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U.S. Regulations For Pet Travel

Published on: July 6, 2022  |  Author: Starwood Pet Travel

puppy walking toward camera outsideThe first question that enters every pet parent’s mind when they consider traveling with their dog or cat is, “will they be safe?” It’s reassuring to know that commercial pet travel in the United States is regulated. The federal Animal Welfare Act requires those who handle and transport animals – airlines, pet transport companies and others - to treat them humanely.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture – specifically their Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – has the job of enforcing the regulations. As part of that effort, they have established minimum guidelines that airlines must follow for pet travel within this country. Each airline has the option to impose additional rules or limitations, so it is essential to research your particular airline’s requirements.

Travel Kennels

Every animal must be contained in travel kennel that meets USDA and IATA (International Air Transport Association) specifications. These specs are highly detailed, governing everything from materials and construction to ventilation and labeling. Because these kennels are designed to provide maximum safety and security, they are rigid and very sturdy. Soft-sided carriers are allowed only inside the cabin. 

Key kennel requirements:

  • Typically made of hard plastic, solid wood or metal
  • Your pet must be able to stand upright, turn around and lie down comfortably inside the kennel. You’ll need to measure your dog to ensure you choose the proper size kennel.
  • No part of your pet can protrude from the carrier.
  • The floor must be solid and leak-proof, with something absorbent used as a lining, in case of accidents.
  • Ventilation openings have to total at least 14% of the combined area of the sides and roof of the carrier, and at least 1/3 of the ventilation has to be in the top half of the carrier. The kennel also must have rims that ensure air flow even if the kennel is loaded next to other cargo.
  • You must provide two dishes for food and water.

If your kennel doesn’t meet all these specs, your pet will not be allowed to fly. 

Health Certificates

In general, pets must be at least 8 weeks old and weaned in order to fly. However, many airlines and states have their own age requirements so this can change. Airlines can reject any animal that appears to be ill, in physical distress or violent. Except for guide dogs, every pet crossing a state border must have a current rabies vaccination and health certificate signed by a licensed vet. The certificate must be issued within 30 days of travel if your dog or cat is traveling by car or typically within 10 days prior to travel if they are traveling by plane.

Although the USDA doesn’t officially weigh in on the issue of sedation, airlines typically will not accept pets who have been tranquilized, for their own safety. Some may allow your pup or kitty to fly sedated, if you have a signed letter from your vet explaining that it is a medical necessity, but for the vast majority of pets, sedation is a no-no when flying. It reduces their ability to maintain balance and confuses them, and it can cause breathing and heart issues when up in the air at high altitudes.


Hawaii may be part of the U.S., but it is also one of the relatively few places in the world that does not have rabies. That means that traveling with your pooch or kitty to the Islands is more like going to a foreign destination when it comes to flight arrangements and documentation. Rabies-free countries are very strict, because the risks of inadvertently allowing rabies into their eco-systems could be catastrophic.

Among other things, Hawaii requires a quarantine period for all incoming animals. If you follow the specific rules for Direct Airport Release or the 5 Day or Less Program then they can be exempt from a long quarantine period. Details are available on the Hawaii Department of Agriculture website.

Regulations Can Vary

It’s important to understand that every state, country and airline also sets its own requirements regarding pet travel, so if you’re taking your cat or dog beyond American borders, you’ll need to research the regulations for your destination as well as the airline you’ll be flying. Ask about the airline’s pet-friendly procedures, not just the rules you have to follow.

Starwood Animal Transport has rebranded to Starwood Pet Travel. We are still the same great company with the best team, just now with a slightly different name.