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Don’t leave home without your family pet

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Planning an international move is a significant undertaking. It ranks very high on the list of life-altering events, right up there with marriage, having a baby, changing jobs, and losing a loved one.

Relocating on your own is one thing. Uprooting an entire family brings it to a completely new level, and the bigger the family the more complex it becomes.

And then there’s the family pet

Not only is an international move an administrative and logistical ordeal, many pet owners feel that it can risk emotional trauma and real physical impact. Although it may be painful for you to leave your pet, you could actually be doing them a favour if you can find a good home within the culture, weather and food supply chain with which they are familiar.

While some may feel that a pet is better off left home in the loving care of a new owner, others could not imagine leaving home without their furry friend. If you are part of the latter group – if whether your destination will even accept your pet is a dealbreaker – then you’d better make sure you factor this into your planning early on. You need to do everything possible to ensure a safe, humane and healthy move for your pet, both mentally and physically.

Do your Research Upfront

Different countries have different guidelines regarding importing animals. In this article, the focus is on Canada as the destination country and primarily on dogs and cats, the most common domestic pets. 

Even within a specific country, there can be multiple levels of bureaucracy. Like in Canada: something that applies to all parts of Canada is considered federal. The country has 10 provinces and 3 territories, so provincial or territorial refers to that level. Finally, municipal regulations exist within each individual city.

At all levels, there are regulatory bodies interested in the type of animal you want to import, the breed, the number, their size and weight, and of course their good health. It is up to the importer to be aware of all guidelines and licensing rules and to make sure that all requirements are met before embarking on your trip.

Even among dogs, there are certain breeds with special designations. If you own a Pit Bull, American Pit Bull, Staffordshire Bull, or American Staffordshire, for example, you may have already encountered restrictions. Did you know that these breeds are not allowed at all in certain provinces, like Ontario, and in certain cities like Montreal and Winnipeg? They are not even allowed to leave the airport during a stopover in those places for a connecting flight!

And with increasing global concern about the spread of disease, every country now carries a designation of whether or not they are rabies-free. Recent legislation in Canada – and in the US – bans the import of commercial dogs from non-rabies-free countries. Who knows: it may be just a matter of time before this restriction could be applied to domestic, personal pets. It will be important for you to know if your country of origin is deemed rabies-free. You can find out here.

The specific interests of the regulatory bodies are:

Dog breeds Brussels Griffon on a cardboard box. (Photo: Okssi68,

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)

The CFIA is responsible for regulating the importation of animals, including dogs, in order to prevent the introduction and spread of diseases that could negatively impact the health of people, plants and animals. CFIA veterinarians administer and enforce the humane transport and import requirements at the border. They provide inspection services when requested by the Canadian Border Services Agency. Be prepared to book an appointment if an inspection is required and to pay the nominal feel at the time of inspection.

A comprehensive list of the CFIA’s official import requirements is available in the Automated Import Reference Systems (AIRS)

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA)

The CBSA is responsible for inspecting certain commodities at the border on behalf of the CFIA. If an animal is found to be non-compliant with the CFIA’s humane transport and/or import requirements, CBSA may refuse the animal entry or refer it to the CFIA for further inspection.

Provinces and territories

Provinces and territories are responsible for the protection and humane treatment of animals once imported, including the regulation of animal welfare.

Cities and municipalities

Cities and municipalities are responsible for business licensing and by-laws related to animals, including sales of animals. Their regulations may limit the type, size and number of animals you may keep as domestic pets in a private home. If your plans include renting a house or apartment, be aware that individual landlords, buildings and condominium corporations are free to impose further rules, including banning pets entirely from a building. 

You can find an excellent interactive checklist at determine the rules applicable to your pet to gain entry to Canada.

When you travel with a pet or import an animal to Canada, you will need the right paperwork at the border to meet Canada’s import requirements. If you don’t, or if anything is amiss, you risk experiencing delays at the border and your animal may not be allowed into the country.

How to Prepare the right paperwork

If after all this research, your buddy is still coming with you, you need to plan the timing of a visit to the veterinarian. A clean bill of health may not be officially required at your checkpoints, but it is a good idea to have one. And, of course, a vaccination certificate is a must for any dog or cat 3 months or older at the time of entry into Canada.

The rabies vaccination certificate must be legible in English or French and:

  • clearly show the name and signature of the licensed veterinarian who issued it
  • identify the animal (age, breed, sex, colour/markings, weight, and microchip/tattoo number if applicable)
  • state the date that the animal was vaccinated against rabies 
  • indicate the trade name and the serial number of the licensed vaccine and the duration of immunity (otherwise, it will be considered valid for 1 year)

It is recommended that you travel with original documents to present to officials and that you also bring copies in case you are asked.

And then there’s the Airline

Cat getting out of a travel bag (Photo: Jaroslav Filsh,

While most pet-friendly airlines follow similar protocols, you may encounter specific regulations at each. An international flight requires consideration of the laws of your origin country along with those in effect in layover and destination countries.

So, the first thing you need to do is find an airline in your country that accepts pets.

By calling the carrier’s Passenger Services, you will learn:

  • Whether pets are permitted in the cabin (if at all, usually only small dogs and cats)
  • What regulations apply to animals transported as special baggage in a heated and ventilated hold. Most animals actually travel better this way because it is a quieter and darkened environment
  • Whether there are climate restrictions – some breeds do not fare well in extreme heat
  • What documentation they require, like vet reports or vaccination certificates
  • Travel crate or pet carrier requirements
  • What you can bring in terms of pet food and supplies
  • The process for delivering and retrieving your furry friend
  • How to book and pay for the service

For full details regarding the Live Animal Regulations issued by the International Air Transport Association, visit IATA – Traveler’s Pet Corner.

Upon Arrival

Once you arrive in Canada, you will be met by Border Services and asked to attest that:

  • You are the owner of the animal
  • The animal is a personal pet or companion/service animal who will reside with you, not to be transferred or sold to another person or to be used for any commercial purposes like breeding or showing
  • You possess and can produce a valid rabies vaccination certificate as described above
  • The dog is (and appears) healthy and meets humane transportation requirements

It is your responsibility to check whether inspection of the animal is going to be required and, if so, to contact the CFIA in advance of travel to ensure that the inspection can be carried out without delays. An inspection fee of under $50 will be payable at the airport.

Paws to Reflect on What is Best for Your Pet

If you are thinking that the cost and red tape of bringing your pet with you on such a significant trip are simply not practical, you would not be alone. There are many reasons to carefully consider the pros and cons before subjecting your pet to the potential physical and emotional trauma of an international move.

However, sometimes the short-term pain for you, your family and your pet is worth the long-term joy that comes with pet ownership. With research, planning, patience, and fortitude,the move can be smooth and the trauma alleviated. Your vet should be able to shed some light on the situation and offer advice based on your family, your pet’s breed and temperament. 

Bone voyage!

Sources: Facts and statistics cited in this article were sourced from Canadian regulatory websites, in addition to:


Pets contribute a lot to people’s lives, so they should receive the love, care, and attention they deserve.

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