India's woes in transporting pets

Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The rise of the middle class in India has paved the way for a boom in the pet care industry with the Pet Food Manu-facturers Association estimating the country’s pet population at over 54 million this year.

Of the figure, about 8.5 million are dogs and some 8 million are cats. And Indians have the propensity to spoil their four legged friends in terms of food or wellness needs, spurring more growth to the Indian pet market valued at over US$800 million in 2012. In 2016, cat and dog food alone generated sales of more than US$102 million.
But while there have been significant improvements on how pets are treated in India, many pet owners still encounter challenges in transporting them across the country with very limited options available.

Limited options

“I have to carry my cat in Air India’s flight. His weight is 4 kg and I am assuming that the crate will be 2-3 kg. So, will they allow me to take my pet in the cabin as the weight will be over 5 kg. Should I approach Air India cargo for that? Please guide me.”

“Hi. I have a Lhasa Apso puppy weighing 3 kg and I want to take her to Delhi from Bangalore. What is the most feasible option? I don’t want to send in cargo as she is too small and I am not sure about air pressure and temperature.”

“Hi! I am coming on transfer of residency from Hong Kong and I want to bring my 3 year old dog, can I do the paperwork myself or should I get to a pet relocation service? Which airlines are pet-friendly?”

Questions like these and many more pop up often on forums, not just in India but the world over, with no airline exclusively flying pets.

There was once in Florida known as Pet Airways but its operation was short lived—only two years. The same company is reportedly planning to come back via a crowd-sourced funding.

Air Horse One is another freight carrier tailored for animals but it only specializes on carrying horses across the United States using a leased Boeing 727-200 aircraft.

Clearances for India

Unlike in the West, where pet travel by air is a lot more common, in India it exists but one runs into unknown waters for clearances and that is a big challenge in itself. First the clearances and the next worrisome part is – whether the pet will be able to take air travel and the answer to that is anybody’s guess.

Here are some basic guidelines for those wanting to relocate their pets into India from different overseas locations.
Indian authorities permit up to two dogs and cats per person to enter the country with their owners on transfer of residency. Other Indian citizens on a short visit to India can obtain a license from the Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) to bring their pet to India as long as their pet departs with them. Dogs are not permitted to enter India for breeding or commercial purposes.

Microchips for pets

There are several rules and regulations that pet owners have to follow to bring their pets into India. First the pet should be microchipped with an ISO 11784/11785 certification and it should be non-encrypted.

For cats or dogs entering India due to a change in ownership, 30 days of quarantine in an approved quarantine facility in the originating country is required. All pets entering into India with their owners must be issued a no objection certificate (NOC) from the Animal Quarantine Station in India whether accom-panied or unacco-mpanied, prior to entering India. The NOC must be applied for in person by the owner, owner’s representative or an agent.

Vaccination a must

Importantly, the pet cat or dog must be vaccinated for rabies between 30 days and 12 months prior to entry. Dogs must be vaccinated against Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, Leptospirosis and Parainfluenza and for cats it is Feline Enteritis and Feline Pan Leukopenia.

Dogs must show no signs of any clinical sign of any disease including rabies, canine distemper, parvo virus infection, leptospirosis, Infectious Canine Hepatitis, Scabies and Leishmaniasis.
Pets must enter India either as checked baggage (accompanied cats or dogs) or air cargo (unacco-mpanied cats and other animals). The entry points for pets are limited to these cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata.

Unlike US, pet air travel in India is limited

While there are few challenges with immigration authorities, there are other issues to do with airlines. Within India, not all airlines allow for pet travel as it is not a lucrative business and then there are issues of pet accidents and deaths which have their own backlash on the airlines.

In the US, it is said to be a growing business. United Airlines in 2017 transported 138,178 pets in the cargo hold, up by 42 percent since 2015.

The sad part, however, was that United reported an above-average number of animals that were injured, died or lost while in its custody. In 2017, 1.3 out of every 10,000 animals, the carrier transported in cargo holds died. The overwhelming majority of deaths was due to previously unknown medical conditions or involved animals that were not acclimatized to their crates. It is highly advisable not to sedate your pets for travel.

In India, travel norms for pets in various airlines are more or less the same. Presently, Air India, Jet Airways, SpiceJet and Vistara allow pet travel.

Only Air India allows pets in the cabin but only a limited number while others allow pets in the cargo hold. Air India states that small inoffensive domestic pets such as dogs, cats and birds, accompanied by valid Health and Rabies vaccination certificates, are accepted in the cabin or in the cargo hold, but at the owner’s risk and subject to requirements of the carrier.

Air India allows a maximum of two pets per flight and passenger accompanying such pet will be seated in the last row of booked cabin class and that the pet will not be allowed to occupy a passenger seat.
It is advisable that the passenger taking the pet along in the cargo hold inform the pilot of the same such that they make provision for enough oxygen to flow into the cargo hold.

No pets on non-stop long haul flights

Air India does not permit pets on non-stop flights from India to the US, the only exception being for service dogs required to assist the blind or deaf, which may be carried in the cabin.

The same policy applies to other destinations and all en-route transiting countries. Pets getting located to the UK can enter through LHR airport only if it has an airway bill. The containers and handling requirements have to be as published in the IATA (international Air Transport Association) Live Animals Regulations.

SpiceJet does not allow the following dogs for carriage – all Boxers, Bulldogs, Mastiffs and Spaniels; Akita; Brussels Griffin; Chow Chow; Dogo Argentino; Fila Brazillero; Japanese Chin; Lhasa Apso; Pekinese; Pit Bull; Rottweiler; Shar Pei; Shih Tzu and Tosa. Similarly, cat breeds such as Burmese; Exotic; Himalayan and Persian are not allowed on board.

While departing from India, all pets must have up-to-date vaccination records, a health certificate issued no more than 10 days prior to departure and a rabies vaccination certificate that most be at least one month old but no more than one year old at the time of departure.

All pets most be cleared through India’s Animal Quarantine Certification Service office in Kapashera, if the transit is from Delhi. The challenges of pet travel by air will remain as pets are not priority for airlines, hence, the pet owner runs the risk of injury or death of the pet and needs to be prepared.