January 15, 2005


 AVMA Answers

Posted January 1, 2005
Q:  Where can clients find information on the appropriate rules and regulations regarding traveling with, or shipping, pets to foreign countries?

Dr. Lyle P. Vogel, director of the AVMA Scientific Activities Division, responds:  

A:There are several sources of information. For current information, it is advisable that your clients contact the appropriate embassy or consulate far in advance of the trip. A listing of embassies and consulates can be found at www.state.gov/s/cpr/rls/fco/. Advance planning is required because, for example, some countries require a rabies vaccination at least 30 days, but not more than one year, before the trip. Also, European Union countries now require a clearly readable tattoo or an International Standards Organization-compatible microchip and a bilingual European Union health certificate, which needs to be endorsed by a Department of Agriculture veterinarian. This requires advance planning to have the correct certificate to get endorsed.

Additionally, the USDA maintains a Web site, www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/ncie/iregs/animals/, with information mainly about requirements for livestock, but information about pets is provided for some countries. There is also a Web site created by the Department of Defense, http://vets.amedd.army.mil/dodvsa/outanimalimport.htm, but it will be necessary to verify that information is correct for nonmilitary personnel. The rules may be different for civilians.

Q:  What do veterinarians need to know about filling out health certificates for dogs and cats being transported interstate or internationally?
A:   Health certificate forms and information can be obtained from the Department of Agriculture. The USDA form is officially called United States Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals. You can locate the USDA Veterinary Services Area Office for your state at www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/area_offices.htm. Check with the USDA, or the embassy or consulate of foreign countries, before completing the certificate for international travel.

Some countries, such as those belonging to the European Union, require that their specified certificate be used. Information and certificates for the European Union can be found here. This is the official EU Web site and provides the new bilingual EU health certificates in both PDF and Word format in all 11 standard EU languages. The Word forms can be typed on the computer and will fit, front and back, on one page, including instructions. This site also has the regulation and is where any new changes to the requirements will be posted. Accredited veterinarians complete part of the form and then send it to a USDA veterinarian for endorsement. There is a cost for the endorsement. A copy of the rabies certificate (and rabies titer results, if required) must be mailed in with the health certificate. Allow enough time for mailing back and forth.

Veterinarians should conduct appropriate examinations of animals being transported, before signing a health certificate. Veterinarians should use blue or colored ink, not black, so that the signature on the certificate can be discernible as an original signature.

Q:  I hear that acclimation certificates are also sometimes required for pets being transported. What are these certificates?

A:   Most airlines also require acclimation certificates for animals being transported. Typically, a veterinarian certifies that the animal being transported is acclimated to temperatures lower than 45 F.

Federal regulations specify that dogs and cats must not be exposed to ambient temperatures that fall below 45 F for more than four consecutive hours while in animal holding areas of airport terminals. The regulations also limit exposure to temperatures lower than 45 F to 45 minutes while transferring the animal between the aircraft and the animal holding area. Airport personnel are also required to protect animals from combinations of temperature, humidity, and time that could adversely affect the animal's health.

Many airlines require acclimation certificates for all cats and dogs, but veterinarians are often hesitant to sign them because they are considered by some to be a blank check for airlines that want to avoid liability. Also, a veterinarian may not be familiar with the ability of the cat or dog to withstand low temperatures.

To avoid potential legal liability, the AVMA PLIT recommends that veterinarians who sign acclimation certificates use the following wording. "The animal(s) in this shipment appear healthy for transport but need to be maintained at a temperature within the animal's thermoneutral zone."

If a veterinarian doesn't feel he or she can honestly issue an acclimation certificate, but the airline won't accept the animal without one, it can create a difficult situation for the veterinarian. Some veterinarians advise clients not to ship animals with transporters or airlines that cannot guarantee compliance with animal welfare regulations.