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Travel with pets • 8 minutes to read

Everything You Need To Know About Flying With Exotic Pets

Traveling with your dog or cat on a plane can be complicated, but flying with exotic animals is a whole other kettle of fish!

With many airline pet policies centering around dogs and cats, it can be hard to know where you stand if you’re flying with other animals like rabbits, birds, or reptiles. Once you’ve begun researching the best airline for traveling with your exotic pet, you’ll also need to consider the animal import requirements of the destination you’re flying to.

We’ve put together a practical guide for traveling with exotic pets, giving you all the information you need to know about pet-friendly travel destinations, airlines that allow pets in the cabin, and the travel essentials you’ll need to add to your packing list.

Let’s get into it!

What Counts As An Exotic Animal?

First things first, it’s important to establish what animals are considered exotic pets.

Generally, exotic pets are animals that aren’t traditionally domesticated but are typically docile and well-behaved. They’re usually not particularly dangerous and refer to animals that are relatively small and mild-mannered, for the most part.

From rabbits and hamsters to snakes and monkeys, the list of exotic animals that are commonly kept as pets is pretty extensive! Some other popular pets that fall into this category include reptiles, amphibians, hedgehogs, and rodents like rats and mice.

In short, most animals, aside from dogs, cats, and farm animals, are often described as exotic. We can’t imagine many of you are keeping lions and tigers as pets, so we’ll stick to more common exotic pets for this article!

How Do You Travel With Exotic Pets?

Before getting into the specifics of particular airlines and travel destinations, let’s look at an overview of what it’s like traveling with exotic pets on a plane and what you can expect when flying with animals other than dogs and cats.

Rabbits

When it comes to these adorable woodland creatures, they’re rarely permitted to fly in the cabin with you, which means they’ll need to fly in the hold during your flight as checked baggage or on a special cargo plane.

Unfortunately, as rabbits are often quite timid and shy, they may find flying overwhelming and unnerving, so it can be best to stick to airlines that allow them to fly in the cabin. However, these can be hard to come by, but we’ll get more into that later.

Rabbits usually don’t require specific vaccines, though this can differ in certain countries. Most of the time, you’ll just need a health certificate from a certified vet stating that your rabbit is fit for travel.

Depending on the airline, you can usually leave some hay in your rabbit’s kennel for the flight. Food and water containers that can be refilled without opening the kennel door are also permitted and are great if your pet has to travel in the hold.

Birds

Household birds like budgies, parrots, parakeets, and canaries are allowed to fly with many airlines. You’ll actually have a better chance of a small pet bird joining you in the cabin than a rabbit, but some airlines will require them to travel in the hold.

Much like rabbits, birds can easily become stressed in unfamiliar situations, so it’s worth looking for airlines that permit birds to fly in the cabin with you.

There are generally no requirements for birds to be vaccinated before a flight unless there’s a specific risk in the country you’re traveling to or from. Your airline may look for a valid health certificate.

To keep your bird’s anxiety to a minimum, it’s best to add a cage cover to your packing list. That way, they’ll see a lot less and will be unaware of the busy environment around them.

Snakes

If you’re a snake owner, you’ll need to be split up from your beloved pet on a flight, as no airlines currently allow snakes to fly in the cabin. Although it’s highly unlikely many people own venomous snakes, these animals are prohibited on all flights, meaning only non-venomous snakes can travel.

Snakes don’t tend to require much documentation, but be sure to check with your airline in advance for the exact requirements.

As snakes are cold-blooded animals, keeping them warm enough throughout the flight is crucial. Some common ways to keep your snake toasty include covering their cage, putting them in a pillowcase, adding microwaveable heat packs to the cage, and using plenty of bedding.

Other Reptiles

So, if snakes are allowed on some flights, you might be thinking, can I bring other reptiles on a plane?

At present, you’ll need to be separated from your lizard, iguana, or chameleon during a flight, as these animals aren’t permitted in the cabin of any commercial airline. In fact, most reptiles will have to fly on a cargo flight instead of traveling as checked baggage.

Much like other cold-blooded animals, you’ll need to ensure your reptile can stay warm through the use of heating packs, cage covers, and warm bedding.

You might also be wondering if you can travel with a tortoise or turtle, as these other popular reptiles have become much-loved pets in recent years. There’s limited information from airlines that details the regulations around flying with these animals, so it’s best to contact airlines directly about availability and the necessary paperwork.

However, there’s a good chance your turtle or tortoise will need to travel in the hold like most reptiles, so this is something to keep in mind when planning your holiday.

Frogs

Travel with animals like frogs or other amphibians can be more complex than most people might expect. Frogs can only fly with a handful of airlines, most of which will require your pet to travel in the cargo hold.

In a similar vein to reptiles, one of the most significant difficulties is keeping your frog at a safe and healthy temperature during the flight. Because your frog likely won’t be flying in the cabin with you, it can be a considerable risk to fly with your pet in the hold, where they won’t have you to help regulate their temperature.

Hamsters

Despite their small size, most airlines require hamsters to travel in the hold rather than in the cabin. As a result, finding an airline that’ll allow your pocket-sized pal to travel with you can be challenging.

