How to Travel with Pets? (Complete Guide)

Leaving behind your family member can seem inconceivable to some pet owners.

Many of us would love to take our pets with us everywhere, but following regulations can make traveling with pets complicated.

But, if you understand what you need to do in advance of your trip and plan accordingly, traveling with your pet is completely doable. 

Things to Consider Before Traveling With Your Pet

Before traveling, you’ll need to consider a variety of things when it comes to your pet.

Car travel between states is pretty simple, just keep them comfortable and make pit stops when necessary. However, keep in mind that individual states may have their own entry regulations for pets. 

What Kind of Pet Do You Have?

Cats and dogs are the easiest travel companions. Many airlines allow most small dogs and cats, whether in-cabin or as checked luggage, in the cargo hold. Also, almost every country accepts them. 

If you’re traveling with pets other than a dog or a cat, you’ll need to find specific regulations about travel and entry into the country or state you’re entering. Exotic pets like monkeys, snakes, and birds have different entry requirements and additional restrictions. 

Vet Visit

Before taking your pet on a trip, you’ll need to schedule a trip to a US licensed veterinarian for a checkup and be sure they’re a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Listen to your vet’s advice about whether your pet is healthy enough to travel and have them help you research requirements for your final destination. 

Additionally, make sure your pet has all the required vaccinations while you’re at the vet. If you don’t have them, you’ll need to apply for a CDC Dog Import Permit, especially if you’re coming from high-risk countries. Your dog’s rabies vaccination is the most important, as many places are considered high-risk countries for contracting rabies in dogs. 

The vet may also need to do bloodwork. 

Plus, they can help you with microchips and permits, but be sure to get a health certificate. 

What Should You Bring?

Of course, you’re going to need an approved pet carrier to fly with your pet. Maximum dimensions for in-cabin pet carriers are 17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high for hard-sided kennels and 18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches tall for soft-sided kennels. 

The pet must be able to stand in a natural position and have enough room to turn around in the carrier. Regulations vary by airline, but usually, you can only house animals of the same species together in carriers, and for dogs and cats, only one animal may be in a single crate. 

Bring your pet’s food with you as well. New food and water can result in upset stomachs and even sickness in your animals. Also, be sure to bring blankets or toys for comfort. 

Keeping Your Pet Comfortable

Before traveling get your dog or cat used to their carrier. They need to feel comfortable spending long periods put away, as you’ll have to keep them inside during the entire flight. Overall, if they can’t stand being in a crate, you shouldn’t travel with them. 

You should also give your pet a light meal about three hours before they travel. 

Airline Regulations

To start, not complying with airline regulations can result in them denying you entry.

Each airline has individual regulations for travel safety. For example, on some aircraft, people traveling with animals must have a window seat. However, most flights accept pets and have similar rules, but they also consider the type of pet and destination regulations.

Any live animal must stay inside an approved travel carrier while inside the airport, during the flight, and inside an airport.

Whether you’re traveling internationally or domestically, your airline considers your in-cabin pets a carry-on bag. Thus, you cannot bring a pet, a carry-on bag, and a personal item. 

A pet traveling on domestic flights or international flights will have slightly different requirements when it comes to age. Check your airline’s guidelines for both international travel and domestic travel. 

Also, some flights only accept checked pets for active-duty military personnel. You’ll need to have all the proper documentation for your pet, valid US-issued active orders, and check-in early both on the phone and at the ticket counter to fly. 

Almost all flights accept service animals. You can find more information in your airline’s accessibility guidelines. They will need their rabies vaccination and all documentation, sometimes including a CDC Dog Import Permit. 

Your pet may need to spend time in an approved port facility for a quarantine period upon entering the US. This regulation applies to both in-cabin and checked carriers. 

Approved ports in the United States are at: 

  • Anchorage (ANC)
  • Atlanta (ATL)
  • Boston (BOS)
  • Chicago (ORD)
  • Dallas (DFW)
  • Detroit (DTW)
  • Honolulu (HNL)
  • Houston (IAH)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Miami (MIA)
  • Minneapolis (MSP)
  • New York (JFK)
  • Newark (EWR)
  • Philadelphia (PHL)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • San Juan (SJU)
  • Seattle (SEA)
  • Washington DC (IAD)

Most of these airports allow pets to travel on a connecting flight as well. 

What About Car Trips?

Car trips are much simpler than air travel. You can let your dog or cat sit in the front seat with you, the back seat, or the cargo area. Pets traveling this way have the advantage of being next to their owners and outside of carriers.

Just be sure to stop and take a long walk with your pet during your trip because it gives them time to relieve themselves and stretch their muscles. 

Furthermore, you should bring waste bags to pick up after them, be aware of state entry regulations, avoid extreme heat, and keep your dog or cat calm. 

What About Cruise Ships?

For the most part, cruise ships do not allow pets on board. Few lines will allow you to bring a pet, and restrictions apply. Most of the time, you’ll need to book your pets into a special kennel on board.

However, you can bring service dogs on cruises. 

If you do travel with your pet on a cruise, animals allowed on cruises are subject to the same regulations and quarantine periods as they are when entering the US on a plane. 

Other Options

Train travel is another option but check the rules before you leave. 

If you can’t travel safely with your animal, you might need to put your pet into a boarding kennel while you’re gone. Otherwise, get a trusted friend to watch them. 

Quick Notes

The Center for Disease Control does not require cats arriving in the US to be vaccinated for rabies, but many states require it. 

Also, dogs arriving into the US from a high-risk country will be denied boarding if they don’t have a permit because of their classification as high risk for dog rabies. 


In the end, you’ll need to discuss traveling with your pet with your vet and check individual airline and country regulations for your cats or dogs. Avoid traveling to a high-risk country, make sure they can handle being in a carry-on carrier, and don’t expect airline staff to be responsible for your dogs or any other in-cabin pets you bring along.