Research and preparation are key for pet owners planning vacations or permanent changes of station with their animal(s), according to officials in the Fort Belvoir Veterinary Center.
"The first thing they want to do is to contact us or their local veterinarian," said Sgt. Margaret Young, Fort Belvoir VETCEN noncommissioned officer-in-charge. "It's very important to plan ahead, as it is with every other aspect of traveling. You don't want to put off taking care of your pets until the last minute because it is going to require more effort than just getting a health certificate."
Pet owners traveling or conducting a PCS move abroad must research the animal importing regulations of their international destination well in advance of their departure. Many countries require health certificates, vaccinations and other treatments to import and export animals. Community members can find a country's requirements on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service agency's website at Regulations vary from country to country, but some typical regulations include rabies vaccinations and the insertion of a microchip, according to Young.
Preventing a rabies outbreak is of special concern to many countries abroad, which is why some places require the animal spends time under quarantine. The length of the quarantine can vary from country-to-country but a typical time frame is 120 to 180 days of isolation to ensure the animal doesn't have rabies.
"Some of these countries will start the quarantine period here in the states before they actually enter the country and if pet owners can get that done here they won't have to worry about quarantining their pets overseas because that can be very expensive," Young said. "Depending on where they go, they can be looking at paying around a $1,000 a month if not more."
Micro-chipping is an identification requirement for Families on PCS orders, when the Family is relocating to a different country. Each microchip has a personal identification number which host countries can use to ensure animals have met proper import/export requirements. The ID is linked to the pet owner's contact information, which is also used to trace a lost pet back to its owner.
Pet owners traveling or moving abroad will likely also need to acquire a health certificate form that states all of the pet's heath information. Obtaining this document is easier, compared to other travel abroad requirements, but it does require that rabies vaccines are current, Young said.
States within the U.S. also require importing animals' health certificates. The rules vary from state-to-state, with regards to requirements for pet owners who are only visiting a different state.
For pet owners traveling within the U.S. by vehicle, Young recommends owners hydrate their animal before and during the trip. Pet owners should also avoid planning long stops while leaving the animal unattended in the car. Young explained that an animal's normal body temperature is higher than a human's, which means they will get hotter, faster in a car.
"You never ever want to leave your pet unattended in a vehicle for any amount of time. Even if you're just going to the store, you never know how long that's going to last," Young said. "It can take only minutes for a pet to succumb to a heat injury, or even death, in a hot vehicle."
If you do plan to make long stops, pets should be housed somewhere safe and out of the heat.
Pet owners traveling by airplane nationally, or internationally, should make sure their pet's kennel meet their chosen airline's regulations. These can vary from business to business, Young said.
Community members should also check their airline's restrictions. For example, short-nosed dogs may be restricted from flying during the summer. Those dogs have a harder time cooling off in warmer temperatures, as their short nose makes it difficult to aspirate.
"That's how dogs cool themselves off … instead of sweating they pant," Young said. "If pet owners are flying in August and they have a Pug or a similar dog breed, that Pug might not be able to fly until October."
There are several options for Families who can't bring their animals along with them on their vacation or relocation.
For Families on vacation, Young recommends looking into pet boarding facilities. Families should tour the facility before leaving their pet there and also make sure they have up-to-date vaccinations to protect against contracting kennel born diseases. If pet owners choose to hire a professional sitter or dog walker, Young recommends choosing an organization that's insured. This way damage or injuries inflicted to the pet owner's house, pet or pet watcher are covered. Another alternative for Families is choosing to leave their animals in the care of a neighbor or friend.
For Families that must permanently leave an animal behind, Young recommends researching breed rescue operations, attempting to find a new owner or giving the animal to a no kill shelter.
"There are some places where you just can't take your pet, so if you can't relocate them on your own, I would try to find either a breed rescue or no kill shelter as opposed to using a local county animal control," Young said.
Visit for more information on exporting and importing pets nationally and internationally.