Best pet shipping companies
Learn how to safely transport your furry, feathery or scaly companion
Working with a company that specializes in pet shipping is a great way to calm your nerves (and your pet’s) when you need to get them from one place to another without you, like during a move. Pet shipping companies have the knowledge and experience necessary to transport pets safely over long distances, taking care of almost all the hassle for you.
Choosing the right pet shipping company from your many options involves more than just finding the lowest price. We researched over a dozen pet transporters and brokers to find our top picks:
Keep reading to learn about our favorite pet shippers and find out how to pick the right one for your needs.
Compare our top 4 pet shipping companies
To find our top picks, we compared consumer reviews, complaints, years of experience and services offered. We then checked news coverage to see what other publications had reported about the companies we were considering.
We also prioritized pet transporters over shipping brokers (services obtained through brokers can be inconsistent) and ensured all of our top picks were members of the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA). Picks are presented in alphabetical order.
Air Animal is a family- and veterinarian-owned pet transportation company that transports dogs, cats, birds, fish, horses and other pets worldwide. Air Animal’s pricing is transparent (you can use its online pricing calculators to get an estimate without providing your contact info), and services are available at different tiers to accommodate different needs and budgets.
The company offers six service levels for domestic pet transport that range from budget-friendly shared van transportation to VIP air travel service that includes door-to-door pickup and delivery. (International transports have similar levels of service available, excluding ground transport.)
Airpets International provides domestic and international pet relocation services beyond getting your pet from point A to point B. These include a pet nanny option (where someone travels in the plane cabin with your pet) and veterinary, boarding and grooming services, which are available upon request.
Airpets International mostly ships household pets, but it has transported zoo and performance animals in the past, too. That means it has experience with dogs, cats, rabbits, skunks, guinea pigs, sugar gliders, lizards, mice, rats, snakes, turtles and frogs.
One of Happy Tails Travel’s standout services is its private ground transportation, which is particularly helpful for giant, short-nosed and “dangerous” dog breeds that often aren’t eligible for air transportation. Also, because the company’s headquarters are in Arizona, it has experience shipping pets during hot weather.
Otherwise, Happy Tails Travel offers most of the standard services you would expect from a pet shipper, such as arranging flights and helping you obtain veterinary documentation. (International pet shipping is temporarily suspended at the time of publication.) Its pricing is transparent, and it has discounted rates for active-duty military members, veterans and their spouses.
It’s worth noting that Happy Tails Travel doesn’t ship pets by air on weekends, but this is because airline cargo facilities have limited weekend hours, which the company claims can affect pet relocation.
Pet Express offers full-service transport for international pet shipments, including trip coordination and execution, pet boarding, kenneling, and veterinary advice and treatments.
That means Pet Express can help arrange travel crating, paperwork, permits, customs clearance, health checks and quarantines (if necessary). These services aren’t necessarily unique (our other top picks offer similar assistance), but Pet Express is still worth checking out as you comparison shop, which we recommend as a way to help ensure you get a good deal.
Pet Express currently does not facilitate domestic pet relocations.
How to pick a pet shipping company
Shipping a pet is often a complicated process that involves an intricate combination of travel arrangements, pickup and drop-off coordination, documentation, and in some cases, quarantines and boarding. So, when you look for pet shipping companies, it’s important to consider how much of this stress they can take off of your hands and how safe they can keep your pet during transit.
“Not all pet shipping companies provide the same thing,” said Jeni Redmond, pet relocation specialist and owner of petsfly.com. “If you’re getting individual quotes, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples to make sure that the quotes you’re getting include the same exact services for the cost.”
If you’re new to pet shipping, here’s a step-by-step guide to how to find the help you need.
- 1. Decide if you’re looking for air or ground transportation
There are two main ways pet shippers get pets where they need to go: air transport and ground transport.
