Pet Travel: The Ultimate Guide for Pet Owners and Transporters

Paige Strickland Paige Strickland · Updated July 1, 2024

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Taking your pet on an extended vacation or on the long-distance move to your new home can be stressful for the both of you, but it doesn’t have to be! Planning long-distance trips as early as possible will give you the best results, hands down. The following is the ultimate guide to pet travel.

What are the Legal Requirements for Transporting a Pet in the United States?

When pets cross state or international borders, a health certificate as well as other legal documentation may be required. A great tool to determine the pet entrance laws of a specific destination is the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website.

APHIS creates and issues guidelines regarding domestic and international animal relocation, including household pets. The APHIS website provides easy drop down menus where you can find legal requirements on a state-by-state basis.

How Do I Get a Pet Travel Certificate?

A pet travel certificate may also be known as a health certificate or certificate of veterinary inspection (CVI). To acquire this official document, a pet owner makes an appointment with a USDA-accredited veterinarian before the first day of the animal’s trip. APHIS recommends the following steps to find a USDA-accredited veterinarian:

  • Call your pet’s primary veterinarian to check if they are USDA-accredited.
  • Research other local veterinary clinics near you.
  • Use the NVAP self-search tool for finding accredited veterinarians in your area.

There may also be the option to get your pet health certificate online through Televet services like FirstVet. Once you download the app you can exchange messages with a licensed veterinarian and schedule a video appointment.

During the health certificate appointment, a veterinarian will conduct a thorough exam, sign necessary forms, and provide detailed information about a pet’s overall health. A health certificate is important because, aside from meeting legal requirements, it certifies your pet is free of disease, up to date on vaccinations (such as rabies), and fit to travel. Rabies vaccinations are required for dogs by most airlines and several areas across the United States. This step is critical when you’re transporting a dog or a cat – or any other type of animal!

What is the Cost of Traveling with a Pet?

There are several factors that will affect the varying cost of pet travel:

  • Distance: Traveling longer distances via plane will have more costly tickets; traditional pet shipping companies charge per mile so the longer the trip, the higher the bill.
  • Size of the pet: Cargo shipping a pet is more costly than taking a pet as a carry-on. Smaller dogs and cats require less space in a vehicle.
  • Veterinarian visits and health documentation: The average cost of a veterinary consultation can be between $25-$150, and the average cost of vaccines are between $20-$150. So you can plan on a range of $45-$300.
  • Airline fees: Flying with a pet isn’t free. Delta Air Lines, for example, charges a $95-$125 fee each way on domestic flights. American Airlines and United, among others, also charge a $125 fee. Airline policies may include extra fees for layovers.

Other cost considerations include pet insurance and the cost of a carrier.

Does Travel Insurance Cover Pets?

Travel or cancellation insurance can protect you from financial losses during travel by providing reimbursements for things like trip cancellations or alterations, lost luggage, missed airline connections, injury or illness. Unfortunately, pets are not typically covered by these policies. Often, insurance policies don’t even consider serious pet injury, deaths or overbooking on airlines as a valid enough reason for cancellation.

How Much Does Pet Travel Insurance Cost?

Separate pet travel insurance policies do exist. Much like travel insurance it’s a short term policy that covers the extent of an animal’s trip. On average, pet travel insurance costs around about $50 for dogs and about $30 for cats.

Traditional pet shipping companies may offer their own form of pet travel insurance, but it can be pricey. CitizenShipper is the only pet transport marketplace that provides a free pet protection plan. This short-term policy covers up to $1000 in expenses related to unexpected pet illness or injury throughout the duration of their transport journey.

In addition to the pet protection plane, CitizenShipper also provides drivers with access to 24/7 Televet care through FirstVet. This way, no matter the time or place a veterinarian is there to help. If your pet needs immediate medical attention, the veterinarian can provide medical advice and refer the driver to a nearby clinic.

Pet travel can be by plane or by ground transport.

Air vs Ground Transport — Which is Better?

Air Transport

Traveling by plane is the quickest option to transport pets across the United States and beyond. Several pet owners travel with small cats and dogs (20 pounds or less) as “carry-ons” every year. As a carry-on, the animal must stay in their carrier beneath the seat for the duration of the flight. Larger or unattended pets must fly in the cargo area of the plane.

Although timeliness is a key factor of transporting animals, it’s best to weigh all the aspects of air transportation. Here are some of the main considerations:

  • Airline pet carrier size requirements are strict. Each airline has their own policy modeled after IATA guidelines.
  • Due to lack of space and weight requirements, you can only bring one cat or dog per person as a “carry-on.”
  • Taking animals through airport security can be challenging. TSA requires pets to be removed from their carrier to go through security.
  • There are very few airlines that allow pets in cargo.
  • The cargo area is unpredictable – checked pets may suffer higher risks of stress, illness, or injury due to unexpected turbulence, noise, or mishandling by airport staff.
  • Each airline has a restricted breed list for pets riding in cargo, which includes brachycephalic or “snub-nosed” breeds.
  • If you’re unable to hop on a flight with your pet, but cargo shipping doesn’t seem right, there’s a new third option — air nannies! These professional pet chaperones will tend to your pet’s needs during the duration of their flight.