Like many other exotic pets, hamsters usually won’t need much or any paperwork to fly, but you might be asked for a health certificate to visit certain countries.

If the airline permits it, filling your hamster’s cage up with plenty of bedding and scattering some chow and seeds is a great idea to keep them busy. Try to keep their travel carriers small enough, so they won’t be moved around too much if the flight goes through some turbulence.

Rats & Mice

Rats and mice are usually subject to the same regulations as hamsters and other rodents.

You won’t need to spend too much time organizing documents before your flights, but some airlines and destinations may ask for health certificates or microchip details.

As these little guys are experts at chewing through everything and anything, they must travel in a hard-sided container with a metal door to keep them from making an escape during the flight!

Monkeys

A surprising number of people have made monkeys their pet of choice, but if you’re wondering can you bring a monkey on a plane, you’ll unfortunately be out of luck.

Despite many owners considering their monkeys to be emotional support animals, traveling with these is not akin to flying with service dogs or even flying with therapy dogs, for that matter.

Because of their unpredictable and sometimes aggressive behavior, monkeys are generally not permitted to fly with any airline. Many destinations also enforce strict rules about monkey ownership, meaning you’ll need to forgo your idea of traveling with this exotic animal to Hawaii for your next vacation!

closeup photo of a gray rabbit

What Are Airlines’ Exotic Pet Policies, Rules, And Limitations?

Not only do you need to consider the regulations of the country or destination you’re heading to, but you’ll also have to think about the airline policies, as these can vary significantly based on the type of animal you’re flying with, the size of the animal, and your travel route.

Below, we’re taking a look at some of the different rules and limitations you might encounter when arranging your travel plans with your exotic pet.

What Airlines Allow Exotic Pets On Board As Checked Baggage Or Cargo?

If it’s your first time flying with a pet, one thing you’ll quickly notice is that many airlines have different rules for which animals can travel and which of those must fly in the hold of the plane.

We’ve created a list of popular airlines and the exotic animals they permit on board as checked baggage or cargo, as we’ll get into airlines that allow pets in the cabin a little later.

It’s worth noting that many airlines separate animals into two categories when describing their regulations for cargo: warm-blooded animals like rodents, rabbits, and birds and cold-blooded animals like reptiles and amphibians.

Delta

  • Warm and cold-blooded animals can fly on cargo planes, provided the outdoor temperatures are safe.

American Airlines

  • As long as the ground temperatures are between 45 – 85°F (7 – 30°C), warm-blooded animals can fly as cargo. Cold-blooded animals are not subjected to these restrictions but must have any necessary cold or hot packs.

Alaska Airlines

  • Many exotic animals, including guinea pigs, hamsters, birds, reptiles, and rabbits, can fly as checked baggage or cargo.

Air Canada

K.L.M.

  • Animals other than cats or dogs can only fly as cargo with KLM airlines.

Aegean Air

  • Warm and cold-blooded animals can travel on certain routes and aircraft types.

What Airlines Allow Exotic Pets In The Cabin?

Most airlines that allow exotic pets to fly require the animals to fly in the hold, but there are a few exceptions that allow certain species to fly in the cabin.

Frontier

  • Small household birds, rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs can fly in the cabin, making Frontier an exceptionally pet-friendly airline.

Alaska Airlines

  • Rabbits and household birds can fly in the cabin, and two of the same species can travel in the same carrier once there’s sufficient space.

Delta

  • Small birds can join dogs and cats in the cabin.

Spirit Airlines

  • Small rabbits and household birds are permitted to fly in the cabin on select domestic routes.

Finnair

  • Rabbits, hedgehogs, and tortoises can fly in the cabin, provided they weigh no more than 8 kg in their carrier.

Anyone thinking about flying with their snake with JetBlue or flying with a rabbit with United will need to look into other airlines, as neither permits exotic animals to fly with them at present.

What Are Some Other Rules I Should Be Aware Of?

  • Some airlines only allow a certain number of animals per flight, which is particularly relevant when flying with your exotic pet in the cabin. For example, if you’re flying with a pet with Delta, only four pets are allowed per flight.
  • Even if your pet is an emotional support animal, this doesn’t guarantee they can join you in the cabin.
  • You generally won’t be able to buy an extra ticket for your pet, and they must stay in their carrier under the seat for the duration of the flight.
  • Even if you pick an airline that allows your pet to fly in the cabin, you’ll need to comply with the weight limits, which is more relevant for larger pets like rabbits.
  • Pets that can fly in the cabin often require less documentation than those that travel in the hold, but you may still be asked for health certificates if the airline or country you’re traveling to requires them.
  • As many exotic animals can’t catch rabies, you won’t have to worry about vaccination records, quarantine, or titer tests in most cases. Although rabbits can contract rabies, most airlines don’t require them to have received these vaccines before traveling.
  • More than one of the same animal are often allowed to travel together, provided they comfortably fit in the same carrier and are used to being in each other’s company.

Domestic hamster climbing on stick

How Much Does It Cost To Fly With Exotic Animals?

Below, you can compare the fees for some popular airlines.

