreign country. Regulations change unexpectedly and you should check with the consulate frequently to prevent a last minute rule change from thwarting your carefully planned trip.

For example, prior to 2002, travel to the United Kingdom was prohibited unless your dog was quarantined for 6 months! Quarantine is no longer required, but travelers should anticipate an involved process requiring multiple trips to the vet for vaccinations, blood tests, microchips and deworming. A useful website for UK travel information is http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/quarantine/index.htm. There is also a helpful brochure to download called "Protecting the welfare of pet dogs and cats during journeys."

If you are thinking of traveling to a different hemisphere, there may be other requirements. For example, if you are traveling to Australia you need to apply for an AQIS import permit. Additionally, many countries use a ‘Pet Passport’ to facilitate pet travel. For more information, visit http://ec.europa.eu/food/animal/liveanimals/pets/qanda_en.htm.

Which pets should travel?
Not all pets should travel internationally. It is much safer if your dog or cat can travel under seat with you than in cargo for those long transoceanic flights. Besides geriatric dogs and dogs with chronic diseases – brachycephalic dogs, dogs with behavior issues (separation anxiety) and dogs with arthritis (staying in same position for long hours is hard on joints), also epileptic dogs should not travel in cargo.

How to get there?
If traveling by sea, some ships have kennels, but most do not permit pets in the staterooms. Airline websites usually have their own section on pet travel rules and regulations and these sites will detail what crates they will approve for travel. Choose direct flights if possible and try to avoid the hottest or coldest part of the day to travel.

Label the crate (in English and the native language of the country to which you are traveling) with all identification and medical information in case you are separated from your pet due to unforeseen circumstances. Secure a photo of the pet to the crate, a copy of the medical record and some of the pet’s food so airline personnel can feed your pet in the event of an emergency. A large sticker saying LIVE ANIMALS should be placed on the crate as well. Animals should be familiar, comfortable and acclimated in their crates long before embarking on a trip. Supply your pet with a non-spill bowl for water inside the crate and line the bottom of the crate with absorbent paper.

On the day of travel, feed only a light meal a few hours before departing. Water can be frozen so it will thaw slowly and spill less or you can teach your pet to drink from a special water dispensing bottle attached to the inside of the crate. Veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center do not recommend sedatives due to possible adverse reactions and inability to react to certain situations such as take-off and landing.

Research Required
Once you have determined the travel regulations for your pet, the real research begins. You need to find pet-friendly hotels and a veterinarian who can handle emergencies at your destination. You will also need to plan for any changes in weather might affect your pet as well as determine the pooper-scooper laws at your destination.

Carry health and vaccine records, extra food, medication refills and extra copies of paper prescriptions, microchip information, extra leashes and collars and photos of the pet. You may elect to purchase a personal microchip reader to facilitate entry through customs.

Helpful websites:
www.pettravel.com
www.pettravelcenter.com
www.aphis.usda.gov

You may want to seek additional advice about international travel from a USDA accredited veterinarian. Ask your veterinarian if they hold this certification. If not, you may contact The Animal Medical Center for assistance. To make an appointment at The AMC, please call 212 838-7053.
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For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.