Ground Transport

Ground shipping for dogs and cats is how it sounds: transporting animals by way of ground transportation in a vehicle like a truck or van.

  • Some pet transport companies offer door-to-door pick-up and drop-off — like a pet cab service. This beats arriving at the airport 4 hours early for a flight.
  • Pet transporters may also offer “stacked routes,” which are like the animal equivalent of carpooling, or VIP, which is one-on-one travel with the driver.
  • Pets will never be left unattended when traveling with a professional driver.
  • Tracking the well-being of an animal is easier on the road. Drivers hired through CitizenShipper can connect with you at any point through the internal messaging system. You may even receive a photo of your beloved furry companion.
  • Stopping for food, water and bathroom breaks is easier on the ground. On an airplane there are no relief areas for animals, and they must stay in their crate or carrier for the duration of the flight.

The Wrap Up

Figuring out what mode of animal transportation is best will depend on the specific needs of your pet, your budget, and the timeframe of your pet’s trip. One thing is clear though — staying on the ground has its benefits. Although it may take a little longer to reach the destination, pet ground transport can be very flexible and tailored to a specific animal’s needs.

What is the Ideal Time for Traveling with Pets?

Winter and summer months are known for extreme temperatures and adverse weather conditions in some areas of the United States. For this reason, more precaution should be taken when traveling with pets during these times to avoid health concerns or injury.

Dogs and cats range in coat types, age, and health, so no set temperature is appropriate for all pets across the board. Puppies or kittens, elderly pets, and pets with underlying health conditions may have trouble regulating their own body temperature. It’s always best to check in with your furry friend’s veterinarian for temperature control recommendations.

In addition, the weather may cause delays and cancellations on a pet’s journey. For example, if a dog or cat is air shipped in the cargo hold of a plane, the air temperature must be below 85 °F (29.5 °C) and above 45 °F (7.2 °C). Last-minute cancellations are common during winter and summer due to this strict restriction. If possible, book flights during the early morning or late at night during summer and midday in the winter.

Can Someone Else Travel With My Pets?

Friends & Family Members

Friends or family members are allowed to travel with your pet. In some cases, this may even be helpful. For example, since only one carrier is allowed per person on flights, you can bring another person with you if you have multiple pets. Of course, that person will also have to buy a ticket, increasing the cost to transport your pet.

On the other hand, leaving your pet in someone else’s care is handing over a big responsibility. If your furry friend is traveling alone with a friend or family member, make sure they are experienced with handling pets and prepared for unexpected health emergencies.

Hiring a Pet Transporter

If you or a family member are unable to transport your pet don’t panic! There are safe, affordable, and reliable options out there, and hiring the perfect transporter for a pet has never been easier. CitizenShipper is an online marketplace that connects professional transporters with people who want to provide the best travel experience for their pets.

The steps are simple:

1. Describe your Pet’s Travel Plans

The first step is creating a free, customizable listing. Here you will provide information about your dog or cat (age, breed, medical conditions, unique needs etc.) and the timeframe for their journey. Then CitizenShipper will work its magic and connect you with qualified, background-checked and USDA-registered drivers. You can leave the complex logistics and fine print behind!

CitizenShipper operates with a unique bidding system. Once your listing is posted, transporters compete to offer you the best deal. This keeps costs low — about 60-70% less than traditional shipping companies.

2. Choose the Perfect Transporter

One of the benefits of using an online marketplace is being able to compare your options. When searching for the perfect transporter think about what qualities are important in your pet’s transporter:

  • Does the transporter provide a reasonable price that coincides with your budget?
  • Do the transporters have a good reputation? What do reviews say about the quality of their service?
  • Is the transporter experienced in animal transportation?

You can review prospective transporter’s profiles and consider the following to narrow down your choice:

  • Reviews from past customers
  • Rating on a 5-star scale
  • How many trips the transporter has completed and canceled

3. Receive Help When You Need It

CitizenShipper has an industry-leading customer support team that ensures an easy and worry-free experience from start to finish.

Booking Assurance Guarantee

It’s understandable to be apprehensive when putting your trust in a new service, especially when your pet is involved. That’s why CitizenShipper offers peace of mind — refund protection, a driver replacement guarantee and full support for your specific needs. Whether you’re moving a cat or a dog, our booking assurance guarantee removes the stress.

Stellar Customer Support: Anytime, Anywhere

Kickstart your pet’s travel journey with a team on your side. CitizenShipper’s customer support agents respond 324% faster than the industry average and are ready to address any concerns or questions you may have. No one will leave you hanging.

When you hire a professional driver with CitizenShipper, you can create a safe and personalized journey that will suit your budget and the specific needs of your pet. Spend more time planning which dog parks, restaurants, and adventures you’ll see with you pet next, and leave the logistics to the trained professionals.

Create a free listing today and receive quotes in minutes!