What to Know When Traveling Across the US/Canada Border with Your Pet

by Britt
Photo credit: Bachkova Natalia / Shutterstock.com

International travel with your best friend by your side can be an exciting adventure, but navigating the rules and regulations for crossing the border can feel daunting.

Whether you’re heading to Canada for a pet-friendly weekend getaway or attending a Canadian pet show or expo, ensuring that you meet all the needs for crossing the border with your furry friend will set you up for a smooth journey.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about traveling with your pet across the US/Canada border.

In this guide, we’ll cover essential documentation, tips to set yourself up for a stress-free crossing and answer some of the most common questions about pet-friendly international travel.

Can You Drive Across the Canadian Border with a Dog (or Cat)?

If your next pet-friendly road trip will take you across the border into Canada, you’re in luck. Pet parents can drive from the United States to Canada with the whole family, including their furry family members, if they have the necessary paperwork.

Entering Canada may be more complicated if your dog is coming from any country other than the United States. This is due to the concern of rabies, which causes some countries to face restrictions. If your dog has recently been to another country, it is recommended that you look further into the requirements for traveling from that area or ask your veterinarian.

What Do I Need to Cross the US Border into Canada with My Dog?

When traveling to Canada with your dog, the documentation required will depend on their age.

If your dog is 3 months old or older, you must provide a rabies vaccination certificate to cross the border. This document must be issued by a licensed veterinarian and show that your dog received a rabies vaccine within 3 years of the date you are crossing.

The rabies vaccination certificate must include the following:

  • Your name and address
  • A description of your dog (breed, sex, age, color, markings, etc.)
  • Date of rabies vaccination
  • Vaccine product information
  • Vaccination expiry date
  • Name, address, license number, and signature of the veterinarian who administered the vaccine

Puppies under 3 months of age are not required to provide proof of a rabies vaccine. However, border security may ask for proof of your dog’s age.

Are the Rules Different for Cats or Other Pets?

All cats over the age of 3 months must be accompanied by a rabies vaccination certificate showing that the vaccine was administered within 3 years of the date of travel. Kittens under 3 months old are exempt from this requirement.

The requirements for ferrets to cross the border are similar. However, the rabies vaccination certificate must show that the vaccine was administered within 12 months of the travel date.

Any pet parents traveling with a bird must complete a “ Veterinary Health Certificate for Export of Pet Birds from the United States of America to Canada.” This form details important information for your upcoming travel, including the number of birds you can travel with, depending on their species.

Do you have a pet that we haven’t addressed? More information can be found on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website.

Can You Bring Pet Food from US to Canada?

Of course, bringing your pet over the border is only one part of the bigger picture. In addition to your pet, you must ensure you have everything they need, including their food. This leads to the question: “Can you bring pet food across the border?”

The short answer is yes, but only if you adhere to a few rules:

  • Maximum limit of 20 kg (approximately 44 lbs)
  • Must be of United States origin and commercially packaged
  • The pet that will eat the food must be with you at the time of crossing

If you feed your dog a brand readily available in Canadian pet stores, it may be easier to purchase it when you arrive. This way, you won’t have to worry about weight limitations, especially if you are traveling with an extra-large dog.

Are The Rules the Same Returning to the US?

U.S. Customs requires that all travelers bringing a dog or cat into the country from Canada provide proof of rabies vaccination that is no less than 30 days before arrival. This ensures that the vaccine has had time to be effective.

However, the animal health requirements may vary from state to state, with some requiring additional documentation like a health certificate. If you aren’t familiar with the criteria set in your destination state, you can find clarification on the State Animal Health Officials website.

Photo credit: Christine Bird / Shutterstock.com

8 Tips for Safe Travel to Canada with Your Dog or Cat

Now that we have clarified the legal requirements for being allowed to cross the border, let’s talk about the trip itself. Here are a few key considerations to help you plan a safe and enjoyable trip for everyone involved, including you AND your pet!

