FAQ: Travelling with Pets

This is a collection of frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding travelling with pets. As this site is about living with pets in Japan, the questions mainly have to do with international flights and regulations related to bringing pets into Japan and other countries. The answers come from the Angels with Fur mailing list, so they should be considered as advice and not “official answers”. Please consider this information as a guideline and always double check the information before acting on it.


Pre-Flight Preparations

How far in advance did you have to start and finalize cat preparation procedures? (vet, airlines, carrier, etc.)

(This answer is from a person who travelled from Japan to the US.) Exactly one week (7 days) before I left, I took my two cats to my regular vet and got all their shots updated. You need to GET a copy of the form with the shots on them. You need to IMMEDIATELY call which airline you want to use and tell them you are flying with an animal. If your cat is going in the cabin with you, you need to get started on it now as they have limitations on how many animals can be on any one flight. If your cat is flying as accompanied baggage, you’ll have more leeway but it is still urgent that you contact the airline as soon as possible. Each airline’s website also has info on carrier size restrictions for in-cabin use so you’ll need to get online and get that set up as soon as possible too if your cat is going to fly in the cabin with you. I did all the flight arrangements at least one month in advance.

You said you did all the flight arrangements at least one month in advance. Do you mean that the process actually takes that long? Does one actually have to secure and finalize the flight arrangements with the airline one month before flying?

We left on October 1st. I made the airline reservation on or about September 1st. The process didn’t take long. It was a simple matter of the airline rep checking for seat availability over the phone for all concerned (2 people, 2 cats in cabin). I gave a few dates with first preference, 2nd preference, etc., then they checked and said which days were available and I made the reservation. The phone conversation and reservation process took 15 minutes at most. I don’t know about animals flying as accompanied baggage, but you can call and make a reservations for you and your cat anytime although the sooner the better because of the limit on animals allowed in-cabin. By the way, on the day we flew the limit of 3 animals in-cabin per flight had been reached – my two cats and a small dog were on that flight! Does this answer your question? Of course, you might get a cheaper airfare too if you make your reservations far enough in advance. Also, be prepared to pay a fee to the airline (payable ONLY at check in counter on United) for Momo to fly in-cabin with you. UA’s fee was 19,800 yen/cat. Prices may vary.


Is it necessary to have my pet microchipped before flying?

The answer depends on your destination. I believe the EU requires all incoming pets to be microchipped, but the US (excluding Hawaii) does not.

Pet Carriers

Do they rent out appropriately-sized carriers to take cats on the planes, or do I need to purchase one? Where would I buy one?

Answer 1: You have to go to each airline’s website to find out if they rent carriers. When I did this search last summer, I remember that Continental had rental carriers available but you definitely need to double-check. Which carrier you purchase depends on how you are taking your pet – in cabin or as accompanied baggage. If in-cabin, the Sherpa brand of soft carrier will probably work as long as it is not the large size of any of them. One note: some airlines (and their check-in reps) seem to be stricter than others about size dimensions of carry-on carriers. You can’t go wrong with the small size Sherpas, though, and – in my case – we got my two cats in with a small one and medium one. I have no first-hand experience flying with kitties as accompanied baggage. The Sherpa brand ONLY WORKS as an IN-CABIN carrier.

Answer 2: I haven’t heard of any rentals, and personally doubt very much that anyone does that. (You might be able to sell off your carrier after you arrive IF it was exactly the right type of carrier for their pet and airline.) People on this list have bought them from pet shops and on-line, both the soft type (“Sherpa” brand is one, for _inside the airplane cabin_) and the hard type (for travel _in the cargo space_).

It’s vitally important to note that airlines have very strict rules about the carriers (dimensions, etc.) and everything else relating to pet travel, but these rules also vary from carrier to carrier. If, when you arrive at the airport, your carrier isn’t proper for that airline, they may refuse your pet, and there will be nowhere nearby that you can quickly get another carrier. You’d be in a dilemma of deciding either to stay behind with your pet or leave without him/her.


What shots specifically are necessary?

I used the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) Animal Quarantine Service website to take care of info on vaccination requirements. If you are bringing a cat into the USA (with the exception of Hawaii), a rabies vaccine is not necessary. You do need to go to the quarantine office at the airport prior to check-in and submit documentation of the composite shot (“wakushin,” in Japanese I think) and fill out some paperwork. That can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how busy they are. If you speak decent Japanese, there is a number on the MAFF site to call.

I am planning on taking my cat to the US, and when I checked the official website of (I think) agriculture last week, and they said that a rabies vaccine was not necessary for a cat to be boarded on a flight. That sounds odd. I thought that they needed to be vaccinated a month in advance. (Unlike travelling from America to Japan, which requires them six months in advance.)

Answer 1: If you mean the Dept of Agriculture in the USA, you have to contact the state’s dept of agriculture where you are moving for info on bringing an animal in (to that state.) My friend called the California state department. of agriculture for me and they said that cats and dogs can come into the continental U.S. without any documentation. In fact, the customs officials at Los Angeles Airport grilled us with several questions and overlooked the cats entirely.

Answer 2: As far as I know, it’s not the airline that requires shots. And it’s not that the U.S. Quarantine is zeroing in on rabies. It’s more like that there is a certain bundle of, I think, four shots — including rabies — that vets recommend pets get every year. And the U.S. requires that a pet’s shots be up to date, and that it has received them a month or more before the flight.

