Is it legal to ship dogs?

Yes. Like most pets, it is perfectly legal to transport dogs.

Key requirements for the legal shipping of dogs are vaccinations, a valid passport and a non-encrypted microchip. Before booking transit for your furry friend, you should check the legal requirements of your destination. These can vary from country to country and from state to state. So here’s a time-saving guide to legal guidelines for transporting dogs, focusing on the United States, Europe and pet-shipping services.

United States

The US government has an excellent guide for anyone wishing to ship their dog to, or within, America.

Dogs may require a valid rabies vaccination certificate, particularly if their pet is from, or has visited, a country with a high risk of rabies. But if your dog has not travelled, or has only entered low-risk countries such as Mexico, there is often no need to provide such a certificate.

If you are unsure whether your pet lives in, or has passed through, a region with a higher risk of rabies infection, the CDC provides a simple, handy list: https://www.cdc.gov/importation/bringing-an-animal-into-the-united-states/rabies-vaccine.html

Shipping a pet between North America and Europe will not require this certificate. Within the United States, likewise no certificate is required (find out how to ship dogs state to state). But if your dog has recently been in South America, Asia or Africa, US authorities can ask for documentation to prove your pet is free from rabies. 

With a clean bill of health, your dog can legally land its paws on US soil. The shipping process for dogs is normally quick and easy (here’s a comprehensive guide to how it works). Plenty of dogs enter and leave the US every day, and don’t find the process too ‘ruff’.

Europe

In broad terms, EU legal requirements for pet transport are similar to North America’s. Dogs and cats need a valid EU passport with the owner’s name and address, and proof of vaccination against rabies. Pets younger than three months old do not need to be vaccinated to travel in, or to, EU countries, Norway and Switzerland – so long as the owner can prove their pup has not been in contact with animals that may have the disease. Your vet can issue the required documents, including EU passports, as well as perform the vaccination by appointment. If you’re unsure whether your dog has been vaccinated, speak with your vet before making travel plans.

Some European countries reserve the right to demand extra checks before letting your dog across the border. When traveling to Ireland, Sweden and the UK, dogs and cats need to undergo a blood test as extra proof that they are vaccinated. These tests must be taken six months or less before the travel period.

Other European countries have even stricter rules before allowing transport of pets. Sweden, for instance, requires a blood test to be done fewer than four months before arrival, and that your pet has been treated for echinococcus and ticks. So make sure to check the specific requirements of your destination. Conditions and exceptions to pet transport to, or within, the EU, are helpfully made clear by the European Commission here.

No further requirements are imposed on pets travelling to and from countries whose rabies statuses are equal. To double-check the rabies status of your country or destination, the UK government has a comprehensive and up-to-date list

Requirements for pet transportation services

Professional pet shippers must receive a licence from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) before they can legally transport regulated animals to and from the US. Regulated animals include dogs and cats and most common pets. ‘Unregulated’ animals like fish and reptiles can be ported without a USDA license, so make sure you choose a pet shipper with a licence to transport dogs.

These licences are issued by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). They aim to keep the transport of animals in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act of 1966. Therefore it is not only a legal requirement but a requirement for your dog’s welfare that your pet shipper has a valid USDA licence.

Some dog breeds are more at risk of health issues caused by pet transportation. Make sure the pet shipper is aware of your dog’s breed and what that can mean for them.

FAQs

How can I find out the legal entry requirements for dogs in a country or state?

Reliable, up-to-date information can be found on most government websites. Alternatively, you can speak to the embassy of your destination country by phone. The American Embassy, for example, will be able to tell you the entry requirements of every state. Either method will ensure you get the latest information.

Is shipping a dog illegal?

No – although major delivery services can refuse to transport live animals, or treat them as “perishable commodities” with no liability for injury falling on the delivery service. Conscientious dog owners prefer not to take that risk with their pup, even if it is legal. That’s why professional pet shippers are so popular, with services tailored to the needs and wellbeing of animals, and drivers licensed by the USDA (or equivalent: APHA in the UK). Pet shipping is a long-established and legitimate process, but it is still advisable for pet owners to check the safety assurances of any shipping service first.

How can I make sure my dog is correctly vaccinated and has the right documentation?

Speak to your vet before travelling. Your vet will be able to confirm whether your dog is well enough to travel and has been vaccinated against rabies. If not, they will be able to perform the vaccination and issue the authorisation at the time. Your vet must be trained to verify the exportation of animals to most countries. Ask your vet if they are certified. If they are not, the government agency in charge of the import/export of animals in your country will be able to provide a list of suitably trained vets close to you.

The Good News

The good news is it’s easier than ever to ensure a safe trip for your pooch. With a good vet and a pet mover with a good reputation, there are no obstacles – legal or otherwise – to the safe shipment of your canine friend. The best advice is the same for pets and people: Do a little research, choose a well-reviewed service, and stay vaccinated. 

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