The rules for bringing pet dogs, cats, and birds across the U.S. / Canadian border are pretty straightforward, but there are differences between the two countries – and even different U.S. States. In theory, you should contact the state veterinarian of each state you are intending to visit. You may also need to contact the specific port you are going to travel through, and we have a separate web page for every border crossing between the two countries which has contact information for every station.
A border official’s primary focus is on the health of the animal. If the animal looks sick, dangerous, or of an illegal breed, officials can refuse entry or have you pay for a veterinarian inspection. In extreme cases, they can have your animal put down. Make sure that your pet always looks clean and healthy. It is recommended you bring a health certificate from your veterinarian detailing all the shots the animal has had.
While U.S. and Canadian regulations are similar, just because your pet was allowed across the border in one direction does not mean you are guaranteed to get it back through with similar ease. Your pet must always appear healthy and satisfy regulations of both countries. You can in fact be blocked from bringing your pet back home.
Bringing Your Pet Food Across the Border
It can be tricky to get pet food across the border, especially those that say they contain “by-products.” See our page on “Prohibited Items,” and you will note that pet food frequently contains some of these prohibited products.
To be brought across the border, food must always be in its original packages – do not carry it in plastic containers. Any pet food in non-labeled packages may be confiscated. The regulations for the U.S. and Canada are different and change very frequently, so you may need to call the information lines for each country to be sure what the current rules are.
- The label should show where it was produced.
- The ingredient list should be clearly displayed.
- You cannot bring raw pet food into the U.S. without an import permit. Your pet food must be “shelf-stable” which means it does not require refrigeration in order to be safely stored.
- Products containing sheep, lamb, or goat will not be allowed into the U.S.
- Your best bet for getting food into the U.S. is to have unopened bags that state the food was made in the U.S.
- When entering Canada, you may bring up to 20 kg of pet food if it was manufactured in the U.S. or Canada. The pet that will eat the imported product must be with you.
Dogs and Cats
For a dog or cat 12 weeks or older, you must have a signed health certificate from a licensed veterinarian clearly describing the animal and declaring that it is healthy and currently vaccinated against rabies. The animal description should contain a clear, detailed description of the pet including their color, breed, gender, age and specific markings.
To enter the U.S., the pet must have received the shot at least a full month before your trip, and the certificate should include the expiration date of the shot. If the date is not included, the shot must be refreshed every year for the United States, and every 36 months for Canada. Canada does not require the 30 day lead time – the shot qualifies from the moment it is given.
- Collar tags are not sufficient proof of immunization.
- The certificate should list the brand of rabies vaccine, the vaccine lot number, and the expiration date of the vaccine.
- Be sure the vaccination does not expire while traveling in either country.
- The certificate must list you as the owner of the pet. You should call the border agencies for more information if your pet is being transported by someone else.
- Animals younger than three months are not required to have been vaccinated, although it is possible an agent could require the animal be quarantined until it is able to get its vaccination.
- You are not permitted to cross the border with more than two animals too young for their rabies shots. This is considered commercial transportation, which is governed by a different set of laws.
Make sure you confirm you have the proper documentation early enough to get another copy if you cannot find your vaccine certificate. You may need to call the clinic that did the vaccination and request a new copy. Certificates with rabies vaccine documentation must be signed by the doctor that provided the vaccine, so it can easily take more than 48 hours to get a replacement copy.
Service dogs are allowed into Canada without rabies shots so long as you are the person assigned to the dog. However, service dogs brought into the U.S. must meet the same requirements as any other pet dog.
If you lose your pet while traveling, you could have difficulty trying to claim it without permanent identification. At the bare minimum, the animal should have collar tags with the pet’s name, your name, and your phone number. The safest approach is to pair an external tag with a permanent microchip ID. The microchip number should be included on the collar tag. When you do this, your pet will have two solid layers of protection to get them home.
Bringing Birds Across the Border
Pet birds must be a species that lives in a cage and may not include pigeons, game birds, doves, or fowl. You will be required to confirm the birds have been with you for at least the previous 90 days and haven’t been with non-household birds in that time. You will also be required to declare the birds are pets and not for sale. Your bird will be subject to a veterinary inspection. If you are entering the U.S., you must make arrangements for a veterinary inspection at least 3 working days prior to arrival. You should also be aware that there are sometimes charges to transport your own pet across the border, so be sure to do your research before heading out on your trip.
Many other common pets, such as rabbits, ferrets, hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs may be imported if they are in good health. It’s a little trickier to transport reptiles and invertebrates across the border, so you should call both border services for advice. Civets, African rodents, nonhuman primates, and most snails are prohibited by both countries.
US and Canadian Government Contacts for Pets
As you can see, regulations for bringing pets across the U.S. and Canadian border can be complex. In addition, they change, so you should review the current official government websites to make sure you comply with all of their regulations. See the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Pet Information page and the Canadian Border Services Agency Pet Information page.