Best Ways to Ship an Animal Across the Country

Patrick MacFarland Patrick MacFarland · Updated January 16, 2024

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Quick! What’s the best way to ship an animal across the country? Ok, pencils down. The answer isn’t actually that easy. See, you might think flying by plane is the easiest. It sure is the fastest, but there are a lot of restrictions and regulations that come with it.

You’re probably thinking, what if I drive my cat cross-country? Well, that may be a good option, but what about the hotel stays, the gas refueling and the food you have to spend money on for five days?

There is a myriad of options that you can choose to transport an animal across the country. But unfortunately, it’s not that cut and dry. There are rules for each one of them. The easiest animals to ship are cats and dogs, but what if you have an exotic pet? There are even more rules attached to them and some states might even ban certain pets from entering.

Pet Shipping with CitizenShipper

There’s flight travel, train travel, ground transport and more. We’ll explain each of the methods and the rules that come with them.

Can you Ship an Animal Across the Country?

The simple answer is yes. But in reality, the answer is much more complicated than that. It depends on the animal, the size of the animal, whether you’ll be flying or driving. There are many variables, so it’s best to outline it point by point.

Exotic Pets

What happens if you don’t have a cat or dog, which is fairly easy to transport? What if you have a bird or an exotic pet? The USDA classifies a pet as privately-owned and one that won’t be subject to research purposes or resale. 

Exotic pets — unlike cats and dogs — aren’t your typical animals running around in your house. They may be amphibians or reptiles. Whatever exotic pet you may have, you should check your destination state to see the requirements. For example, ferrets and other related animals like hedgehogs are banned in California but not in other states.


Birds are tricky. If you own a bird, most likely it’s a parrot or a cockatoo and you should be fine transporting them across the country. However, certain birds are prohibited from being shipped to other states. The reason? These birds carry diseases that can be catastrophic to the poultry industry. 

Those birds include chickens, doves, ducks, geese, grouse, guinea fowl, partridges, peafowl, pheasants, pigeons, quail, swans and turkeys.

Government Requirements

The USDA and each state government has regulations about pet travel requirements. It’s a good idea to check with your home state’s public health website for exit regulations, as well as your final destination’s public health website for entry requirements.  

Each state has different requirements, for example, the state of California requires a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) that must be issued and signed by an accredited veterinarian and issued no more than ten days before arrival in California. You can check the list of requirements of each state by accessing the US Department of Agriculture.

Vaccinations for Travel

Every single state will require a CVI (Certificate of Veterinary Inspection), along with the list of vaccinations. It’s important to have those handy in case authorities request the documents. One important thing to note is that although all required vaccines should be done prior to travel, the rabies vaccine must be done no more than 21 days before traveling.

Vaccinations for Dogs

The list of vaccinations for dogs that are required prior to travel:

  • Canine parvovirus
  • Distemper
  • Canine hepatitis
  • Rabies

Vaccinations for Cats

The list of vaccinations for cats prior to travel:

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

What are the Best Methods of Shipping an Animal?

There are multiple methods that you can choose from. You can ship an animal via airplane, train, traditional ground transport, driving yourself, or a two-way marketplace like CitizenShipper. Let’s explore all the options!

Air Travel

Air travel is the fastest way to transport an animal. It may be logistically challenging, however. Airlines, like United, Delta, and American have stringent requirements for pet travel. Let’s consider the pros and cons of air travel.

Fastest way to travelMost airlines may not take exotic pets
Relatively hassle-free for small pets that can fit under the seat in front of you and costs $125If you have big pets, they’ll have to go in the cargo hold, which can cost over $500
For a small pet, a carrier will only cost around $50Airlines require a special crate for cargo hold animals that can cost up to $200
You can hire an air nanny to take care of flying matters.Air travel in the cargo hold can be a traumatic experience for your animal
The total cost when carrying a small dog or a cat may only be less than $200The total cost when putting an animal in the cargo hold can be a whopping $700.

You can also visit the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA). They post informative articles about pet travel, animal transport services, any scam companies that you should avoid and answers to frequently asked questions.

Train Travel

Train travel is another option. It could be less stressful for your pet than air travel, too. Amtrak allows pet transportation for cats and dogs, but other pets are not prohibited. Let’s consider the pros and cons of train travel.

Relatively hassle-free for small pets that can fit under the seat inside a carrier.Exotic pets are not allowed
For a small pet, a carrier will only cost around $50The trip cannot last more than seven hours
The total cost when carrying a small dog or a cat will only be $25Your pet has to be 20 pounds or less, which means this option is for small dogs and cats

Driving Yourself

Another option is driving your pet yourself. This is the easiest method because there are no requirements outside your control. You’ll have to have the documentation ready upon arrival. There are several variables with this option, including accommodation, food expenses, car wear and tear and gas costs.

