Is it safe to ship pets by air or ground transport? A detailed guide

CitizenShipper CitizenShipper · Updated February 23, 2024

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Every day, dozens of animal shelters are being shut down across the United States. With so many animals in urgent need of adoption, the demand for pet transportation is on the rise. And yet, pet owners and care providers are faced with difficult questions. Is it safe to ship pets across the USA these days? What kind of risks could they be exposed to? Are there reliable transporters out there able to take care of them properly?

Some of these concerns are entirely valid, but others are false alarms caused by scare stories in the media. In this article, we’ll look at various options for pet and animal transportation. We hope that this helps you make the safest choice possible. 

What goes into shipping a pet

Even at the best of times, having to ship a beloved pet across the country can cause separation anxiety. What a pet owner needs first and foremost are assurances of safety. They want to know that every precaution is being taken and no concern is going unaddressed.

Pet Shipping with CitizenShipper

From a transporter’s perspective, things are much the same. No one wants to needlessly risk the health and well-being of the furballs in their care. They’ll need to know that the pet has had all the required shots and is in good health before the trip. Open and transparent communication always helps manage customer expectations.

Unfortunately, not every method of transportation allows this. If you hire a big delivery company, there’s no way to tell who’ll be handling your pet and how. If you get an airline to fly the pet over, you’ll be dealing with miles of red tape. In the end, your best bet is usually an independent transporter able to provide that vital personal touch. 

But first, let’s take a look at some of the more common methods of pet transportation.

Is it safe to ship pets using an airline?

For decades, air transportation has been the preferred method of long-distance travel in the United States. Although it can get pricey, there’s really no substitute for trips longer than a couple hundred miles. When shipping a pet this way, you have two options:

  • Carry-on: Pay a fee so that a cat or small dog is brought into the climate-controlled cabin with you. (If you’re not flying, you can always hire an Air Nanny.)
  • Cargo hold: Pay a fee so that your larger pet is put into a crate and shipped in the cargo hold. (Airlines rarely offer this because of the increased health risks that certain breeds face in the cargo area.)

Both of these options can be hazardous to the animal’s well-being. The differences in air pressure and temperature can cause breathing problems, potentially even fatal ones.

Last year’s Air Travel Consumer Report has recorded 9 pet deaths and 6 pet injuries. Given the sheer volume of US air traffic in 2019, these numbers might seem low. But that’s cold comfort for the families who’ve lost their furry friends, isn’t it? Pet air travel must be treated with the attention it deserves, or not at all.

Since the start of the covid-19 pandemic, United Airlines and many others have been operating understaffed. This forces them to limit the types of cargo they accept. Some are outright refusing to transport pets, domestically or internationally. So if you do opt for air transportation, you’d better act fast.

Is it safe to ship pets via railway? Road transport?

Although rail services aren’t what they used to be, they might serve in a pinch. Using Amtrak to ship your pet costs only about a fifth of what an airline might charge. According to the Department of Transportation, the health hazards are also much lower (though you’ll still have to provide a veterinary health certificate for a dog or cat.) The downside has always been accessibility; your pet might not be permitted on every route. (Exceptions are made for service animals, of course.) Either way, now that lines are closing due to reduced demand, you’ll need to plan well ahead.

Road transportation does away with many of these limitations. There are hundreds of delivery companies to choose from, often with decent reputations for pet safety. However, some of these are reducing their workforce by as much as a third. This may or may not leave them unable to meet your requirements.

If this paints a bit of a bleak picture, don’t worry! When Big Business fails, you can always turn to independent transporters for all your pet travel needs. Dealing with people face-to-face allows you to make sure they meet your high safety standards.

Does personal touch matter?

The easiest way of assuring safety in pet relocation is usually to talk to the driver directly. Not their dispatcher, not the company rep, but the man or woman who’ll drive up to your door. That way you can get a sense of what they’re about and negotiate every last detail in advance.

On CitizenShipper, all live animal transporters go through extensive background screenings to make sure they’re reliable professionals. Any requirements you might have beyond that are up to you to satisfy.

The driver should be able to address every last one of your safety concerns. Go through their profile page carefully to see if they have the experience they need. Never hesitate to ask about the sanitation standards and the precautions they’ll be taking. It’s in the best interest of all parties – including your dog or cat – that you only book drivers that meet your every requirement.

Pet transportation: as safe if you make it

When hiring independent transporters for pet relocation, trust is paramount. An online marketplace can give you quality options, but the choice of who to hire is entirely up to you. 

Simply list your transport requirements and let the drivers bid on the shipment. Exchange messages with them, consider each offer, then pick the right person for the job. Be sure to follow all public health guidelines, and the delivery should go off without a hitch!

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