Air transport is probably your only option if your pet’s destination is overseas. However, air transport is less common when relocating a pet within the U.S. Many airlines don’t fly pets domestically unless they are small enough to fly in the cabin with you or they’re military or service animals. Airlines that do carry pets in their cargo holds often have restrictions based on breed, weight and crate size.
As a result, ground transportation (where someone drives your pet to its destination) may be a better option if you’re shipping your pet domestically. Ground transport also tends to be more affordable, and it allows someone to be near your pet at all times.
- 2. Find companies that transport pets like yours
Your next consideration should be making sure any company you’re considering will actually ship your pet. Almost all pet shipping companies transport dogs and cats, but you may want to find a company with experience shipping pets like yours if you have something more exotic.
There are a few common breed restrictions to be aware of, though. These are often imposed by airlines or destinations, but shippers may have their own restrictions you need to be aware of. For example, short-nosed breeds, like pugs and English bulldogs, are often not eligible for airline shipping due to safety concerns. Other breeds with poor reputations, like pit bulls, are also banned by many airlines.
- 3. Look for licenses and certifications
Pet moving companies must have a license with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) if they are transporting regulated animals, like dogs and cats. Companies that only ship unregulated animals, like fish, technically aren’t required to have this license, but we aren’t aware of any pet shippers that work that way.
For added peace of mind, you can also check if a company is a member of the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association. IPATA is an independent, nonprofit trade association dedicated to safe and humane pet transportation.
- 4. Plan for paperwork
Shipping a pet can require a fair amount of documentation. Your pet transporter will likely require some paperwork from you, and your airline and country of destination may require additional documents.
Nearly every shipping company will require proof of up-to-date vaccinations unless your pet is between the ages of 8 and 12 weeks. They may also require a special document (called a certificate of veterinary inspection) that certifies the animal is ready for travel. This certificate usually has to be signed by a licensed veterinarian and provided within 10 days of travel.
Pet shipping companies can usually help you get some of these documents, but it’s worth double-checking that any pet shipper you’re interested in offers these services.
- 5. Consider additional services
While making sure your pet is transported safely is most pet owners’ primary concern, some pet shipping companies offer additional services that you may find helpful, including:
- Grooming services
- Boarding services
- Real-time travel updates
- Door-to-door delivery (rather than airport pickup)
- In-flight pet nanny services for pets that can fly in the plane’s cabin
If any of these are important to you, make sure to find a company that offers them as part of its service packages.
- 6. Read reviews from previous customers
Never choose a pet shipping company without first reading at least a few customer reviews. (And don’t just read the reviews on the company website, as these are often cherry-picked to make the company look better). Try to spot common themes, like good customer service or easy scheduling, and use what you learn from your research to decide whether you’re comfortable trusting that company with your pet.
How much does pet shipping cost?
We contacted multiple pet shipping companies to get real-world quotes for different pet transports and averaged the results below.
|Pet type||Average in-state transport cost||Average cross-country transport cost||Average international transport cost|
We used the same details to gather all these estimates, only changing pickup and delivery locations as necessary. Our shipping locations included residences in New York, Los Angeles and London, and we gave about two weeks between pickup and delivery when necessary (with a lead time of four months). Our sample dog was a 50-pound Labrador retriever, and our sample cat was a 9-pound Maine coon. In-state and cross-country shipping prices were for ground transport, while international shipping costs were for air transport.
We’ve included these parameters because the estimates above aren’t meant to represent every single situation. Instead, these numbers provide a look at what the average pet owner may need to budget for.
Here are some factors that affect what you’ll pay:
- Location: Pickup and drop-off locations are the biggest factors affecting ground shipping costs, but for air transportation, you’ll also need to consider whether there will be a layover. Layovers can be more expensive because someone will need to take your pet off the airplane, take care of it and ensure it makes it on the next flight.
- Pet size: In general, bigger pets cost more to ship by air or ground. Also, if you want to transport a large dog by air, you may need to fly out of a major airport, meaning you may have to pay extra for transportation to a suitable airport.