Airline Cabin Checked Baggage/Cargo
Alaska Airlines €94 €140
American Airlines Unavailable for exotic pets. Varies depending on distance, size, and destination.
Delta Unavailable for exotic pets. Varies depending on distance, size, and destination.
Frontier €92 Unavailable.
Spirit Airlines €117 Unavailable.
Air Canada Unavailable. €250+
Aegean Airlines Unavailable. €180+
K.L.M. Unavailable. €75 – €400
Finnair Within Europe: €60

Intercontinental: €120

Within Europe: €120

Intercontinental: €600

Does The U.S.A. Allow Exotic Pets?

Currently, the USDA APHIS (United States Department of Agriculture – Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service) considers the following animals as pets, meaning they can be imported into the U.S.A. as long as they meet the necessary requirements.

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Rodents
  • Hedgehogs
  • Ferrets
  • Rabbits
  • Reptiles
  • Amphibians
  • Birds (excluding poultry)

Although these animals can travel Stateside, they may not be able to enter the country depending on where you’re traveling from. Check the official website for up-to-date information.

In terms of other North American countries, many of the requirements are similar. If you’re traveling with your pet to Mexico, you can enter with hamsters, guinea pigs, and certain birds, like parakeets or canaries. Anyone traveling with their exotic pet to Canada can do so as long as they’re flying with a rodent or rabbit, as reptiles and amphibians are not permitted.

Can I Travel Abroad With Exotic Pets?

If you’re flying with your exotic pet internationally or outside of the U.S.A., you’ll likely find that the rules can differ quite a lot from country to country.

It’s also common for airlines to only allow exotic pets to fly domestically and not on international flights, so it’s crucial to bear this in mind even if your vacation destination allows your pet to fly in.

European Countries (including the United Kingdom)

While most European Union members and other European countries generally share import rules for dogs, cats, and ferrets, each nation can have different regulations for exotic pets.

Take a look at what animals you can bring on your European holiday.

Asian Countries

Many Asian countries welcome all kinds of pets, but you’ll need to research the specific country you’re visiting ahead of time to ensure you’re aware of the requirements and restrictions.

Import permits are needed to enter countries like Thailand and The Philippines, so you may find yourself needing some additional paperwork if you’re heading to Asia.

Is It Possible To Travel With Exotic Pets Across Borders?

Oftentimes, traveling across land borders is much more straightforward than flying when you’re traveling with exotic pets. This is primarily because you can focus your attention on the country’s entry requirements rather than worrying about airline regulations, too!

Traveling this way is especially useful if you’re traveling with an exotic pet to Europe, where you can easily move between countries via land borders rather than flying.

As always, you’ll need to stay updated with the latest import restrictions of the country you’re visiting or any country you’re passing through.

What Are The Best Tips On Traveling With Exotic Pets?

  • One of the most important things to consider when traveling with any pet on a plane is the animal’s safety. This is especially relevant with exotic animals, as cold-blooded species need to be kept in suitable temperatures to stay healthy. The likes of rabbits and rodents aren’t as social as traditional domestic pets, so busy environments with lots of new people can be stressful for them.
  • Start planning your trip well in advance, checking your destination’s particular restrictions and guidelines and comparing different airline policies.
  • If at all possible, stick to non-stop flights. Many airlines also limit pet travel to direct routes or those with no more than one stopover.
  • Get organized early and pick up your travel essentials as soon as you can. From crates and bedding to refillable food and water containers, there are lots of accessories you might need depending on your pet.
  • With regard to crates, you’ll need to find one that meets the airline’s dimension requirements that’s neither too big nor too small for the animal. Your pet must be able to stand, turn, and sit comfortably in their carrier.
  • Crate training will make your pet’s flying experience a little less nerve-wracking. While many animals will be used to spending time in contained spaces, it’s essential to allow plenty of time for your pet to adjust if they don’t usually spend time in crates or enclosures.
  • Avoid giving your pet food or water within four hours of the flight if it’s safe to do so to reduce the risk of them becoming unwell onboard. However, for flights in the hold, especially longer journeys, you’ll need to provide food, which the staff will supply your pet with.

Want more interesting tips and information on traveling? Read more Kiwi.com articles!

Frequently asked questions

Do American Airlines Allow Reptiles?
American Airlines allows reptiles to fly on specialized cargo planes, but not in the cabin.
Can I Take A Turtle On Delta Airlines?
Though turtles can't fly in the cabin, Delta Airlines permits turtles to travel as cargo.
Does Spirit Airlines Allow Lizards?
Lizards aren't allowed to fly with Spirit Airlines, as they only accept dogs, cats, rabbits, and birds on board.
Can I Bring My Gecko On A Plane?
Geckos can fly with many airlines, though they'll usually need to travel as cargo.
Can I Bring A Terrarium On A Plane?
You can bring a terrarium on a plane as hand luggage or checked baggage, but be sure to double-check with the airline first.
Can I Bring A Tarantula On A Plane?
Certain airlines will allow you to bring your tarantula on flights depending on where you're flying, but they'll need to fly as checked baggage or cargo.