The growing importance of the human-animal bond has been a positive development for companion animal practice – as family members, pets get better everything, including medical care. They also get to take vacations with their human families much more often than in the past and, frequently, that means that they’ll get to travel through an airport.
If air travel is increasingly complex and frustrating for human passengers, think about their pets. Crammed under a seat or sent as baggage, the experience can be physically and emotionally exhausting, and that stress takes a toll on their owners, as well. Veterinarians can help relieve some of the stress – and we should. After all, we’re the pet specialists.
Even now, it’s all too common for practices to place the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the owner to research and understand the rules and procedures surrounding pet travel. I still find too many clients of other practices showing up on our schedule to help them manage international health certificates and air travel issues, situations that referring veterinarians could have handled themselves.
Clients rely on us to have the experience and expertise to help them through all of their pet-related concerns, not just specific health issues. Sometimes we need to make referrals – we’re not carpet cleaners – but every clinic should be prepared to meet this particular set of needs.
First, make sure you have at least one federally accredited veterinarian on your staff – if you’re already accredited, don’t let it lapse. I’d like to say that the process to attain USDA accreditation is simple – it’s not – but it is straightforward. Follow the directions on this page to learn more.
Second, bookmark this page on the USDA website that allows you to search by country to find the regulations and forms that govern pet travel. It’s fairly comprehensive and up-to-date, covering both foreign and domestic travel regulations (by species). In most cases, and you can download the forms necessary for pet travel from the website as well.
Third, have your client download this handy checklist from the USDA to help them prepare for foreign travel. Some requirements take significant time to complete. Most all countries require microchip identification – the 15 digit ISO standard chip. If you use another type of chip your client may need to carry their own scanner.
Veterinary Services (VS) Endorsement Offices are responsible for the endorsement of International Health Certificates. While there are VS Endorsement Offices located in most U.S. States, all appointments and questions are routed through six primary locations; you can search for the closest locations on the USDA website at this page.
Become familiar with the special requirements for travel to the UK. As we have rabies in the US, pets must be microchipped, vaccinated and then titer-tested after vaccination, in addition to other requirements. There are only a few EU certified laboratories in the US that can perform the testing, so be certain that you submit samples to one of those facilities.
Remind your clients that returning to the US may involve meeting importation requirements – not a simple as clearing customs on the way home.
Finally, have your client contact their airline to understand their specific requirements before booking.
Petravel.com is a good resource for accessing airline information, carriers, regulations, pet-friendly hotel and more – including reviews from other pet parents about their travel experiences. Sometimes, their stories can help clients rethink their travel plans and offer their pet a “stay-cation” instead!
It’s a complicated endeavor, and your practice can’t be responsible to manage the details for your clients – but you should understand the landscape and be able to offer good advice. It’s one more aspect of exemplary client service.