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Animal Transporter Guide: Get USDA Registered to Transport Pets and Animals

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How to Become an Animal Transporter

Are you so passionate about animals that your dream job is working closely with pets? Did you know there’s a way to spend your workday with dogs, cats and other regulated animals without spending years taking college courses to become a veterinarian or zoologist? Plus, what’s just as appealing about being a pet travel professional is that you can be your own boss, dictating when and how many hours you work! Becoming a USDA-registered animal transporter on CitizenShipper is easy — all you need is a vehicle, a little bit of paperwork, and of course, a love of animals and roadtripping long distances!

Requirements for becoming a USDA-Certified Pet Transporter

Vehicle requirements for transporting animals

Insurance coverage

Proper handling and ensuring the safety and comfort of animals

Become an animal transporter on CitizenShipper

Requirements for Becoming a USDA-Certified Pet Transporter

It isn’t difficult to break into the business of transporting animals. One of the most important qualities of a successful animal transporter is the ability to instill trust in your customers. After all, they’re counting on you ensuring the safety and wellness of family members! One of the best ways to develop a sense of trustworthiness in customers is by registering with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and more specifically, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

What is the USDA?

Before we dive into USDA registration, licensing and certification, it’s important to have some background information. Do you know the difference between the three terms and which one is legally required for an animal transporter? To that end, do you know what the USDA and APHIS are and what their functions are? You probably don’t — that’s why we’re here to prepare you.

The USDA is part of the executive branch of the United States government. Despite its name, the department is in charge of much more than just agriculture. It oversees 29 different agencies, which dictate policy on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition and other related issues. One such agency is APHIS, and one its most important jobs is enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

What’s the Animal Welfare Act?

Now you’re probably wondering, “What’s the Animal Welfare Act, and what does it have to do with pet travel and transportation?” The AWA was passed in the ‘60s to ensure the safety and proper treatment of animals. The act outlines the type of credentials various animal professionals are required to obtain. It dictates policy on a wide range of animal-related research and business, including pet travel.

USDA Registration vs. Licensing

Registration — If you’re an intermediate handler, research facility or animal transporter you’re required to be registered. There’s no fee for USDA registration.

USDA License — Breeders, dealers and exhibitors of warm-blooded mammals are required to be licensed. Licensing has a processing fee.

Certification — USDA certification is actually just another term for licensing.

Still not sure what’s required of you as a pet transporter? Head to APHIS’ Animal Care Licensing and Registration Assistant to get the definitive word on what you need to do.

When you’re a transporter using the CitizenShipper marketplace, you’ll have the support you need to ensure your operations meet all USDA requirements. Watch our helpful training video to learn more about the registration process.

Unless you have a side-gig as a breeder, pet transport professionals are considered an intermediate handler and only need USDA registration.

In the video below, you’ll note that as an intermediate handler — also known as an animal transporter — you don’t necessarily need to be licensed with the USDA.

The good news is that it’s free to complete your registration with the USDA and CitizenShipper works closely with the department to streamline the process.

puppy sleeping in cage

Vehicle Requirements for Transporting Animals

There’s one thing every animal transporter needs: access to a vehicle. Most transporters use their personal vehicle for transporting animals. What features does your car need?

  • The vehicle needs air conditioning and heating — the summer is the most popular time for pet transport, and you need to keep your precious cargo from overheating!
  • Your vehicle should be regularly inspected for any issues with the engine, transmission and other mechanical components — there’s nothing worse than getting stranded in the middle of a transport job.
  • The car should have a functioning locking system.
  • There should be enough space for crates and other pet supplies.

While the majority of pet transport jobs are completed using the driver’s personal vehicle, others opt to rent for reasons we’ll explore below.

Larger Vehicles Make Transporting Animals More Efficient

The bigger the vehicle you use, the more room you have to transport multiple animals on a single trip. This is called shipment stacking and it enables you to make more money each time you go out on the road. 

Routing planning and logistics are important factors for winning on CitizenShipper.

  • The most successful transporters on the marketplace are able to find pet shipments along their routes.
  • To borrow a term from the trucking industry, they limit the amount of hours spent “deadheading” — logging hours on the road without any cargo.

Renting a Newer Vehicle to Spare Wear and Tear

One downside to using your personal vehicle for pet transportation is that you’ll be driving thousands of miles a month. Driving long distances can lead to major wear and tear on your car — if you’re completing enough deliveries, renting a car may actually be more cost-effective in the long-run.

Another benefit is that rental vehicles are less likely to break down on the road — especially if you own an older car or a vehicle with a lot of mileage on it. For most people, buying a new car to get started in pet travel is cost-prohibitive. If you don’t have a vehicle suitable for long-distance animal transportation, renting a vehicle is a great way to dip your toes into the industry.

Discover the Life-Changing Opportunities of Creating a Driver Profile on CitizenShipper!

