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An Overview of U.S. Animal Importation Rules

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Whenever you import a dog or cat into the United States, you are subject to Center for Disease Control (CDC) regulations governing pet importation. "But,'' you say, "it was only a quick trip to Grandma's -- just across the border!''

It doesn't matter. Before entry, all dogs and cats are subject to inspection for communicable diseases. While the CDC doesn't require a general certificate of health for pet cats or dogs, some states and local authorities do. Even with a certificate, if your pet appears to be in ill health, an inspector can require a veterinary examination, at your expense, before it is allowed to enter.

Additionally, some airlines require a certificate of health issued within 10 days of any travel date. This means that if you've taken a pet outside of the United States for more than 10 days, you may need to get a health certificate from an international veterinarian.

Save yourself some serious aggravation and check your state and local regulations, and your airline's pet travel policy, well in advance of your travel date.

Rabies vaccinations

Cats aren't required to have proof of rabies vaccination for entry to the United States. Dogs, including service animals such as seeing eye dogs, are another matter. They must either:

  • Have a valid vaccination certificate issued at least 30 days before entry, or
  • Be vaccinated within four days of arriving at their final U.S. destination, and within ten days of entry into the United States

Recently vaccinated dogs must be confined for a minimum of 30 days after being vaccinated. Unvaccinated, mature dogs are allowed entry only  if they have been living for the last six months or more in an area designated as rabies free.

Puppies too young to be vaccinated (under three months old) are quarantined until they're old enough for the vaccine plus an additional 30 days (for the pup's body to respond to the vaccination).

Import for sale

Commercial importers are subject to additional regulation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Recently passed USDA regulations prohibit importation for resale of any puppies that are in poor health, that are younger than 6 months old, or that do not have all the required vaccinations.

Corey Menkin, with the national ASPCA media affairs office, said, "We have been very concerned with breeder conditions outside the United States, and we're hoping that the USDA will make strong enforcement of the new rule a priority.''

Special situations

All pet dogs and cats arriving in Hawaii, including those from the U.S. mainland, are subject to local quarantine requirements. With good planning, you may be able to reduce the quarantine time from 120 days to 5 days or less.

Collies, shepherds, or other dogs intended for use as herding animals are quarantined at the port of entry to test for tapeworm. If they have a tapeworm infection, they must be treated at the port of entry before being allowed into the country.

Dogs imported from any country known to harbor screwworm must have an official certificate signed by a veterinarian from the dog's home country. It must confirm that the dog was inspected and found to be free of screwworm, or was successfully treated before leaving the region.  Note that screwworm is prevalent in much of Central America, the Middle East, and Africa.

If you are returning from an area affected with foot-and-mouth disease, make sure that:

  • There is no excess dirt or mud on your dog's feet, fur, or bedding
  • Your pet is bathed as soon as you reach home
  • No straw, hay, or other native fibers are used for bedding
  • Your pet isn't exposed to livestock for at least five days after arriving home

More Info:

Credit: Reviewed by Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS, and John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD
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