Easiest form of travelOutside costs like accommodation, food expenses, and gas costs
You get to explore the entire country by driving to interesting placesSeveral potty breaks per day for your animal
Long, tiresome days of driving
Total expenses for an average 2,500 miles can reach up to $1,700

Using Ground Transport

A very popular option is using a traditional animal ground transport company. It’s important to do your research because many scam companies exist. There are also variables to consider with a traditional animal ground transport company. 

Many choices/companies to choose fromThey may not take certain breeds or animals
There are several charges that you may have depending on distance, pet size, and equipment needs
They may take many pets on their journey, which can be arduous for your animal.
They can be more expensive than other options available

Use CitizenShipper to Ship an Animal

The reality of the matter is that most people don’t have the time or experience to ship an animal cross-country themselves. It’s overwhelming and stressful. The options outlined above can also be too expensive. So what’s the alternative?

Using a two-way marketplace like CitizenShipper to find an independent animal transporter is the best solution. You can save money on transportation costs because drivers bid for your business. And you can save up to 60%-70% compared to a traditional animal transportation company.

Using CitizenShipper is Easy!

  • The minute you post a free listing on our marketplace, a fleet of background-checked, screened, and, most importantly, USDA-registered drivers will send you quotes. 
  • Once that happens, you can look at the bids, compare them, and chat with the drivers across our network. When you’ve found the one you like, you’ll be able to select a quote that fits your budget.
  • We charge a modest fee that varies per mileage and accounts for our stringent vetting process.

A little pro tip we recommend: don’t book a driver based solely on price. Usually, the best transporters charge a little more. We also recommend that you read reviews, communicate with the driver through the instant-messaging system and look at their record before making your decision.

The bottom line is your animal will be in good hands with CitizenShipper’s qualified drivers, who will treat your animal like he’s a part of their family. 

We work hard to ensure your peace of mind throughout the entire transaction. CitizenShipper also provides some added benefits for you: up to $1,000 Pet Protection guarantee, a Booking Assurance Guarantee, a messaging system where you can communicate directly with the driver and 24/7 TeleVet access through our partner FirstVet.

Equipment Recommendations When Need to You Ship an Animal

Whatever method you choose, pet travel needs to be planned out. There are items you must buy to be ready for the journey. So what products are good to buy for shipping an animal across the country? Let’s take a look at some essential must-haves that can come in handy.

For Dogs

Airline-Approved Pet Travel Bag

  • It’s durable and safe, as well as water repellent.
  • It’s multi-functional with lots of storage, which is essential for travel.
  • It can conveniently carry food, water, leashes, and other essential items for your pets.

Native Pet Calming Chews for Dogs

  • They are veterinarian recommended for travel or other anxiety-prone events
  • They help calm your dog but also work well as a sleeping aid for those restless pups
  • Totally safe for dogs to chew and eat

For Cats

Prutapet Large Cat Carrier for Car Traveling with Collapsible Litter Box and Bowl

  • The carrier is easy to store and folded for storage in a small place.
  • It’s a perfect carrier that has the essentials for travel — including a litter box and water/food bowl.
  • Good ventilation on all sides will ensure the safety of your cat.

Petmate No Spill Bowl

  • The bowl is splash-proof, which means there will be no spilling.
  • It’s sturdy and will be long-lasting.
  • Easy to clean bowl.

For Other Animals

Travel Carrier Cage for Parrots

  • Weighing just 13 pounds, this cage is lightweight and portable.
  • Sturdy and long-lasting, which is great for all travels
  • Easy to assemble

Transport Container for Reptiles

  • The container can be used for all types of reptiles or amphibians.
  • It is easily ventilated and has a double-opening design.
  • The container is durable, easy to clean, and travel-friendly.

The Wrap-Up!

The bottom line is there are a lot of methods to choose from when considering shipping an animal across the country. From plane travel to trains to a traditional animal ground transport company, the option you choose has to be something you’re comfortable with.

If you find yourself too overwhelmed with some of the options listed above and want someone to take care of it all for you, consider CitizenShipper. Our drivers understand your animal means the world to you, which is why they will ensure proper care of your beloved animal during the trek.

Shipping your animal across the country shouldn’t be stressful or dreadful. When you trust drivers on CitizenShipper to transport your animal, you’ll be able to focus on other things. You can always include the great added benefits to simplify things and give you more peace of mind. Just know that your animal will be in the best of hands.

You can save money, time, and hassle with CitizenShipper. So, pull the trigger, post your animal’s info and get free quotes in a matter of minutes!

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