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Bringing a pet into the United States: A reader’s research

Last week I posted a report by reader Marianne about her return to the U.S. from Ireland with her Miniature Poodle. I referenced a post I’d written in October 2010 about the hoops you need to jump through to import a pet. This weekend, I returned to my in-box and found a gem of a message on the same topic, from reader Susan — she’s a lawyer, bless her, so when she’s confronted with a collection of odd federal and state requirements (not to mention the requirements of entities like airlines and pet transport companies), she digs IN, by God. And we all profit, because she very kindly shared what she calls her “treatise” with me, for posting on Dog Jaunt. Here it is:

Federal Law

The Department of Homeland/US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) summarizes the U.S. custom requirements for importation of live animals and animal products at http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/clearing/agri_prod_inus.xml.

The CBP website refers individuals interested in importing pets to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website for specific information on import requirements. That website contains an excellent summary of which federal agencies regulate the importation of animals. (Be sure to follow the link for “Pets” under “Import an Animal or Animal Product”.) For further information or clarification on the importation of live animals, you can also call APHIS at (301) 734-3277 or email at: [email protected] or [email protected].

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is the primary (but not only) federal agency imposing documentation requirements on the importation of pets into the United States. You can obtain further information on the CDC regulations at http://www.cdc.gov/animalimportation/ or you can call the CDC at 1-800-232-4636.

Pursuant to CDC regulations, dogs must have a certificate showing they have been vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days prior to entry into the United States. These requirements apply equally to service animals. A pet dog is subject to 30 days confinement (i.e., quarantine) if the vaccine was performed fewer than 30 days before arrival. The CDC website does not set forth the required form of the rabies certificate but the CBP publication referred to below states that the rabies certificate must (i) be in English, (ii) identify the animal and the date of administration and expiration of the vaccine, and (iii) be signed by a licensed veterinarian. If you are returning to the U.S. before your dog’s U.S. rabies vaccine expires, your original rabies certificate should suffice. (Note: There is no vaccination regulation for cats.)

The CDC does not require general certificates of health for pets for entry into the United States. However, health certificates may be required for entry into some states, or may be required by airlines (see below).

Notwithstanding the lack of a requirement for a health certificate, pet dogs are subject to inspection at the first U.S. port of entry and may be denied entry into the United States if they have evidence of an infectious disease that can be transmitted to human. So, perhaps possession of a health certificate could be useful to persuade a customs inspector of the dog’s good health if there is any doubt. If a dog appears to be ill upon initial inspection, further examination by a licensed veterinarian at the owner’s expense might be required at the port of entry. Note: Pursuant to U.S. Customs rules, all travelers entering the United States are required to DECLARE any animals they may be carrying to U.S. Customs agents upon entry. The declaration must cover all animals carried in checked baggage, carry-on luggage, or in a vehicle. It is through this declaration process that I assume the health inspection will be triggered.

In addition to the CDC-required rabies certificate, the following special circumstances may apply to dogs.

  1. If the dog is coming from a country where “screwworm” is a known problem (no European country was listed on the APHIS list of known screwworm countries as of January 1, 2012), USDA APHIS regulations state that entry into the United States is possible if they meet the following requirements:
    1. The dog must be accompanied by a certificate signed by a full-time salaried veterinary official of the region of origin stating that the dog has been inspected for screwworm within 5 days prior to shipment to the United States.
    2. The certificate must state that the dog is either free from screwworm or was found to be infested with screwworm and was held in quarantine and treated until free from screwworm prior to leaving the region.
  2. If the pet is coming from a country where foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is prevalent, APHIS advises owners to take the following precautions to prevent the introduction of FMD from pets entering the United States:
    1. The feet, fur, and bedding of the pets should be free of any excessive dirt or mud.
    2. The pet’s bedding should be free of any straw or hay, or other natural bedding.
    3. The pet should be bathed as soon as it reaches its final destination.
    4. The pet should be kept separate and apart from all livestock for at least 5 days after entry into the United States.
  3. Per the APHIS website, the U.S. Department of Agriculture also has certain restrictions on the importation of dogs. Collies, shepherds, and other dogs that are imported from any part of the world except Canada, Mexico, and regions of Central America and the West Indies and that are to be used in the handling of livestock must be inspected and quarantined at the port of entry for a sufficient time to determine their freedom from tapeworm.

For additional information in addition to the CBP, CDC and APHIS websites listed in this section, the CBP has issued a useful, albeit poorly cited, publication summarizing various federal regulations applicable to the importation of pets into the United States. The information is consistent with the information contained on the APHIS and CDC websites.

State Law

In addition to compliance with U.S. federal law, you must comply with the relevant import laws of any U.S. state into which you take your animal.

Depending on your route, you may have to comply with multiple state requirements. You should review any published regulations from the relevant state and/or call the State veterinarian’s office to determine the appropriate form of any certificate that may be required.

