Health Certificates and When Your Pet Needs One

Pets travel on a regular basis. Whether it is a flight to an international country or a drive across state lines, pets cross borders for a variety of reasons. These reasons can include vacations with their human families, shows, trials, hunting, or even finding new homes. Regardless of the reason for travel, it is important to know the rules and regulations that pertain to each trip.

In my experience, most pet owners are aware that international travel and anything involving planes will require forms, vaccinations, and most likely a trip to the veterinarian’s office prior to departure. However, many owners are unaware that similar (although less enforced and less stringent) requirements are in place for even just crossing state lines with a furry friend in tow. In fact, 42 of the 50 states require a health certificate for dogs traveling into the state. Interestingly, only 39 states require a health certificate for cats.

So what is a health certificate and how do you find out if you need one?

A health certificate is a form completed by a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) accredited veterinarian certifying the general good health of an animal. Terminology for a health certificate includes certificate of veterinary inspection (CVI), certificate of health, and official health certificate (OHC). Health certificates are mostly filled out by the veterinarian who issues the certificate. It will include identifying information about the animal traveling, along with information on his/her vaccination status. Note that most pets are required to have a rabies vaccination for travel. Also important is the address of origin and the destination address that the pet is traveling to. Following an exam and completion of the form, the veterinarian will sign the form stating that the animal has been deemed free of infectious disease and that the animal is overall in good health. Most health certificates are valid for 30 days after they are issued.

Traveling kittens might need a health certificate
Kittens safely contained in a carrier during car travel.

As mentioned earlier, almost all international travel and most interstate travel require some type of health certificate. However, each country and state has its own specific requirements and exemptions. For example, some states that require a CVI for cats and dogs entering the state (like both Minnesota and Wisconsin), will exempt those same cats and dogs if they are being moved across state lines for treatment at a veterinary hospital. Minnesota also exempts pets traveling with owners (no change of ownership) as long as they are not staying in the state for longer than 30 days. With all these variations between states, I find that the best tool for figuring out if your pet will need a CVI during his or her trip is heading straight to each state’s individual requirements. My favorite official website to look up requirements is the USDA site.

If you are traveling to multiple states in one trip, looking up each individual state’s requirements can become tedious. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) used to have a handy spreadsheet that outlined which states require a CVI and even listed the common exceptions for each state. That spreadsheet isn’t easily searchable anymore, but below is a quick list summary I made from that spreadsheet of which states require CVIs for cats and dogs.

  1. Alabama
  2. Alaska
  3. Arkansas
  4. Colorado
  5. Connecticut
  6. Delaware
  7. Florida
  8. Hawaii
  9. Idaho
  10. Illinois (Cats do not need a health certificate to enter Illinois)
  11. Indiana
  12. Iowa
  13. Kansas
  14. Kentucky
  15. Louisiana
  16. Maryland
  17. Massachusetts
  18. Michigan (Cats do not need a health certificate here)
  19. Minnesota
  20. Mississippi
  21. Montana
  22. Nebraska
  23. Nevada
  24. New Hampshire
  25. New Mexico
  26. New York
  27. North Carolina
  28. North Dakota
  29. Ohio
  30. Oklahoma
  31. Oregon
  32. Pennsylvania (Cats are off the hook in Pennsylvania also)
  33. Rhode Island
  34. South Carolina
  35. South Dakota
  36. Tennessee
  37. Utah
  38. Vermont
  39. Virginia
  40. Washington
  41. Wisconsin
  42. Wyoming

Please be aware that some states that do not require health certificates for general travel, will require them if the pet is being exhibited or sold/adopted. Additionally, even if a health certificate is not required, some states still require proof of rabies vaccination. It is always a good idea to travel with a record of your pet’s vaccination status.

As an additional note, I honestly have no idea how well these laws are enforced. I have never been asked for a health certificate when traveling with my dog out-of-state by car (again, airlines always check). Despite the apparent lack of enforcement, I recommend checking out the requirements of each state you plan on traveling to with your pet and having the appropriate forms easily accessible during your trip. Better to be over-prepared than end up facing the repercussions because you did not bring along proper documentation.

That being said, have any of my readers ever been asked about a health certificate when traveling by car with pets between states? If so, in what states and what situations?

