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South Africans emigrating with their pets – What you need to know

In South Africa, the love for pets has always been great. You get cat people, dog people and even reptile people; however, the love for our four-legged fur balls has grown tremendously. Pets have become part of our families, they go with us on holiday, picnics, outings and even to some pet-friendly restaurants. Pets are unconditional love waiting for you to come home and emigrating means that your pets are coming with! Home is where my pet is!

How to get started:

There are rules to be followed when you want to emigrate with your pet. These rules are there to ensure that no animal diseases will be entering other countries. Authorities will be very stringent, therefore you need to make sure ALL documentations are correct. Unfortunately, South Africa is a high-risk country for Rabies and you will need to make sure that your pets are up to date with their vaccinations and deworming.

Although the World Health Organisation has specific requirements for pet immigration, each country also has its own protocols by which they regulate pet entry. You can find the exact documents, that are required for each country, by going through a pet travel agency. This is totally optional; however, they do help with the stress load and make sure that everything is correct and keep you informed during your pets’ flights.

The most common documents needed are:

  • Rabies titre test results;
  • Vaccination booklets;
  • Microchip number and certificate;
  • International healthcare certificate issued by an accredited veterinarian, no later than 5 days before departure;
  • State Vet health clearance certificate, no later than 5 days before departure;
  • A Customs clearance form;
  • A Copy of the owner’s travel/immigration/visa documentation; and
  • A Copy of the Airway Bill if travelling as cargo and not hand luggage.

Following the right steps is essential and you do not want to get one document incorrect as this can jeopardise your pet’s travel. The first step, and the most important one, is to go to your vet and make sure that your pets’ vaccinations are up to date. Your vet will also assist you with your pets’ rabies titre test, which can take up to 3 months to get the results. Your pets will not be allowed in ANY country without this certificate. Once you receive the certification, it will last throughout your pets’ lifetime, but you MUST keep your pets’ vaccinations up to date. You cannot miss one day! instead, have your pets’ vaccinations done a few days earlier than recommended, just to be safe.

After receiving your pets’ rabies titre tests, the ball can get rolling. Next, will be to find an agency that you are comfortable with. Don’t just go with the cheapest company, but rather with one that has the most experience and knows your pets’ breed and their requirements. If you have a snub-nosed dog, there are many things to take into consideration. Snub-nosed dogs need to be in an air regulated cargo holding and may not fly in temperatures higher than 27°C. Plan around this, spring or autumn is usually the best time to fly snub-nosed pets.

Crate Training:

Once you have picked an agency, they will assist you with the right size pet crate for your pets. You can buy airline approved pet carriers for a more affordable price online. Make sure that the crate/carrier is airline approved, or your pets will not be allowed onto the aeroplane. When picking a crate, make sure you get a big enough size crate wherein your pet can comfortably sit, stand, lie down and turn around. The sizes are available online, and if you are not sure, feel free to call and ask.

Start crate training immediately! Be patient, this takes time! The most critical part is for your pets to know that the carrier/crate is their safe place. Make it nice and cosy with a soft blanket, a water bowl, a toy and whatever else you think your pets will like, after all, mom/dad knows best.

Encourage your pets with a rewards system. Buy a clicker and every time you see your pets do something good, reward them. First, click and then reward. Once your pets understand that the click means good, then introduce the crate. Open the door, let your pets sniff around and if they go inside, click and reward. If your pet lies down, click and reward. At any sign of comfort, they may show in the crate, click and reward.

When it seems that your pets are comfortable to be in their crate, close the door and leave them inside for five minutes. After five minutes open the crate, click and reward. In time you will have to extend the length of time in the crate. Your aim is to close your pets up for a full evening every night until D-day. Once you reach that goal, your pets are ready to become jet setters.

What your pet needs on the plane:

Time is creeping up on you, and it is time for your fur babies to fly. Make sure you have the following cable-tied to the outside of the crate.

  • Collars and leads: Your pets are NOT allowed to keep the collars on during the flight as it is seen as a hazard. By cable-tying it to the outside of the crate, it makes it easily accessible for handlers to get if needed, and also for you to have it nearby once they arrive safely.
  • Extra water: Tie a small water bottle and a funnel that aims into your pets water bowl on the outside of the crate. If handlers see that your pet’s water is low, they can quickly fill it up without opening the crate.
  • Food: Put a small amount of pet food (one meal’s worth) into a ziplock bag and tie it on the outside of the crate. Handlers usually do not give pets food during flights, as this can lead to messy crates. The food is for delayed flights.
  • Calming medication: Animals are NOT allowed to be given tranquillisers. Animals need to pant to keep their body temperature regular, and if they are tranquillised they will sleep and can suffer from heat exhaustion. Only herbal/natural calming medication is allowed.
  • Buy a travel kit: This helps with items needed to make the trip a little easier. The travel kit includes a shipping ID sticker, double plastic bowl, ID tag, ‘Live Animal’ sticker and a training pad.

Small tips:

  1. Freeze a quarter amount of water in the dog bowl used to fly with. In this way, the water lasts longer, stays colder and does not mess as much. Remember to tie the bowl on the inside of the crate under the funnel.
  2. Try not to close up your pets’ air ventilation with all the items tied to the crate.
  3. Place one of your worn t-shirts inside the crate for your pet/-s to smell and feel safe with.
  4. Buy calming puppy pads to put inside the crate.
  5. Start with herbal/natural calming meds five days before the flight.
  6. If your pets have long hair, consider getting them groomed to assist with the heat.

Once they arrive at their destination:

Most countries do not quarantine (restrict and separate) domestic animals anymore, and you can get your pets immediately. Fantastic news! What you will need to do though, is to go to the airport’s cargo holding area where you will collect your pets. Consider taking a translator with if you are in a non-English speaking country.

Take with:

  • Your pets’ flight number and the airline that they were on.
  • Proof of ownership: (Copies of documents that you used to fly your pets with) The original documents will be travelling with your pets.
  • Waybill number and copy of waybill. Your agency would have emailed you a copy.
  • Proof of the flight that you took, e.g. your tickets. If you had a stopover you will need to show evidence of both tickets.
  • Credit card or money: The amount needed will depend on the country.

The minute you see your four-legged ball of fur and they are so happy to see you, you will know that every cent paid was worth it and that your family is now complete. Home is where your pets are.

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