Be sure to check whether any state you pass through via a connecting flight has an exemption for that purpose (for example, New York has a partial exemption — see below) so you can forego compliance. I’ve summarized a few states below based on my potential routes:

For entry into New York, a health certificate is required and must accompany the dog. In addition, a copy must be mailed to the New York Department of Agriculture prior to the entry of the dog into New York. See the address in the link below. The health certificate shall list (i) the date of examination, (ii) the breed, sex and age of the pet, (iii) the state or country of origin, and (iv) the complete name and address of the consignee and consignor (i.e. owner if the pet is accompanying you). The certificate shall also speak to the health of the animal (see link below for specifics) and must certify that a rabies vaccine has been administered within the previous 12 months. (The latter part makes it unlikely that the dog’s original three-year rabies certificate will work for a return trip through New York if it has been more than one year since vaccination.) The examination supporting the certificate must be within 30 days of entry into New York. Note if New York is not your final destination: Dogs are exempt from the health certificate requirement if they are passing through the State of New York to points beyond provided that the dog is at all times properly restrained and under the immediate control of its owners and is accompanied by evidence of its rabies vaccination. See: http://www.agriculture.ny.gov/AI/Part65.pdf

For entry into California, dogs must be healthy to be moved into California. Dogs over four (4) months of age must be accompanied by a current certificate of rabies vaccination. A Certificate of Veterinary Inspection is recommended, but not required. See: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov//ahfss/Animal_Health/Entry_Requirements.html

For entry into Illinois, the state requires a “Certificate of Veterinary Inspection issued within 30 days, showing freedom from disease, originate in non-rabies quarantined area, and dogs 16 weeks of age and older vaccinated against rabies. Rabies vaccination to have been administered within the time period published in the current Compendium of Animal Rabies Vaccines prepared by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, Inc.” http://www.aphis.usda.gov/import_export/animals/animal_import/downloads/il.html

It is my educated guess that any certificate that contains the same information as the United States Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals (APHIS Form 7001) will likely be sufficient for most/all states that require a health certificate (but possibly not New York due to mention of external parasites in the NY statute that is not set forth on Form 7001). But note that even if one form of health certificate works for all states, it is still important to check each state’s regulations because the dating requirement for the health certificate may differ state to state.

APHIS has a very handy webpage summarizing the various import rules for the individual states and providing direct links to state government websites (which is how I did the research for the three states listed above). However, the APHIS summary is not controlling law and should not be relied on if you want to be careful. Each state’s regulations should be consulted directly for confirmation of all regulations. [There are links to each state’s rules at the bottom of the APHIS page Susan references; please also note that in the middle of the page there’s a link to “State veterinarian,” so you can confirm that you have the most current rules — and ask any questions you have about them — for the state(s) on your itinerary.]

Transport Companies

As with the exportation of animals, you must comply with all documentation requirements of the transport company you are using for the importation of your pet into the United States. In many cases, a health certificate will be required.

Susan notes: “For some reason, even though the links are correct and I double checked, typing some of the government links into your internet address bar will deliver an error (seems to be the ones with ‘xml’). If that is the case, go to the main page for the agency and do an appropriate search to find the page (i.e., go to cbp.gov and just type ‘import agriculture products’ into the search box).”

Importing Meat Products

And if all that wasn’t enough, Susan added a very helpful note about importing meat products into the U.S.:

“U.S. Customs prohibits the importation of all meat or meat products into the United States, including dried (as an example, soup containing beef broth is technically forbidden). So it is likely forbidden to import your dog’s food into the U.S. If you need to carry some food with you for the journey, you should probably leave any excess onboard the plane or discard in a trash bin upon arrival. If you forget and are carrying it when you get to customs (after picking up your luggage), you should DECLARE it to the customs agents and it will be confiscated (or possibly cleared if it turns out it is not prohibited). Declaring it will not get you in trouble. But if you don’t declare the dog food, you could be subject to significant fines.”

I am speechless with gratitude — all I can say is thank you, dear lady. Susan is planning a long trip abroad with Henry, her Chihuahua (picture on Friday!), and I sincerely hope she’ll continue to share the results of her ongoing research.

4 comments

  • Eva Ryan

    Thank you for this list! I had found all this information separately but it is so helpful to have it all together like this and is reassuring that I didn’t miss something somewhere. I have a question. The only rabies vaccination certificate that I got from the breeder is part of the EU pet passport. In the pet passport it has the rabies vaccine listed with: manufacturer & name of vaccine, vaccination date, valid until, and stamp and signature from authorized veterinarian. Is this okay? The pet passport has all of his other information in it like his microchip number etc. I just want to be sure that this is official enough and that I don’t need something extra.

  • Hello, Eva — I’ve taken a close look at Chloe’s new E.U. pet passport, and I believe that it contains all the info that U.S. customs needs. According to the CDC’s rules, “Dogs must have a certificate showing they have been vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days prior to entry into the United States.” They must also appear to be in good health, or they’ll be subject to a vet’s examination at the port of entry. [Here’s the link: http://www.cdc.gov/animalimportation/dogs.html%5D Chloe’s pet passport (and therefore yours as well) contains all the relevant info about her rabies vaccination (manufacturer, name, batch number, date administered, good until date) and it’s signed (and therefore certified) by her French vet. All of that info is described in both French and English, so there’s no concern that the U.S. customs person won’t be able to figure out which page is talking about rabies. I believe that you’ll be just fine. (I should note that both times we’ve reentered with her, no one has spared a glance or a thought for Chloe — she was, essentially, just a purse over my shoulder. Things may be different for an E.U. citizen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if your pup is completely ignored.)

  • Katherine

    I’ve read on the CDC website that the rabies shot should be administered at least 30 days before flying if it’s their first rabies shot. Boosters can be administered an any point before the flight.
    “Adult dogs older than 15 months of age that have previously received a rabies vaccination given no earlier than 3 months of age and that has since expired may be imported immediately following booster vaccination, without the need to wait for 30 days”
    I want to be sure this is accurate, as I’d like to avoid incurring more costs with multiple vet visits.

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