Every Step To Take When Preparing for a Military Pet Move

Patrick MacFarland Patrick MacFarland · Updated June 3, 2024

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Are you in the military and have received Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders? It’s hard to uproot your life and move to another location — sometimes a long ways away — with little notice and in a short time period.

Military moves can be stressful and every military relocation is different. The distance can vary, whether or not you have children is a factor in how difficult the move can be. An often overlooked complication of PCS moves is military families have to transport pets. This is where military pet relocation services can prove valuable. This article will give you the ins and outs of preparing for a military pet move.

The Relocation Process and Timeline

If you’re new to the military or never changed stations with a pet, the process of pet relocation can be confusing. Luckily the military takes steps to smooth the transition. More than that, there are pet transportation companies that make moving with pets as seamless as possible.

Usually, when you get your PCS orders, you get a notification within 30 to 90 days of your moving date.

PCS orders can be temporary or permanent:

  • A short-term reassignment is called a Temporary Duty Move (TDY). These can last from just a few days to a few months.
  • Most PCS orders are permanent. You can access resources of what that will entail within your branch or other helpful sites.

Required Pet Health Documents

Pets need health documents in order to travel on a plane or by ground with a pet transporter. These documents ensure the animal is healthy enough for travel.

  • When obtaining health certificates for your pet, it’s always best to take action as soon as possible.
  • Check to be sure the veterinarian filling out the health certificates is USDA-registered.
  • Consult with your base veterinarian for logistical matters.

Besides the health documents, bring all necessary paperwork that airlines, ground transport companies or government officials may need or may ask of you during the transport process.

Vaccines are another important step to take before transporting an animal. Vaccinations protect your pet from diseases that spread when animals are kept in close quarters. You must get all required vaccines at least 21 days before travel

Here’s a list of required vaccinations for dogs:

  • Canine parvovirus
  • Distemper
  • Canine hepatitis
  • Rabies

Here’s a list of required vaccinations for cats:

  • Panleukopenia (feline distemper)
  • Feline calicivirus
  • Feline herpesvirus type I (rhinotracheitis)
  • Rabies

Coordinating Transport Services

There are two main methods of pet transportation — air travel or ground transport. Both have pros and cons:

Air Transportation Pros and Cons

  • Pro: Usually the fastest way to get a pet transported long distances.
  • Pro: If the pet is small enough, it can travel in the cabin under the seat.
  • Pro: Most major airlines offer special pet travel policies for military members.
  • Con: Depending on the distance, departure location and destination, air travel can be very expensive.
  • Con: If you have a large pet, it will have to travel in the cargo area, which can be dangerous for pets’ emotional and physical health.
  • Con: The check-in and security process can be time-consuming.

Ground Transport Pros and Cons

  • Pro: There will be a driver with your pet at all times, addressing their needs and providing comfort.
  • Pro: Pet transporters are animal-lovers; that’s not necessarily the case with airline crew.
  • Pro: You’ll know exactly who is transporting your pet.
  • Pro: Solo rides can be arranged for an extra cost, meaning your pet will get the VIP treatment.
  • Con: Ground transportation can be more time-consuming, especially if your destination is in a remote location.

The best option for military pet shipping is ground travel — especially if you have a large dog, multiple pets or a snub-nosed breed like a boxer or Boston terrier. The cost of transporting a pet by ground is similar to that of air travel, and significantly more humane.

Qualities To Look For In a Pet Ground Transport Service

  1. They take all dog and cat breeds — some transport services may not allow certain breeds.
  2. An animal handler will always be with your pet and they offer solo rides.
  3. They have a track record of adhering to the USDA’s rules and regulations in pet handling.
  4. Communication and customer service is essential for your pet’s safety and your peace of mind. Pay attention to details like how they go about their customer service duties.
  5. Reviews from previous customers are largely positive.

Lastly, if you are in need of temporary housing before your permanent housing is ready, it’ll need to be pet-friendly. There are various sites online that show what lodging will be best for you and your pet.

What About Military Moves Outside the Continental United States?

Most pet transportation companies in the United States only operate domestically. Unfortunately, with the size and reach of the United States military, many PCS orders involve a move overseas. If you need more information or a quote for military relocation outside of the US, contact our partners — Starwood Pet Travel — a veteran owned international pet transport company with decades of experience moving pets across the world.

Logistical Considerations for Smooth Transit

When considering pet transportation, there are a few logistical considerations that you should follow. This is important for your pet’s safety and your peace of mind, as well.

Pets’ Health Needs During Travel

First and first most, adhere to your destination’s rules on required vaccinations and health documents you need. This is very important, especially if you are going to another country — if you don’t have the proper paperwork in order your pet could face a lengthy quarantine period..

  • Any required vaccines must be administered no later than 21 days before travel. Different countries may have other requirements, so check well in advance.
  • Consider microchipping your pet and purchasing sturdy name tags. These precautionary measures can be invaluable in the rare case your cat or dog escapes while in transit. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
  • Lastly, discuss potential anxiety medications with your veterinarian. Most vets discourage the use of sedatives and many airlines won’t allow your pet on the plane if they’ve been sedated. However, there are some cases where medication is the most effective way to calm a stressed pet.