Insurance Coverage

It goes without saying that you’ll need auto insurance if you want to become an animal transporter. In fact, auto insurance coverage is required in 49 of 50 states — New Hampshire is the lone exception. The level of coverage required varies by state; do your research so you’re properly covered in case of an accident. You may want to consider purchasing extra insurance if you’re traveling to or through locales that have a higher minimum level of auto insurance coverage than your home state.

In addition to auto insurance, consider encouraging the pet owner to purchase additional pet insurance in case something happens on the road. The good news is that if you choose to start your pet transportation business using the CitizenShipper platform, we’ll have you covered.

How? CitizenShipper offersa Pet Transportation Protection Plan for every animal transport booked on its marketplace.

What is a Pet Transportation Protection Plan and What Does It Offer?

  • The Pet Transportation Protection Plan is a short-term contract that covers unexpected costs during the transport.
  • Illness, injuries and other unexpected events are covered by the plan.
  • It’s offered to transporters on CitizenShipper for no additional cost.
  • It covers up to $1,000 in expenses.

How Does the Pet Transportation Protection Plan Work and How Does It Differ From Insurance?

  • The coverage begins as soon as the animal is picked up and ends at drop off.
  • If your pet is injured or falls ill, the driver will seek veterinary care immediately.
  • After the pet is treated, the owner should be sent copies of the animal’s medical bills.
  • The owner then reports the costs to CitizenShipper within the reporting window and is reimbursed for the expenses.
  • It doesn’t replace or nullify any existing pet insurance plans in which you or the pet owner are enrolled.

Because most pet owners don’t have insurance for their animals — and those that do may find their plan doesn’t cover pet travel. This makes the protection plan an appealing offer for the vast majority of pet owners.

adorable puppy sleeping

Proper Handling and Ensuring the Safety and Comfort of Animals During Transportation

Communication, price and promptness are important factors in being a successful animal transporter. However, the safe delivery of pets is the single most important aspect of pet transport. While some things like illness or anxiety are out of your hands, there are many others you can control. 

If owners feel that the safety and/or comfort of their animal were compromised during the transport, you’ll find yourself facing a flood of two and three star reviews. This could drive down your overall rating and make it more difficult to book future rides. On the other hand, making the pet owner feel as though you're treating their fur baby like he’s your own can have the opposite effect. 

Even if there are circumstances that would normally irk an owner — being late due to bad weather, “poor” communication because you’re out of cell range — going the extra mile with comfort and safety can still earn you a coveted five-star review.

Creating a Stress-Free Environment

Let’s face it — being transported by a stranger causes anxiety in most animals, especially dogs and cats. Unfortunately, stress is a leading cause of injury or accidents during pet transport. For example, an anxious dog may scratch or chew at its carrier throughout the trip, leading to mouth or paw injuries. Even worse, a stressed-out animal may be determined to escape at any opportunity, and sadly sometimes they’re successful. A lost pet not only delays the transport and hurts your business, but can be devastating for the owner.

There are the rare pets that will jump right into the back of a car with no hesitation, but they’re few and far between. That’s why creating a stress-free environment is so important for successfully transporting animals. The good news is that it’s not very difficult to make your vehicle a comfortable place for animals to relax while being chauffeured across the country.

Pet Carriers

The comfort level of a pet being in a carrier is arguably the most important element in creating a relaxing transport environment. If the animal loves her carrier, chances are high that she’ll be fine during the trip. On the other hand, if the animal has no experience in a carrier or the carrier is ill-sized, it can lead to anxiety issues. 

Many animal transporters offer a variety of carriers, while others rely on the owner to provide their own. It’s just two different ways of approaching pet transport:

  • You can charge more for providing your own carriers because it factors into your overhead and is a convenience for the pet owner — they don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars for a travel carrier they may only need once.
  • One downside of providing a carrier is that the animal you’ll transport has no way to get accustomed to it.
  • Another reason to require pet owners to provide their own crate is that you’ll have to spend time after each transport sanitizing the carrier.

Food and Water

Whether or not you choose to provide animal carriers as part of your pet transport business is up to you. Either way, instruct the owner to provide blankets, toys and any other items that provide comfort for the animal. The owner should also supply treats and the animal’s preferred food — some transporters provide food, but many animals have specific dietary restrictions. Introducing new food can cause stress; while it’s nice to have food on hand during the transport, we generally recommend owners provide their own.

Expert Tip: We all know cats are finicky — but do you know just how picky they can be? Cats are so choosy that if their water source on a transport is different from what they’re used to at home, they’ll refuse to drink! That’s why cat owners should always supply water for their feline friend.

Cat Litter

The million-dollar question for any animal transporter — what on earth to do when a kitty needs to go potty? For the most part, transporting a cat is a fairly straightforward process. But when it comes time to do their business, felines sure make things difficult! While some will go for a walk on a leash and theoretically could use the litter box outside the car, we all know that’s not going to happen with 99.9% of cats. What to do? Luckily, there are a few options. 

