I recently got a question from another military spouse about how I took my cats to Hawaii, so I thought I’d tell you a little about the process we undertook in order to bring the pets on our PCS. I will try my best to keep my info accurate as of this writing, but always check the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s website for the most up-to-date info!
The first thing you need to know is that Hawaii is a rabies-free (or as close to it as possible) place! This is good news for your furry family member once you’ve arrived, but it means that there will be some legwork on your behalf in the months leading up to your PCS. This can be tricky now as the DoD isn’t officially scheduling moves until 60 days in advance (again, as of this writing), but as long as you have about 5 months’ notice, you’ll be fine. It takes a little money and a little scheduling, but I can tell you that if you put in the work, you can pick your pet up at the airport (or within a few days) and it’s not at all stressful.
The basics of taking pets to Hawaii
Pets must undergo a 120 day quarantine to guarantee them rabies-free, but here’s the key: it can be before you move. Hawaii has a 5 Day or Less program that your pet may qualify for if you can do the legwork beforehand. If coming from somewhere else in the US, you will need to have a blood sample overnighted to one of the two rabies labs in the country and the pet must pass the blood test more than 120 days before arriving in Hawaii. The good news is the test is valid for 36 months, so you can do it at any time before the 120 day window. If you can do that, the rest is relatively easy.
Your pet must also be microchipped and you’ll need the microchip number for all your documentation.
Other things you’ll need:
- The form and import fee required by Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture
- Paperwork from the previous two rabies vaccines, which must be more than 30 days apart
- A health certificate from your vet within 14 days prior to departure declaring your pet healthy enough for travel
- A flea and tick treatment applied by your vet at the time of the health certificate
- An airline-approved crate to ship your pet (more about that further down)
Double check the checklist from the HDOA’s website, of course, to make sure none of the requirements have changed, but I can tell you that we took the kitties to Hawaii in 2009 and eight years later the requirements are the same.
We knew we were going in Hawaii about 7 months in advance of the actual move, so I was able to get the bloodwork sent to Kansas State University’s Rabies Lab more than 120 days in advance. I timed the vet visits and got copies of the cats’ rabies vaccination certificates, then had my vet apply a flea and tick prevention and give us multiple copies of health certificates. The cats qualified for the 5 Day or Less program and were actually released to us in the airport as soon as they’d been processed. We took them straight to the hotel with us the day we arrived.
General Tips for PCSing With Pets
Any time you’re moving to a place where you need to fly your pets, do your research to find out the best airline for them. This changes just about every time we move and the service with the best rating three years ago won’t be the best one this year. There are pet-dedicated services but know that they are charging you a service fee to still book your pet on the same exact airline that you could book yourself, so save yourself the $50-100 (or whatever the markup is) and just call the airlines yourself.
If you are sending your pet cargo (which is totally fine! this is what we do!), be sure to find out if your pet will be climate controlled the entire way. You do not want your pet sitting on a hot or cold tarmac. Climate control and temperature restrictions are the main things I look for when choosing an airline for my pets.
Crates are a good investment, even if you’re only planning to fly your pet the one time. “Airline safe” crates are usually available at the Exchange or online and while you may pay more for them, it’s like investing in a car seat for an infant: you’re keeping them safe by having the right equipment. Ideally your pet should be able to sit up without the tops of their ears brushing the top of the crate. My cats always spend their trips lying down, but at least they have the option if they want. Be sure to check with your chosen airline for the specific requirements. (Note: My cats have flown on different airlines than I have– the military often chooses our flights but I choose for the cats so they are not locked in to whatever deal the military has made.)
Some people may suggest that you give your pet a sedative when flying, but my vets have all recommended against doing that. It’s much more stressful for an animal to “wake up” in the middle of an airplane with no idea where they are or how they got there than it is for them to be aware of the process, so we’ve always opted to simply leave them be.
EDIT: I was reminded that “comfort sprays” are not sedatives and can be very helpful for animals to relieve stress! We use Feliway spray in the crates (even on road trips) and it makes a big difference for our kitties! Just a couple of spritzes in a small space is all it takes.
Other notes about Military Pets
NEVER leave your pet behind if there is any way to avoid it. Military families are infamous in the animal rescue community for adopting and then dumping pets because of the cost/effort involved in moving them every 2-3 years. Because of this there are MANY animal groups that will not allow military families to adopt pets. Understand that if you are in the military you are VERY LIKELY to move sometime in the life of the pet, so take that pet adoption seriously. I won’t go anywhere my cats can’t go and J’s detailers all know that.
If you aren’t sure you want to commit to a pet because you know you’ll be moving in 18 months or three years or at some other random interval, maybe consider fostering a pet. This is a great way to have the experience of having a furry friend without the lifetime commitment, and many rescue groups are in constant need of good fosters.
Have you done a military move with pets? Any other tips I have forgotten? Let me know!