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Pets and Travel

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Most American families value their pets as a member of the family-and wish to indulge them accordingly. This means taking the family pup to visit the in-laws, rather than leaving the animal with strangers, is an attractive option. However, ensuring that your pet arrives safely can be a challenge if you are traveling by air, or by car in the heat or cold.

While there are standard requirements, the varied conditions your pet may encounter make travel dangerous, even with precautions. Plus, always check with the carrier well in advance of your trip to ensure your pet will be allowed to be transported. Here are some rules to help ensure your pet's safe arrival.

Can I be sure my pet will be accepted by an airline to board a plane

Airlines are not required to carry live animals, and they reserve the right to refuse to carry an animal for any reason. In addition, the airlines have the right to not guarantee acceptance of your pet until it has been seen. Important considerations for acceptance of animals include:

  • the health and disposition of the animal;
  • proper health certificates; and
  • and kennel requirements regarding size, strength, sanitation and ventilation.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) assigns airlines the final responsibility for determining the safety and compliance of the kennels they accept. Airlines generally transport animals in the cargo compartment of a plane. In doing so, the airlines advise the flight crew that animals are onboard the aircraft.

Some airlines allow passengers to carry their pets in the cabin of a plane if the animals are capable of fitting under the passenger's seat. In addition, most airlines place an embargo on animal travel during the summer months when the cargo area may become too hot. Airlines are allowed to set high and low acceptable temperatures, which can be as high as 90 degrees or as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. On a long trip, your pet may be adversely affected.

For the specific requirements pertaining to your animal, make advance arrangements with the airline you are using. Airlines must be sure that they have facilities to handle animals at the airports of transfer and final destination. Finally, the companies must comply with USDA guidelines on allowable temperature limits for animal-holding areas.

Caution: Keep in mind that when animals are accepted as "baggage," the airlines are only liable for the value determined by weight unless you declare the baggage to be of a higher value.

What do airlines require for a pet to be accepted?

Airlines require that dogs and cats be:

  • at least 8 weeks old; and
  • weaned before traveling by air.

The animal's kennel must:

  • be enclosed;
  • allow room for the animal to stand, sit and lie in a natural position;
  • be easy to open;
  • sturdy enough to withstand the normal rigors of transportation;
  • be free of objects that could injure the animal;
  • have a solid, leak-proof floor that is covered with litter or absorbent lining;
  • be well ventilated with openings that make up at least 14 percent of the total wall space;
  • have rims to prevent the ventilation openings from being blocked by other cargo-these rims are usually placed on the sides of the kennel and must provide at least three-quarters of an inch clearance;
  • have grips or handles for lifting to prevent cargo personnel from having to place their fingers inside the kennel and risk being bitten.

Some airlines also require a certificate from a veterinarian showing:

  • the shipper's name and address;
  • date of certificate;
  • the animal's tag numbers;
  • the animal's age;
  • statement of good health;
  • a list of administered inoculations, when applicable; and
  • the veterinarian's signature.

Check with your carrier for its requirements well in advance of your trip.

Can I place two pets in the same kennel on an airline?

Each species must have its own kennel with the exception of compatible cats and dogs of similar size. Maximum numbers include:

  • 2 puppies or kittens less than 6 months old and 20 pounds each, and of similar size; and
  • 15 guinea pigs or rabbits, and 50 hamsters.

Airlines may have more restrictive requirements; be sure to check with the airline you are using.

Can I bring a pet on an Amtrak train?

Amtrak does not allow pets on trains (other than service animals). This is due to changes in heating and air conditioning that would be required in baggage cars if pets were to be transported.

Is the airline responsible for feeding and watering my pet?

The airline will require instructions for feeding and watering your animal over a 24-hour period to be attached to the kennel. The 24-hour schedule will assist the airline in providing care for your animal in case its flight is diverted. You will be required to document that your pet was offered food and water within 4 hours of transport, and the documentation must include the time and date of feeding.

For the safety of your pet and handlers, food and water dishes must be securely attached and be accessible without opening the kennel. The airline will feed puppies and kittens every 12 hours if they are 8 to 16 weeks old. Mature animals will be fed every 24 hours and given water every 12 hours.

Can you take a guide dog on an airline or train?

All airlines and rail lines must allow service animals, such as guide dogs, in the cabin. Guide dogs do not have to be in a carrier, but they do have to be harnessed. You should take all the precautions to safeguard your guide dog that would be appropriate for any other animal during travel including:

  • provide the dog with food and water; and
  • carry his recent veterinary records with you on the airline when you board.

If my pet gets lost in the airline cargo area, what should I do?

If your pet turns up missing during transport, immediately speak to airline personnel. As with baggage, most airlines have computer-tracking systems that can trace a pet transferred to an incorrect flight. If there is no report of your animal, contact animal control agencies and humane societies in the local and surrounding areas. Provide descriptions and photographs to the airline, local animal control agencies and humane societies. Check with them daily. Leave telephone numbers and addresses with these people and businesses should you have to return home. If you need to file a complaint regarding the care of your pet during transport, contact the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

What are some general tips for traveling with pets?

  • Plan ahead. Let your pet get to know the flight kennel. At the time you make your trip reservations, tell the agent that you will have an animal with you. Be sure to reconfirm with the airline 24 to 48 hours before departure that you will be bringing your pet. Advance arrangements are not a guarantee that your animal will travel on a specific flight.
  • Arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare. If your animal is traveling as a carry-on pet or by special expedited delivery service, check-in will usually be at the passenger terminal.
  • Use direct flights whenever possible to avoid accidental transfers or delays.
  • Travel on the same flight as your pet whenever possible.
  • Outfit your pet with a sturdy collar and two identification tags. The tags should have both your permanent address and telephone number and an address and telephone number where you can be reached while traveling.
  • Attach a label on the pet carrier with your permanent and travel addresses and telephone numbers.

For further information, call 800.545.USDA, visit the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Web site, or write to:

Deputy Administrator

USDA/APHIS Animal Care

4700 River Road, Unit 84

Riverdale, MD 20737-1234

Can I bring my pet into my hotel room?

Generally, most hotels allow small pets. Individual hotels have their own pet policies, so you will need to inquire at the specific hotel property where you are planning to stay. Some hotels will only rent smoking rooms to those bringing their pet.

Can a hotel charge a fee to guests who bring pets?

Many hotels that allow pets charge a small extra fee. It is up to the specific hotel to determine the extra fee it will charge, if any.