Ensure They Are Comfortable in the Car

Is this your first big road trip with your pet? Before heading out on the open road, consider taking some time to introduce them to riding in the vehicle. It may sound foolish. After all, they don’t have to do anything but relax and enjoy the ride. However, the vehicle itself can be a scary experience for some pets due to the new sounds and sensations.

The best way to approach this is through a step-by-step process, slowly building on your pet’s experience. Start by sitting in the car with the engine off. When your pet is comfortable with the space, turn on the engine to introduce the sound. Eventually, you can introduce movement with a quick trip around the block and then a short trip to a local pet store or park.

By working up to a longer trip, you are setting your pet up for many successful road trips to come.

Use a Seatbelt or Carrier

While it may be tempting to let your pet move around the vehicle freely, this could create a severe safety concern. Always secure your pet when the vehicle is in motion. This will protect your pet in the event of an accident and prevent them from becoming a distraction while you are driving.

Place cats or smaller dogs in a carrier and secure the carrier using the car seatbelt. You may not have the space necessary for a suitable carrier for larger dogs. Instead, you can use a crash-tested dog harness and a seatbelt to keep everyone safe.

Bring a Favorite Toy or Blanket

Bring a favorite toy or blanket to help your pet relax and settle in during your car ride and at your final stop. These items have a familiar scent, which is comforting. While this is often recommended for pets who are nervous or anxious in the vehicle, it’s an excellent way to help any pet feel at home while on the road.

Consider Calming Products

If you have an incredibly anxious pet, consider trying calming products to help them relax. Calming chews, sprays, and collars are designed to help your pet relax, making a potentially stressful situation easier to manage.

This is helpful not only if you are trying to manage your pet's car anxiety but also because it can make crossing itself easier. A stressed or irritable pet will often act out. For example, a dog may become incredibly vocal, barking, and growling at anything and everything. This can make navigating your conversation with a border agent difficult. Keeping your pet calm will allow you to focus on getting both of you to your destination safely and without incident.

Check Your Pet’s ID

Before leaving your house, take a moment to check any identification and ensure it is current. If your pet wears a physical ID tag, check that the information is accurate. It’s easy to forget about updating your pet’s tag if you recently changed phone numbers. You must also check for extreme wear and tear, as this can make the tag illegible.

Is your pet microchipped? One common mistake pet parents make is forgetting to update the database when your contact information changes. If you haven’t verified your information recently, now is the perfect time!

Stop Before Crossing the Border

This is an easy step that is often overlooked. If you have crossed the US/Canada border at any point, you know that it can quickly get backed up. When this happens, your pet needs to stay in the vehicle without becoming anxious or agitated, which will be difficult if they are trying to communicate that they need to go to the bathroom.

Avoiding this problem is easy – take a planned pit stop just before crossing the border.

Keep Documentation Within Reach

Just as your passport is within reach and ready to go upon reaching the border, your pet’s documentation must be readily accessible. When we go over the border with our pets, I keep their rabies vaccination certificates in the same spot as my passport, ensuring I can quickly grab everything when speaking with the border agent.

If you’re fumbling and failing to find the documentation necessary, you are far more likely to be pulled in for a secondary check. Some agents are stricter than others. This can make the situation even more stressful for a pet who is already unsure of what is happening.

Be Prepared with High-Value Treats

A bag of your dog's favorite treats is another fantastic item to have close at hand. Even the best-behaved and trained dog may have an “off” day. Picture yourself trying to answer the border control agent's questions while your dog barks or misbehaves behind you.

Having a bag of treats available will allow you to distract your dog by giving them obedience commands and offering a reward to keep their attention. This can make managing an otherwise stressful and challenging border crossing far easier.

Final Thoughts: Cross-Border Travel with Your Pet

If you are planning a cross-border road trip with your pet, take the time to research and plan to avoid any problems. This starts with ensuring you have the necessary documentation, like a rabies vaccination certificate, if you are traveling with a cat or dog.

Pay careful attention to the restrictions relating to transporting food, treats, or chews. Alternatively, plan to purchase the supplies you need after crossing the border if they are readily available in Canadian pet stores.

Our furry friends make the best travel companions. Get out there and make memories with your best friend by your side!

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Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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