The first is keeping a litter box outside the crate and make potty stops every few hours:

  • Cats aren’t going to “go” on command, so these stops may take quite a bit of time — make sure to account for this time when giving the owner a delivery time estimate.
  • It’s imperative you don’t allow the cat out of its crate until all doors are closed — cats are sneaky and slippery, able to escape in a split second.
  • It’s just as important to never let the cat out of its crate while the car is being driven — even calm cats can suddenly panic, scratching and biting or climbing under the accelerator and brakes.

If you’re not comfortable making stops with the cat, don’t want to take the time for dedicated potty breaks or don’t want to deal with getting that darn cat back into its crate, there’s another choice. 

Your second option for kitty potty breaks is to put the litter box inside the carrier.

  • You’ll need to purchase an oversized carrier so there’s room for the litter box and for the cat to move around.
  • The upside is you won’t need to make dedicated stops for the cat to use the bathroom.
  • That being said, for long-distance transports you need to stop for food, water and exercise every few hours anyways. Keeping a litter box in the carrier isn’t a viable option if you’re driving more than a few hundred miles.

Knowledge of Animal Behavior and Handling Techniques

Transporting animals of any species requires knowledge of their behavior and proper handling techniques. Every animal is different, so the more training you have under your belt, the more success you’ll find as a pet transport professional. When you’re not on the road, look for animal training courses in your area — once you’ve completed them, be sure to add that information to your profile!

In general, dogs are one of the easier species to transport. The biggest complications to transporting dogs are separation anxiety and aggressive behavior. In times of stress, even a normally docile and friendly canine may lash out in an uncharacteristically combative manner. In any case, having expertise in handling those situations goes a long way towards making you a successful transporter.

When you’re transporting a dog, keep a close eye on its body temperature. A well-functioning air conditioning system is a requirement if you’re transporting dogs. And remember, never leave any animal alone in a car — even if it’s for just a few minutes. Not only does the interior of a car rapidly increase in temperature when in the sun, but canines are particularly susceptible to temperature fluctuations and can very easily overheat.

Here are some attention-grabbing car heat statistics courtesy of a San Francisco State study:

Graph demonstrating the rapid temperature increase inside a vehicle.

As you can see, it only takes a few minutes for the temperature in a car to reach dangerous levels — even if it’s a seemingly temperate 70 degree day.

Time Is a Critical Factor in Animal Transport, Especially for Those with Medical Conditions or Special Needs

When you’re trying to win a pet transport job, the speed in which you can complete the trip is a major factor. This is particularly the case with animals that have medical conditions or special needs — prioritizing the delivery of these unique cases can go a long way in building your brand as an efficient and caring transporter. 

While timing is important, safe driving is even more important. Most animal transporters recommend limiting the time in the car per day to six hours. Why only six hours?

  • Most importantly, drivers shouldn’t overextend themselves during animal transportation. Six hours is around the limit that a single driver should be behind the wheel during the day.
  • If you can team up with a second driver, you can increase the amount of time you spend on the road per day — six hours for each driver is 12 hours per day on the road.
  • However, you need to keep in mind that animals can only spend a certain amount of time in their carriers each day. Keeping an animal confined for much more than seven hours can lead to increased anxiety and discomfort.
  • No matter how long the journey, always plan out potty breaks every four hours.

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Screenshot of a chat between a CitizenShipper user and a driver

Become an Animal Transporter on CitizenShipper

Now that you know the ins and outs of animal transportation, how do you get started? While there are traditional pet transportation companies, it can be difficult to break into these businesses. They’re often family-operated and have a tight group of transporters. Luckily, there’s a much easier way to start your own pet travel business — CitizenShipper!

CitizenShipper is the top pet transportation platform in the United States. The marketplace has thousands of drivers that have transported more than 100,000 pets and driven more than a million miles. Signing up as a driver on CitizenShipper is an easy four-step process:

  • Navigate to the CitizenShipper home page and select the “Become a Driver” link.
  • When you’re on the sign-up page, click the boxes to select which categories in which you’re most interested.
  • Provide your name, email address and profile password.
  • Agree to our terms of service before clicking “Sign Up Now!”

Once signed up, you’ll be directed to the CitizenShipper dashboard. Here you can write a standout profile, browse pet transportation listings and search for pet shipping jobs near you. While experience goes a long way towards winning shipments on CitizenShipper, having a great communication strategy is even more important. Here are five helpful tips for improving your pet transport business.

While some transporters need specific Department of Transportation (DOT) certification, most pet transporters are exempt. If you plan to work full-time as an interstate animal transporter, the DOT requires you to get an Motor Carrier (MC) number.

Customer satisfaction rating: 4.8

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Customer satisfaction rating: 4.8

48,624 reviews