Dog importation rules in the US and Canada have changed a few times in recent years, in large part due to overdue recognition of some important long-standing issues, like the risk of importing rabid dogs. In the last several years, the US CDC has been implementing stricter rules around canine importation, culminating last summer with a temporary ban on importation of dogs from 113 countries considered high-risk for canine rabies.  These changes have had some good effects and some perhaps unsurprising negative impacts (e.g. shift of higher-risk dogs to countries like Canada with less stringent importation rules). The US CDC has now announced an extension of the ban, along with some changes to their rules for dogs from high risk countries, including reducing some restrictions to facilitate small scale importation while still trying to prevent higher risk and higher volume importation of dogs.

Which countries are considered high-risk for canine rabies?

The CDC keeps an updated list of high-risk countries for canine rabies (over 100 of them) online.  Some people are surprised by some of the countries on the list, including many countries from which large numbers of dogs have traditionally been imported by rescues (e.g. China) and some that have large puppy mill operations for the export market.

Can dogs from high-risk countries be imported into the US at all?

Yes, but with lots of restrictions. That’s fair, as it enables importation of a small number of pets for legitimate personal reasons (e.g. someone moving with their pet), but deters high volume, high risk importations.

What are the requirements for importing a dog from a high-risk country?

Under the new rules, in order to enter the US, any dog that has been in a high risk country in the previous 6 months must:

  • Appear healthy
  • Have a valid rabies certificate, with the vaccine administered at 12 weeks of age or older and at least 28 days prior to entry
  • Have a microchip, with the number listed on their rabies vaccination certificate
  • Be at least 6 months of age (this requirement helps reduce for-profit and puppy mill importation)
  • Fulfill one of the following requirements:

Option A: The dog has a US-issued rabies vaccine certificate and doesn’t require an import permit

  • The dog must enter the US at one of the 18 airports with a CDC quarantine station

Option B: The dog doesn’t have a US-issued rabies vaccination certificate but has an import permit*

  • The dog must enter the US at one of the 18 airports with a CDC quarantine station AND
  • Have a valid foreign rabies vaccination certificate AND
  • Have a valid rabies titre tested at an approved lab taken between 45 days and 1 year before arrival

*NOTE: permits will only be issued for 1-2 personal pet dogs per applicant (to help reduce mass importation).

Option C: The dog doesn’t meet the criteria for options A or B

  • The importer must make a reservation to enter via one of 4 airports that have an approved animal care facility (JFK, ATL, LAX, MIA) AND
  • The dog must have a valid foreign rabies vaccination certificate AND
  • Dogs with a valid rabies titre (see option B) must be examined by a USDA accredited veterinarian and be revaccinated at the facility, at the owner’s expense OR
  • Dogs without a valid rabies titre (see option B) must be examined, vaccinated and quarantined at a CDC-approved facility for 28 days, at the importer’s expense

Option C seems to leave the door open for large scale importation but brings in enough hassle and costs (.e. titres, revaccination, +/- quarantine) that it could still be a deterrent. Yet, if someone’s importing dogs from a puppy mill, getting them at low cost and selling them for $5000 each, those added costs might only put a dent in their profit but not necessarily be enough to dissuade them entirely. The age limit (minimum 6 months) might be the biggest deterrent for puppy mill importers, as younger puppies are always more in demand.

It’s a bit complicated at first glance, but pretty straightforward overall. A little complicated isn’t bad since that allows for consideration of some important aspects that get missed with a simple “here’s the one way to do it” approach. Making legitimate importers go through a few extra hoops isn’t overly cumbersome. If someone is importing a dog from a high risk country, it should be done with some personal motivation (e.g. it’s MY dog and I want to make sure it gets here), rather than a get-rich-quick venture through importation of a large group of puppy mill dogs, or a well-intentioned but sometimes inadequately-informed importation of rescue dogs. These rules should help facilitate valid importation of dogs from high risk countries but limit the number and thereby limit the risk.