- Crating: It’s important to budget for a travel-approved crate. Crate costs generally range from $50 to $400, depending on the size of your pet. Most airlines have pretty strict requirements, so be sure to read those before you buy. (Redmond, the pet relocation specialist we spoke with, also recommends making sure your pet is acclimated to the crate before travel.)
- Special needs: If your pet requires more attention, like medication or frequent bathroom breaks, you’ll likely receive a higher estimate.
Pet shipping scams
Unfortunately, scams are common in the pet industry. According to IPATA, here are some of the most common pet shipping scams you should be aware of:
- “Free” pets online: In this scheme, the scammers represent themselves as people giving away a pet or selling one for a significant discount. However, once you’re committed, they continually request more money for delivery until you give up or run out of funds.
- Fake airlines: Some scammers promote themselves as extensions of reputable airlines or make entirely fraudulent websites that mimic airlines’ actual sites. (These scammers may even have fake email addresses that use the real company’s name and information to legitimize their appearance.) Once you’ve signed up for service through one of these sites, the scammers request additional payments, hoping that your sunk costs will make you unwilling to back out.
Scammers often prey on people who are trying to save money or get something for free, so it’s a good idea to be wary of any deal that sounds too good to be true. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is, Redmond, from petsfly.com, warned.
How to spot a pet shipping scam
As you look into a pet shipping company, check out its website and communications to see if they look legitimate. Inconsistency with small details, like fonts and bits of information, may not be a direct sign of fraudulent activity, but scammers often get these things wrong. Redmond recommended trying to get the company on a phone or video call and staying on the lookout for any discrepancies or lack of information.
Pet shipping scammers are also prone to asking their victims to use unconventional payment methods, like wire transfers, bitcoin or other untraceable forms of payment. If your pet shipper doesn’t accept a payment method with more accountability or consumer protections, it may be smart to stay away.
If you’re concerned about the legitimacy of a company, reach out to an organization it claims to be affiliated with or look the company up in IPATA’s pet shipper database or list of known pet scammers.
Can I ship my pet myself?
You probably can’t ship your pet yourself, but it depends on the animal. Shipping live mammals through the Postal Service generally isn’t legal, and many airlines require that you work through a certified shipping company for pet transportation.
That being said, if the pet is considered a “small, harmless, coldblooded animal” (like a frog or fish) or is a permitted type of bird or insect, you may be able to ship it through UPS, FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service.
What is the cheapest way to transport a pet?
Transporting your pet with you in your own vehicle is usually the most affordable option, but paying for professional ground transport is usually the least expensive option when you can’t travel with your pet. Airline travel should only be reserved for extra-long distances or when ground transportation isn’t an option, as it’s more expensive for you and more stressful for the pet.
What documents are needed for pets to travel?
Document requirements vary, but vaccination records and a certificate of veterinary inspection are the two most common documents required for pet travel. Some companies may require a breed certificate or microchip as well.
How do you transport a puppy from a breeder?
To transport a puppy from a breeder, you will need to find a pet shipping company that offers this service (some won’t work with breeders, and those that do often have age requirements you’ll have to work around). Some breeders may offer to arrange shipping for you, but you should always review the transporter the breeder plans on using before you agree.
Can you have fish transported?
You can have fish transported, but many pet shipping companies don’t offer this service. On the other hand, it’s legal to ship live fish through the mail, provided you meet the specific requirements.
Booking a pet shipping company can be nerve-wracking because you’re trusting a stranger with what’s essentially a member of your family, often while you’re dealing with a move or some other dramatic life change. The good news is that by taking some time to review your options and seeing what other people have to say, you can find a company to help get your pet to its destination safely and efficiently.
- ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page. Specific sources for this article include:
- American Veterinary Medical Association, “Animal travel And transport.” Accessed Dec. 12, 2022.
- International Pet and Animal Transportation Association, “Current Pet Scams.” Accessed Dec. 12, 2022.
- U.S. Postal Service, “526 Mailable Live Animals.” Accessed Dec. 12, 2022.
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