CDC eases entry requirements for dogs vaccinated in United States

U.S. public health officials eased recent restrictions on dogs returning to the U.S. after travel to countries considered high risk for rabies transmission.

In July 2021, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials announced a decision to suspend, for at least one year, importation of dogs from 113 countries, citing a rise in the number of dogs arriving at U.S. entry points with fraudulent or incomplete documentation of rabies vaccination.

The agency provided some exemptions, such as allowances for pets of U.S. citizens and dogs intended for scientific research. But importing even those dogs to the U.S. required arrival with a CDC-issued dog import permit if those dogs had been to a country considered high risk for rabies transmission within the prior six months.

Dog in a transport carrier

Starting Dec. 1, 2021, dogs that previously had been vaccinated in the United States by a veterinarian licensed in the U.S. have been able to return without a permit. But owners of such dogs still need to show a current U.S.-issued rabies vaccination certificate, prove that the dog has a microchip, and arrive at one of 18 approved airports. Plus, those dogs must be at least 6 months old and healthy, CDC information states.

The 18 approved airports with CDC quarantine stations serve the cities of Anchorage, Alaska; Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Detroit; Honolulu; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; Minneapolis; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia; San Francisco; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. See further details on the suspension and updated entry requirements.

The U.S. has been considered free of the canine variant of the rabies virus since 2007, and CDC officials have expressed concerns that dogs arriving from abroad could reintroduce the variant. Agency officials documented more than 450 instances when dogs arrived in 2020 from high-risk countries with incomplete, inadequate, or fraudulent rabies vaccination documents, agency information states.

But, in response to the CDC’s dog importation suspension, representatives from international rescue organizations that import dogs for adoption previously said, in a news article published in JAVMA in July, that they expected the suspension would hamper work to save the lives of dogs that the organizations ensure are vaccinated and healthy prior to arrival.

In a June 16, 2021, Federal Register notice, CDC officials indicated fraudulent or incomplete rabies vaccination documents had also created crises at airports, citing as an example an incident in August 2020 when 18 dogs arrived at Chicago O’Hare International Airport with falsified rabies vaccination certificates. The dogs spent more than 48 hours in a cargo warehouse without food or water, and one of the dogs died.

The Federal Register notice also indicates the import suspension would affect an estimated 60,000 of about 1 million dogs brought into the U.S. each year.

A version of this article appears in the Jan. 1, 2022, print issue of JAVMA.