Purchase the Right Carrier for Your Pet’s Transport

Airlines have requirements when it comes to pet carriers. There are two types of pet carriers — a soft-sided carrier and a hard-sided carrier.

Soft-Sided Carriers

  • Soft sided carriers are perfect for cats and small dogs because they fit under the seat.
  • They’re easier to store when not in use.
  • Soft carriers usually allow for better air flow due to their mesh construction.
  • They’re also great for car transportation because they’re so easy to buckle into the back seat.

Hard-Sided Carriers

  • If your pet is flying in the cargo area, purchase a hard-sided carrier.
  • Hard-sided carriers provide more rigidity and protection for your pet.
  • The solid panels of a hard-sided carrier offer more privacy for pets.
  • Make sure the hard-sided carrier is well-ventilated.

Airline Requirements for Carriers

  • The pet must be able to stand up, turn around and not touch the top of the carrier.
  • The carrier must lock securely with pins extending past the extrusions above and below the door. It also needs to be secure with hardware fasteners.
  • There needs to be ventilation on all sides.
  • If you have a cat, place a litter box inside the carrier.
  • Label the carrier with your pet’s name and your contact information.
  • Attach water and food bowls to the door in a place that’s accessible from outside the carrier.

Acclimating Pets to Carriers

Traveling in a carrier for hours can be a difficult new experience for many pets. To limit the amount of stress your furry friend feels on the trip, acclimate them to a carrier.

  1. Start by making the carrier visible to your pet — don’t push your pet to get into the carrier. The goal is to get the pet used to the idea of the carrier.
  2. After a few days of this, place some treats in the carrier, but don’t close the door when your pet enters to get their snack. The animal will start to make positive associations with the carrier.
  3. Now that the pet is used to its carrier, you can close the carrier door when your pet enters. Start with short periods of time and gradually work your way up to an hour or more.
  4. If the pet will be driven to your new home, place the carrier in the car and go for progressively longer drives. This is a good idea even if they’re flying because they’ll start to get acclimated to the motion, travel noises and vibrations.

When you get PCS orders, you may need to find temporary housing for your pet.

Reducing Stress and Anxiety for Pets

Most pets don’t like change and it stresses them out. Suddenly being placed in a small box and transported across the country can cause extreme stress and anxiety on even the most laid-back pets. There are several steps you can take to reduce the stress and anxiety your pet feels during transport.

Common Signs of Relocation Stress

Your pet may exhibit signs of stress and it’s important for you to identify them. You may see:

  • Excessive barking
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hiding
  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Digestive issues

Ways to Ease Anxiety

In order for your pet to be less anxious or to ensure a good transition during and after the move, maintain the familiar routines that your pet is used to.

  • Provide safe spaces next to familiar items when you are in the new environment.
  • Bring favorite toys or blankets along on the trip.
  • Exercise with your pet because that will create calmness and reduce stress.

New Pet Transport Reimbursement Policy

In June 2023, the Department of Defense released new policies regulating pet relocation reimbursement after Congress passed a new law in December 2022.

“as of January 1, 2024, military Service members going through a PCS within the continental United States can be reimbursed up to $550 for one household pet, either cat or dog, and up to $2,000 for moves to or from a location outside the continental United States to cover costs related to the transportation of a pet.”

Using CitizenShipper is the best choice for military personnel that need to transport a pet during a PCS move. After your transport is complete, simply fill out this form in order to receive your reimbursement.

Why Use CitizenShipper?

There are many benefits to using CitizenShipper for your military pet move — it’s easy to use, you’ll receive multiple quotes within minutes and there are a variety of options. CitizenShipper also offers unique benefits like 24/7 televet access and a $1,000 pet protection plan. It’s also been named a “Trusted Military Business” by MyBaseGuide.

How Do I Post a Listing on CitizenShipper’s Pet Transportation Marketplace?

  • Click “Get Transportation Quotes” on CitizenShipper’s home page.
  • Select “Dogs” from the list — if you need cat transportation or any other pet transportation, we can ship those too!
  • Enter all the details of your transport — the more information, the better.
  • In a matter of minutes, a fleet of background-checked and vetted drivers will send you a variety of quotes.
  • You can use the internal chat system to discuss the details of the transport with every driver that submits a quote.
  • You can read reviews from previous customers and check out drivers’ ratings (on a scale of five stars).

Bottom Line

Sometimes the pet shipping process can be difficult, especially if you’re a military family with no experience moving with an animal. When you get PCS orders, you often don’t have the time to maneuver all the pieces in a timely and orderly manner. After all, you’re uprooting your life!

The good news is that two-way marketplaces like CitizenShipper are here to help. Our affordable pet transportation marketplace is a hassle-free alternative to traditional pet transportation companies. Even better, the United States has implemented a policy to help compensate military members that need to transport a pet.

The drivers on our pet transportation marketplace understand your pet means the world to you and your family. That’s why they’ll treat your furry baby with proper care throughout the entire journey. With a transporter hired through CitizenShipper taking care of your beloved pet, you can focus on other important PCS matters with your family. Make your PCS move a little easier and post a pet transportation listing to get free quotes instantly!