Are You Breaking the Law When You Travel With Your Pet?

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Jan. 27, 2014
Are You Breaking the Law When You Travel With Your Pet?

Did you know that if you cross a state line with your pet, you are supposed to carry a current certificate of veterinary inspection with you? Yup, it’s true. Think back to the last time you visited Aunt Mable in Ohio or went for a hike in Virginia. You were breaking the law if you brought Fluffy or Fido with you without a health certificate (assuming you’re not from Ohio or Virginia, of course).

The requirement for a health certificate is aimed at preventing the spread of disease between animals or from animals to people. It’s supposed to work this way: An owner brings a pet to see the veterinarian prior to travel. The doctor performs a physical examination and then signs a health certificate saying that the pet does not appear to be suffering from any potentially contagious diseases. That health certificate is good for the next 30 days (here’s an example of what they look like). Copies are given to the owner, kept by the veterinarian, and sent to U.S. Department of Agriculture.

I’ll be honest with you. I tend to follow the spirit rather than the letter of this law when it comes to my own animals. For example, I live in Northern Colorado, not far from the border with Wyoming. Every summer my family camps at a state park just over that border and we bring our dog with us. Do I submit a health certificate for Apollo before we go? No. I’m confident that any diseases present in Larimer County Colorado are also present in Laramie County Wyoming, and if my dog is sick, we’re canceling our trip (admittedly I have the benefit of being a vet in making that determination). On the other hand, when I moved from Virginia to Wyoming, driving across two-thirds of the way across the country with four dogs, four cats, and two horses, I made sure that everyone’s health certificates were up to date and in the truck’s glove compartment before I pulled out of the driveway.

Officially, I have to recommend that pet owners always adhere to the health certificate requirement, but if I were you, I would use the following rules of thumb to determine when one is really necessary.

  1. Do you, in your heart of hearts, truly believe that your pet is well? Now is not the time to ignore the fact that he or she hasn’t eaten all that well for the last few days or otherwise seems just a bit “off.”

  5. If your pet gets sick while you are gone, where would you take him? If you’d simply zip back to your “regular” veterinarian, you can’t have traveled too far out of your home range.

A couple of final thoughts on health certificates for domestic travel. Animals need to be up to date on appropriate vaccines before a veterinarian will sign one. Rabies is pretty much non-negotiable with other vaccines being given on an as needed basis. Also, health certificates can only be signed by a federally accredited veterinarian. If your pet’s “regular” doctor is not federally accredited, he or she should be able to refer you to one who is. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to get this all done before you leave on your road trip.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Thinkstock

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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