(The month interval is apparently to see whether the pet actually “catches” the disease that the vaccine is designed to build immunity against. If that happened, the receiving country would not want to
accept the animal, or would quarantine it for a period until it was healthy again. If the pet has had its shots and is healthy on arrival, apparently the pet can leave the airport at the same time that you and your luggage do.)


Should I sedate my pet for the flight?

Answer 1: Most veterinarians will advise you NOT to sedate your pet especially if it will be travelling in the cargo section. The main reasons for this are: (1) you cannot monitor the pet’s reaction to the sedative; (2) your pet needs to be able to respond normally to stimuli during the flight; and (3) the sedative may wear off during the flight, leaving the pet dazed and confused in the cargo hold of a plane. However, exceptions may be made for especially nervous pets, or pets who are going to be travelling with you in the cabin. Please consult your veterinarian on this point. If you do decide to sedate your pet, be sure to test both the brand and the dosage of the sedative on your pet before the flight.

Answer 2: If you are looking for a homeopathic solution to sedation, you might want to look into Rescue Remedy, which is a herbal sedative that can be taken by both pets and people. (Consult your veterinarian before administering it to your pet and heed the vet’s advice about whether or not to sedate your pet for the flight, regardless of whether it is through normal or homeopathic sedatives.) It is a combination of 5 flower essences developed by Dr. Edward Bach. He was an English bacteriologist who turned to homeopathy after he saw the power of flower essences. The combination of flowers is said to be an emotional cure all and calms down agitated people. It can be used safely on pets. However, I personally think it is too weak for a long term trip like a flight. The flowers are preserved in alcohol but they say it is OK for pets. Soon a formula designed specifically for pets is going to be released. It uses glycerol (I believe) instead of alcohol as a preservative. I have used the Rescue Remedy on my dogs but I haven’t seen much difference. I have tried the sleep formula for myself and it works quite well! Rescue Remedy can be found in Tokyo at Book Club Kai in Aoyama and Nawa Prassad Bookshop in Nishi-Ogikubo. These are the places I have purchased it but I imagine there are lots of other places that sell the Bach Flowers Essences as well. They are getting pretty popular.

Getting to the Airport

How can I get my pet to the airport?

Answer 1: There may be a “pet taxi” service in your area. If you cannot read Japanese, ask someone to do a search for 「ペットタクシー」 (pet taxi) and the name of your area/prefecture. If you are living around Tokyo or Kyoto/Osaka, there is a good chance that you will be able to hire a pet taxi.

Here are some pet taxi companies in Japan.

Ai Pet no Mori
Mainly operates in Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Hyogo, Wakayama

Angel Buggy
Mainly operates in Yokohama, Kawasaki, Machida, Sagamihara, Tokyo (Nerima)

Pet Coco
Mainly operates around Kansai Airport, Nara, Wakayama, Higashi Osaka, Osaka (泉南・和泉)

Pet Taxi Neo Staff
Mainly operates in the Tokyo, Kanagawa area. Specializes in delivering to Haneda Airport. Can also handle requests from (or to) Saitama, Ibaraki, Chiba, and Narita Airport.

Answer 2: Pets that are under 10 kg and can fit in a case of up to 70 x 90 x 90cm can be taken as “hand luggage” for 270 yen per 100 km on JR trains (including shinkansen). Heavier pets, or pets that cannot fit in the designated case, are not permitted (with the exception of guide dogs and other assisting animals that meet the JR definitions). The rules are generally the same for privately-owned railway companies in the Tokyo area, but there may be some slight differences, so please inquire at the particular railway office. (Source: http://www.pet.co.jp/manner/ryoko3.html)

Answer 3: Pets can be taken as “cargo” on domestic flights. (They cannot travel with you in the cabin.) If there is an airport near you, you could fly the pet to Narita and then use one of the pet taxi services mentioned above.

Answer 4: Maybe not the most economical, but what about a one way car rental to Narita and drive the dog there? If you don’t drive, then ask a friend to drive the rental car and offer to pay their train fare back. If the trip is too long, then leave a day or two early and make some stops on the way.

At the Airport

How far ahead in advance should I arrive at the airport if the plane is leaving at 4pm?

Answer 1: If your flight leaves at 4pm, I would get to the airport by 1pm at the latest; 12-1pm to be on the safe side.

Answer 2: Give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to visit the Quarantine Office at Narita to submit/receive paperwork on your pet. You’ll need to bring the update of shots certificate from the vets and, depending on how many others are there for the same reason, you might have to wait. We got there and were out in 30 minutes (though they had to call our vet and have them fax over the certificates) but then a huge group of people and pets arrived after us. I would not have wanted to be behind them.

Questions Waiting for Answers…

If you know the answers to any of these questions (or if you have any other questions), please contact us or leave a comment below.

  • Does anyone know if airlines restrict the number of pets you travel with to the number of people traveling? For example, if two people travel, can they take two pets? Could two people take three pets?
  • If a cat suddenly caught a cold (runny eyes or nose) is that a problem?

More Information

AMVA: Make Flying Friendly For You and Your Pet http://www.avma.org/careforanimals/animatedjourneys/livingwithpets/airtravel.asp

AMVA: Traveling with your Pet

Best Friends Network: Animal Air Travel

British Airways: Transporting Your Pet

IATA: Traveler’s Pet Corner

Mahalo: How to Fly with Pets

Mahalo: Traveling with Pets

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF, Japan), Animal Quarantine Service

Northwest Airlines: Transporting Pets and Animals http://www.nwa.com/travel/animals/index.html

Pawprints and Purrs: Moving with your Cat

PetFlight: Airline travel information for your pets



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