The Role USDA Plays in Pet Travel

Patrick MacFarland Patrick MacFarland · Updated February 7, 2024

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CitizenShipper is proud to be labeled the safest place to find a transporter for your pets. You don’t need any formal qualifications or specific experience to set up a business as a pet transporter — but a professional pet transporter needs to offer more than merely providing a taxi service for domestic animals. The pet transportation industry falls under the jurisdiction of the USDA – which stands for the United States Department of Agriculture. There’s a separate division of this government entity called the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that issues guidelines regarding intra and interstate domestic animal relocation. This section will focus on the role of the USDA in pet travel. Section 1 will cover the important guidelines to follow when progressing through the journey as a professional pet transporter on CitizenShipper. Section 2 will cover what CitizenShipper offers you with our professional drivers.

For Pet Transporters

A person with a commercial business that moves animals from one location to another is considered a transporter under the Animal Welfare Act — transporters must be registered with the USDA as a Class T – Carrier. Examples of transporters include commercial airlines and trucking companies. It’s smart to become registered as a Class T – Carrier because customers will find that as a safe and secure option. You will not only be viewed as safe, but someone they can trust with their pet.

How to Apply for USDA T Registration

Before you begin, watch this tutorial:

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Filing an application for a USDA T Registration is completely free of charge. Not only is it free, it’s easy and takes just a few minutes of your time! To get started, follow the steps below:

  • Step 1: Access the T Registration form from the video above using our custom form.
  • Step 2: Fill out the boxes following the recommendations from the tutorial above.
  • Step 3: We email the document to for you, using the following subject – USDA Registration Application – Class T – Carrier.
  • Step 4: After you receive the certificate, visit the USDA section of our website and submit for verification. Then, you’ll receive a USDA checkmark on your profile.
CitizenShipper helps guide transporters towards getting USDA pet travel certification.

A USDA checkmark has become a very important feature for driver profiles. More than 2/3 of all winning drivers on CitizenShipper display verified USDA registration on their profile! Learn more about submitting your USDA T Registration in this article. Under the recent registration rule change to the AWA, registrants are no longer required to update every 3 years and will remain active unless they contact USDA in writing to cancel. Registrants are not required to obtain an updated copy, however, if they would like to, the request may be sent to Please note, there may be a delay in obtaining an updated certificate. At any point in time during your registration process, we recommend you familiarize yourself with the most important guidelines in the USDA Blue Book. This document is also downloadable as a PDF at the bottom of this article.

Finally, be advised that the USDA does not allow you to transport pets under 8 weeks old.

For more guidelines on minimum age requirements, please read this APHIS document. If you see a shipment posted on our site that’s outside of these guidelines, please report it to

Steps After Receiving Your USDA Class T Registration

1. Learn How to Stay Compliant

The best place to learn about compliance under the Animal Welfare Act as a transporter is the USDA Blue Book. Chapters that you should focus most of your attention on include:

Becoming familiar with these will help you get satisfactory ratings from your inspections and establish yourself as a reputable business.

2. Preparing for Inspection

USDA’s Animal Care personnel perform two major types of inspections: pre-licensing inspections and unannounced compliance inspections. The latter may occur after your registration has been issued. Each person applying for a license must demonstrate that his or her premises and animals comply with the regulations and standards of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Animal Care personnel may inspect animal facilities, vehicles, equipment, and other sites used for business or intended for business use. Pre-registration inspections are not required under the Act, but facilities may request one. Post registration inspections are always unannounced. During either of these, inspectors will review the premises, facilities, husbandry practices, records and animal handling procedures. The Program of Veterinary Care is required for license holders (A breeders, B dealers, C exhibitors), but not registrants (carriers and intermediate handlers). It’s important that you familiarize yourself with best practices from the Blue Book.

3. Create a Contingency Plan for Emergencies

As an animal transporter or any other entity regulated under the Animal Welfare Act, you’re required to make an emergency contingency plan. This plan describes what you’ll do to safeguard your animals during emergencies or disasters. Your contingency plan must address four things:

  • When will you activate your plan?
  • What actions will you take?
  • Who is responsible for taking those actions?
  • How will you accomplish them?

Use the information on this link to guide your contingency planning. Once you become familiar with some of the guidelines and best practices, head over to the Contingency Plan form and create your own emergency plan.

One role of USDA certified pet travel professionals is having a thorough emergency plan.

USDA/APHIS Regulations

The USDA and APHIS are the organizations that issue guidelines on everything that has to do with pet transportation and pet travel, including certifications for pet transporters. So, now that you have read about how to become registered as a Class T – Carrier and steps of what to do after you receive the registration, you need to take a look at the regulations of the USDA on pet travel and pet transport. Important Note: Take a look at this page, in case you are wondering about USDA licensing, which is usually directed at breeders, dealers or exhibitors.

Definition of a Pet

According to the USDA, not all animals qualify as pets. You may think your pet llama that roams around in your yard is a pet, but the USDA has different guidelines. A pet is a privately owned animal that is not used for research or resale purposes. They include the following animal groups only: dog, cat, ferrets, rodents, rabbits, hedgehogs, reptiles and amphibians. Birds are in a classification category of their own. Sometimes birds carry diseases that can be detrimental to the US poultry industry, thus they aren’t allowed to be transported. Those birds include: chickens, doves, ducks, geese, grouse, guinea fowl, partridges, peafowl, pheasants, pigeons, quail, swans and turkeys. All other animals are not classified as pets and will not be treated as such by the USDA, which means that transportation is based on interstate requirements (outlined below).

