Joining the pet set just got easier

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 April, 2006, 12:00am

Life's getting easier for the city's jet-set pets. But there are still pitfalls for unwary owners flying their favourite pooch to the Big Apple or bringing them in to Hong Kong.

Britain's Pets Travel Scheme (Pets) and the Hong Kong Pet Travel Scheme have recently done away with archaic quarantine rules, making it simpler to move a cat or a dog by air freight.

Nevertheless, restrictions vary from country to country and often change.

It is possible to do the shipping yourself, and most governments have helpful websites, such as Britain's But much legwork can be saved by using expert local pet shippers such as Export A Pet, Aeropets or Ferndale Kennels and Cattery.

Stacy Tucker, owner of Ferndale Kennels and Cattery, near Sai Kung, ships about 250 cats and dogs a year in and out of Hong Kong. Most important, she stresses, is to plan ahead, since many countries require rabies blood tests to be done six months before travel. All countries insist on a vet's health certificate.

For export to Britain and Ireland, so long as the pet's rabies blood test is correct six months prior to arrival, the pet can enter without quarantine. With no blood test, the old six-month quarantine rules still apply.

For Australia, the rabies blood test must be done five months before travel; the requirements are similar but there is more paperwork for Japan and New Zealand.

Pets from Hong Kong are not required to undergo quarantine upon entering Japan, but they must do 30 days on arrival in Australia and New Zealand.

Most airlines will not transport fighting breeds such as American pit-bull terriers and some won't take snub-nosed breeds such as Pekinese, pugs and Persian cats, which can have breathing problems. They often don't travel well, with a higher mortality rate than other types, explains Ms Tucker. Some airlines allow snub-nosed breeds if the crate is twice the IATA-approved size. Approved plastic flying crates cost from $600 to $3,000, depending on size.

To enter mainland Europe and the US from Hong Kong, pets need only a rabies vaccination at least 30 days before departure and a vet's certificate.

Dogs and cats going to China need rabies vaccination and a health certificate, but this varies from city to city, so be sure to check, advises Ms Tucker. 'If you take your pet to China, remember it has to do four months' quarantine on return here, the same as animals from Thailand, the Philippines and other countries that don't have good rabies control.'

When importing a pet into Hong Kong from countries such as the US, Canada, Japan and Europe the animal must have been resident in the originating country for six months beforehand and be vaccinated against rabies.

'All countries except those officially rabies-free such as Australia, New Zealand and the UK, Ireland, Fiji and Hawaii, need valid rabies vaccinations given more than 30 days before travel,' she adds.

Many owners fear air travel will stress their pet. But a short trip is better than it being left behind or put to sleep, says Ms Tucker, who has not lost an animal in 16 years. The stress can be reduced by letting the pet get used to the crate well before the flight. 'Make it a comfy place and put items inside with the owners' scent on them,' she advises. Natural products such as Rescue Remedy or Pet Calm will sooth highly strung pets.

And avoid upsetting farewells by allowing the shipper to take the pet to the airport. 'When the owner is not there, the crate is a safe haven and the animal doesn't get upset saying goodbye.'

It's vital that dogs and cats have access to water on flights, which cause dehydration, and that the crate has a large, deep water bowl. She advises freezing the water in the bowls so it defrosts slowly.

Air freight charges are often steeper than passenger fares. Cargo fares to the US are very high, with a typical fee for a labrador to New York $13,000, charged by volume. Much cheaper is excess baggage with Cathay Pacific, for example, at $2,200, no matter what size the crate or dog.

Many US airlines have heat restrictions, refusing to fly pets between June and September.

A few airlines fly pets to Britain. They go as cargo, charged by volume, with a labrador costing about $13,000. The pet's release charge is $3,740 on arrival. All airlines charge the same freight rate to Britain.

Most European airlines accept pets to continental Europe, charging roughly the same for both cargo and excess baggage, with a labrador costing about $12,000 to Paris.

For Australia, Qantas and Cathay Pacific both charge $6,000 for a labrador as cargo, plus owners pay about A$700 ($4,200) for one month's quarantine on arrival. New Zealand has similar rates.

Airlines including China Southern and Cathay Pacific fly pets to China as excess baggage.