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How to Move Across Country with Pets

| Updated September 26, 2017

Moving across country is a big deal, and when you add pets into the mix, it's an even bigger proposition. The key to a smooth move is doing your homework and planning based on what you've learned. Before you make your plans, you should know if your pets are welcome in your new home, know how you're getting there and have a travel route mapped out. When you have the basics in place, you can add the plans for your pets into the mix.

Know Who's Welcome Where

Job one is to confirm there are no restrictions on your pets in your new home. State and local laws vary widely according to what's allowed and what is not. When it comes to common pets, such as dogs, cats, fish and small animals such as hamsters and guinea pigs, most pets are welcome anywhere, though many municipalities and towns have dog breed ordinances or restrictions, and some have ordinances on cats, horses and other pets.

Vet Check

The next order of business is to visit your vet with each of your pets. Most states require health certificates for horses and dogs and about half require them for cats, birds and other pets. The US Department of Agriculture maintains a comprehensive list of each state's regulations if you are unsure about your final destination. The health certificate states that your pet appears to be free of potentially contagious disease and is valid for 30 days. If your vet can't provide a health certificate, ask for a recommendation for a vet who can.

Your vet visit should ensure your pet is healthy to travel and current on all vaccinations. Most states require rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats; keep proof of rabies vaccination handy, including a rabies tag on your pet's collar along with his ID tag. Depending on what kind of a traveler your pet is, you may want to discuss using sedatives for your pet. Don't wait until the last minute to try your chosen sedative on your pet. Some animals become more agitated with the use of sedatives. It may take several tries to determine the proper dosage for your pet.

On the Road

If you're driving across country with your pets, map your route, finding pet friendly accommodations along the way. Plan your trip to allow for quick potty breaks, for you and your pet, as well as opportunities for your pet to get a drink of water. Your pet should not be loose in the car. Small pets, such as hamsters, gerbils and birds, usually can travel in their normal cages. Cats should be in a carrier and dogs should be in a carrier or secured to the seat via a seat belt and harness.


  • If you're moving with a cat, fit her with a harness that has identification stating your name, phone number and address. Your dog should wear a collar with the same information. Consider microchipping your pet as an additional means of identification.

Put together your travel "kit bag" with everything your pet needs during the course of the day: any medication, food, water, dishes, litter pans and litter, poop bags, treats, paper towels and cleaners (in case your pet has an accident), blanket and a toy or two. Feed your pet in the evening, after you've finished travel for the day.

In the Air

If your move is in the air, you'll have to work with your chosen airline to learn what its requirements are. Ideally, your pet should fly in the cabin with you, but each airline has its own requirements as to which animals can fly in the cabin and which must fly as freight. Carrier sizes and types vary by airline as well, so you should verify your carrier's requirements.


  • If you're flying your pet to your new destination, line the travel carrier with a pee pad to absorb any urine. If your pet has to travel with air cargo, a shirt with your scent will offer comfort and a dish of frozen water, firmly attached to the interior of the crate, will slowly melt to provide your pet drinking water for the trip.

Good communication with the airline is key if your pet has to fly with the cargo. Your pet's kennel should be clearly marked with "Live Animals" on its exterior. Your name, address and phone number should be clearly written on it and your pet should wear a tag with the same information. Carry a picture of your pet in case he becomes lost during the move. A nonstop flight is best. Try to avoid heavy weekend or holiday travel times. Air travel is best done in moderate weather to avoid extreme temperature highs and lows.

Airlines usually require a health certificate for all animal freight and typically, small and exotic pets, such as hamsters, birds and tropical fish, should be sent air express. Tropical fish require special handling. Check with a company that specialize in preparing them for shipping.