Interstate Regulations

Interstate regulations are needed when there is travel for animals that are not deemed pets by the USDA. These regulations are provided to prevent the spread of animal disease and are strictly made to quarantine, restrict the movement, maintain the sanitation and identify those animals. Veterinarians accredited by the USDA must certify these animals, which can include livestock, birds and poultry for intrastate and interstate transportation. These veterinarians provide certificates of veterinary inspection, which are required for USDA approved pet travel. Find a list of states’ Department of Agriculture pages on the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture website. Find a list of State Animal Health Officials on the United States Animal Health Association website.

Animal Welfare Act

The Animal Welfare Act was established in 196 to set out rules to protect animals from abuse. The law is several pronged and sets out regulations for breeders, researchers who test on animals, but also ensures animal care by other entities, including businesses, transporters and exhibitors. Enforcement usually comes in the form of inspections. Animal care personnel come in to conduct two major types of inspections: pre-licensing inspections and unannounced compliance inspections. They are both very important to adhere to. Besides these inspections, they also respond to complaints from the public. If a business or entity has not complied with the regulations set out by the Animal Welfare Act, they are issued a warning that they must correct within a certain time frame. Failure to comply or correct those violations may result in prosecution for noncompliance. Important Note: Take a look at this free book on USDA Animal Care, the AWA and animal welfare regulations.

Interstate Pet Transport from One U.S. State/Territory to Another U.S. State/Territory

Most pet transports listed on CitizenShipper are out-of-state deliveries, with an average trip distance of 1,150 miles. Considering that laws and regulations differ by state, there may be specific animal health requirements for the destination. Once you create an itinerary, contact your veterinarian to assist with the pet travel process. Factors to consider may include:

  • Meeting time frames for obtaining a health certificate
  • Updating vaccinations
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Administration of medications/treatments.

To learn the requirements for moving your pet out of state, visit the USDA pet interstate travel guidance page. Choose your destination state from the dropdown menu to proceed to that state’s pet import regulations:

USDA certified pet travel professionals should always check jurisdictional rules.

As the pickup date approaches, fill out and print three copies of the Record of Disposition of Dogs and Cats (APHIS Form 7006).This will serve as your Bill of Lading and help you with keeping track of your transport history and bookkeeping.

Health Certifications and Vaccinations

The health certificates and pet vaccinations are a crucial aspect of pet travel. They can be required at every moment of your journey — from routine police stops to arrival at your final destination, even if you’re not leaving the country and it’s just an interstate journey. There should be a minimum 10-day timeframe for completing health certificates prior to travel. Many airlines and other transportation entities require health certificates to be issued no more than 10 days prior to travel. In regards to vaccinations, all pets should have the required vaccinations in order to travel. For the rabies vaccine, pets should have that immunization no more than 21 days prior to travel.

Vaccinations for Dogs

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

  • Canine parvovirus
  • Distemper
  • Canine hepatitis
  • Rabies

Vaccinations for dogs that are not required, but recommended:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Borrelia burgdorferi
  • Influenza
  • Leptospira bacteria

Vaccinations for Cats

The list of immunizations for cats prior to travel are:

  • panleukopenia (feline distemper)
  • feline calicivirus
  • feline herpesvirus type I (rhinotracheitis)
  • rabies

Immunizations that are not required, but recommended:

  • feline leukemia virus
  • Bordetella
  • Chlamydophila felis
  • feline I immunodeficiency virus

Traveling with a Pet

Traveling with a pet requires — besides the USDA requirements — patience and knowledge of what to expect. It’s important to travel with the proper vaccinations and health certificates prior to traveling. Keep in mind the health certificates should be USDA approved for pet travel. There are various methods to traveling with a pet — from airplane, train, and ground transport. All have their pros and cons. Take a look at some of the methods, information, and cost on all types of pet travel. There are certain tips and advice that one should follow. To take a look at some life-saving advice, go here.

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For Pet Owners

When it comes to pet travel, using a two-way marketplace like CitizenShipper to find an independent pet transporter is a great solution. You can save money on transportation costs because drivers bid for your business, most often saving up to 60%-70% compared to a traditional pet transportation company. We also adhere to the rules and regulations outlined by the USDA and APHIS, being careful and consistent in ensuring our drivers are registered by the USDA.

Using CitizenShipper is Easy

  • You can post a free listing on our marketplace, within just a few minutes you’ll receive quotes from vetted and screened, USDA-registered drivers.
  • You can compare bids and instantly chat with drivers across our network. Because drivers compete for your business, you’ll be able to select a quote that fits your budget.
  • It’s free to compare quotes and communicate with transporters on the platform!
  • You can book your trip once you choose the driver you like best.

CitizenShipper provides even more added benefits for pet transportation: up to $1,000 of coverage through our Pet Protection guarantee, a messaging system that allows you to easily communicate directly with the driver and 24/7 TeleVet access through our partner FirstVet. The bottom line is your beloved pet is in good hands with CitizenShipper’s qualified drivers. We adhere to the rules and the safety of your pet is of the utmost importance. Check out our blog and Resource Center to learn more. It can be nerve wracking when your pet travels — remove some of the stress by booking a USDA-compliant driver through CitizenShipper!