And for more information about traveling with pets, check out this site from the AVMA.

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Kate is the writer of Pawsitively Intrepid. She has spent the last 9 years working full-time as a veterinarian, treating dogs and cats. But as of June 2023, she is taking a year to travel with her dog, volunteer, and work on some passion projects.

20 thoughts on “Health Certificates and When Your Pet Needs One

  1. I have always wondered about what I would need if I traveled across the boarder with my dog. I know here (Canada) we are told that our pets need proof of Rabies to cross over at the boarder. Always best to be ready for any circumstances than to get there and not be prepared.

  2. Very interesting! I didn’t realize that there was an official form. I just thought you could carry your pet’s vet records with you when traveling. Good to know! I find it interesting too that my state, Georgia, does not require the form! Thanks for this very informative post. Sharing!

  3. Great post, and I recently was looking into this as I am thinking of going to visit my Mom in South Africa and my vet told me that they could do the health certificate for her for the international travel and on the South Africa side all I would have to pay for is an import license – phew no quarantine

    1. It is always a relief to find that no quarantine is needed when checking international regulations. Did you end up deciding to make the trip?

  4. This is a good post with lots of great information! I deal with international health certificates for working dogs at work and honestly they are such a pain. There’s so many different rules and regulations for every country. It’s very tedious. On the other hand, I live in VA and travel frequently with my dogs crossing state lines (WV, MD, and sometimes PA) and have never gotten a health cert to do so, nor have I ever heard of it being enforced.

    1. I agree, health certificates can be a pain. And it is always a little nerve racking making sure that every requirement has been double checked and fulfilled. Thanks for your input on crossing state lines. I live on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border and have never had anyone check for a health certificate when traveling by car either.

  5. Great job on sharing this information. I think one should have some of these things at all times, even when travelling within the same state. One never knows what might happen.

    Jasmine vet has an awesome system with web-based medical records. You don’t have to have any copies of things; just access the information you need over the internet.

    Too bad our new local vet here doesn’t have that. Even though many have some sort of a web portal thing, there is generally nothing on there.

    1. Web-based medical records sound like a very convenient thing. Even when you just need copies of vaccination status for boarding or grooming, it would be nice to have an electronic copy.

  6. I do believe that this post is one of the most helpful pieces of info I’ve come across in a while – mostly because I’ve always wondered about travel requirements! One question I have is titer testing and reciprocity, if any, from state to state, or country to country. We’re not big on vaccinations for a number of reasons and rely on titers where possible. I’ll continue to revisit the resource document you identified as we plan our 2018 vacations!

    1. Checking titer levels in lieu of vaccination does seem to be becoming more popular. I have a few clients who check distemper titers yearly rather than re-vaccinating. However, for rabies, the legal requirements typically do not allow for titer levels to fulfill the re-vaccination requirement. This is an interesting article I found while I was verifying the above information:

  7. I remember when I moved from California to New York I called the airline and asked if there were any requirements for taking my cats on board and I had to get a health certificate. Ironically when I got to the airport I don’t think the agent even checked for the documents but I had them. My babies flew on board in coach with us 3000 miles and made it to NYC. Crazy to think about that now. They did good on the flight. Been over 10 years ago.

  8. I never thought about needing a health certificate when traveling to other states through cars. I know SC requires a Rabies vaccination, but like you, I’m not sure how anyone monitors all the pets traveling through or visiting the state.

  9. I love learning new things every day. I didn’t know that pets needed certificates for interstate travel. Back in 1997, I moved from Tennessee to Arizona with both my cats. I went through two different Border Patrol check points in Texas and New Mexico. No questions about my cats who were clearly visible in crates in the back seat of my car. I also moved from Arizona to Nevada. No check. Moved from Nevada to Texas. No check. And then finally from Texas back to Arizona. One or two Border Patrol check points, but no questions about my one cat. (Mr. Irish had died.) I was only in Texas for two months, so I never saw a vet there. However, in all of my other moves, I took Mr. Irish and Miss Bianca to the vet. My vets knew when I was moving and never said a word about health certificates. I’m glad I know now. Although I actually have no plans to move again. 🙂

    1. I just went to try and update and can’t find the spreadsheet anymore, unfortunately. So I have adjusted the post. Thank you for your comment.

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