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Reader’s report: Entering the U.S., and transferring to a domestic flight, with an in-cabin dog

Back in October 2010, I wrote a post about the documents you need to re-enter the U.S. with your in-cabin dog. The CDC writes the rules for this situation, and they could be clearer. The CDC does not have any particular form in mind for the rabies certification incoming dogs are required to have. Similarly, if you’re continuing on a U.S. flight and your domestic carrier requires a general certificate of health, it’s not clear what that document should look like.

Reader Marianne faced this situation last fall when she contemplated returning to the U.S. from Ireland with Finn, her Miniature Poodle. They flew on Delta from Dublin to Atlanta, and then from Atlanta to Detroit. Here’s her report on how she handled it:

“The day we flew home, I took Finn for an hour-long walk, then he went into his carrier and we drove to the [Dublin] airport. The only ‘hassle’ was going from the check-in desk to the customer service desk to pay the $200 fee. No one looked at him, weighed or measured him. We got through security pretty easily (if I had not left my cell phone in my pocket, we would have gotten thru on the first pass!). As I was putting Finn back in the carrier, security asked me to wait a minute, then one of the officials came over and wanted to know if the airline knew I was bringing a dog! I showed him the receipt, and he sent me on my way.

Then came US Customs and Immigration [Dublin is one of the world’s airports where U.S. Customs has a border preclearance facility — you go through U.S. Customs at the airport, before you board your plane to the U.S.]. I was sent to agricultural inspection to have Finn checked out. They asked to see my paperwork. There was never any info on the US Customs page about paperwork, but I was prepared. I used my computer to make up a form showing Finn’s rabies information, his healthiness to be able to fly, signed by my vet, and a statement that I was the legal owner. I included a photo of Finn on the paperwork.

That seemed to satisfy them, but they took away the little bit of dog food I had, and one bag of treats. I pleaded that I needed treats to keep him happy on the flight, so they let me keep one of the bags if I promised to dispose of it when I got to the US.

I left and got ready to board the plane, without the paperwork — Customs kept it. I was worried about needing it for the Atlanta-Detroit segment, but was never asked for it at any time by anyone other than US Customs.”

I want to highlight a couple of things in Marianne’s message. First is the information she included in the document she created for her vet to sign — my contact at the CDC told me that the document should include a statement that your dog has been vaccinated against rabies (with the particulars of the vaccine used) on X date (which must be at least 30 days prior to re-entry), and it must be signed by a veterinarian. Marianne also had her vet sign a statement about Finn’s general health, and she included a statement of ownership and a photo of Finn. Given the vagueness of some airlines’ requirements for a general health certificate, that kind of thoroughness makes sense — the resulting document will work for both situations you expect to encounter.

My second point was made tacitly by Marianne: Make a couple of copies of your paperwork, so you have extras when and if the customs agent keeps a set. It doesn’t surprise me that Delta didn’t ask for Finn’s paperwork (per the airline’s website, “Delta does not require a health certificate for carried-on or checked pets”), but it is within the realm of the possible that someone else would have demanded it (the entire sentence from Delta’s site reads “While Delta does not require a health certificate for carried-on or checked pets, upon arrival, the certificate may be required by the state”). Indeed, it’s within the realm of the possible that a Delta agent, unfamiliar with his/her airline’s policy, might have asked for documentation.

Thanks so much, Marianne, for sending the details about your trip back to the U.S.! I hope Finn and Cookie, your Standard Poodle, have become friends by now.


  • Audra

    When I fly with my Chihuahuas from Amsterdam to Phoenix I always get asked by the KLM ticketing agents for a pet passport (health certificate equivalent in Europe). I always fly Delta but have to check in with KLM at Schiphol in Amsterdam. Delta states they don’t require a health certificate but I almost always get asked for one so I’m always prepared with one. When I reach the US customs they want to see the rabies certificates and that’s it. I have only been asked to pull my dog out for inspection once in all the times I have flown them. Just giving my experience and I love all the info I get from your site 😉

  • Thank you, Audra! Do you think that your pet passport would satisfy Delta, since it has the same info in it that a health certificate does? Or do you go ahead and get a separate health certificate as well?

  • Stephanie Jones

    This website has been incredibly helpful in finding information about importing pets! I’m working in Ghana now, but getting ready to fly (hopefully with my cat!) back to the US.

    Finding veterinarians is so difficult here, I’ve been wondering how difficult it would be to just “create” a certificate of health and rabies vaccination. Would it be possible to see Marianne’s papers, or perhaps get her contact information? I’d love to see what she made, since it was clearly accepted by the airline/border officials.

  • Stephanie, I’m so sorry for my delay in responding! According to the CDC, you don’t need a health certificate or even proof of a rabies vaccination, to import a pet cat into the U.S. — here’s the language, and the link follows:

    “A general certificate of health is not required by CDC for entry of pet cats into the United States, although some airlines or states may require them. However, pet cats are subject to inspection at ports of entry and may be denied entry into the United States if they have evidence of an infectious disease that can be transmitted to humans. If a cat appears to be ill, further examination by a licensed veterinarian at the owner’s expense might be required at the port of entry.
    Cats are not required to have proof of rabies vaccination for importation into the United States. However, some states require vaccination of cats for rabies, so it is a good idea to check with state and local health authorities at your final destination.
    All pet cats arriving in the state of HawaiiExternal Web Site Icon and the territory of GuamExternal Web Site Icon, even from the U.S. mainland, are subject to locally imposed quarantine requirements.”

    It seems to me, then, that you and your cat should be fine, as long as she is and appears to be in good health. If you still want to create a health certificate for your cat, the USDA/APHIS has a form of one you could use to figure out what kind of info to collect:

    Safe travels, and welcome (in advance) home!!

  • Angii

    This website is so incredibly helpful. You can’t imagine how much I’ve been stressing out.

    We’re flying to the Philippines to pick up my chihuahua to take her to the US where we live and I’m planning to get all the documents you’ve listed here just in case we reach a kink somewhere while we travel. I don’t know if the little family owned vet I go to in the Philippines will have official health certificate documents, if that’s a thing. I saw here she said she made them, I was wondering if I could do the same. Could you give me like a template? For her health certificate, and rabies and screwworm form saying she’s healthy? Also, that aphis form you linked above will work if I printed it out and gave that to my vet? WOuld I be able to get my dog’s Philippines’ export permit with the aphis form?

    I know this is a really old post, but I’ve been scouring your site for the past month.
    Thank you very much!

  • Hello, Angii — To return to the US with your dog, all you need is that proof of rabies vaccination the CDC requires (their current verbiage is here: ). I think the model certificate of veterinary inspection covers the territory — your Philippines vet would either fill it out or create a form of their own with that info in it ( ). The APHIS form is also useful, but it has “United States” at the top, which might be confusing — I’d just make sure the form your Philippines vet eventually creates contains the basic info of the APHIS form, rather than photocopying the APHIS form. To leave the Philippines, you also need an export permit, and it’s my belief that the same form would work — however, there may be other vaccinations required to export a dog (your Philippines vet will know that). Here’s a link to an oldish, but hopefully still useful post, from someone who photographed the form their vet created, lying under the form the BAI issued (upon submission of the form): Please let us know how it goes, and what you learn in the process! [Returning to this comment to add a note: You could call the BAI directly and ask about the form of documentation required. They provide the names of the folks who do the permit work here: ]

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