Traveling with a Domesticated Wild Animal

traveling with a domesticated wild animal - squirrel
Courtesy of Pixabay

Generally, wild animals do not make good pets. Taking wild creatures from their natural habitat and placing them in a domesticated setting is bad news for conservation as well as for your peaceful family life. And, if you enjoy traveling with a domesticated wild animal that you are raising as a pet, regulations for importing them to a foreign country are far more complicated than importing a cat or dog.

There are exceptions to having a wild animal as a pet. You may have rescued an injured or abandoned wild animal and are unable to return it to the wild after its recovery, or perhaps you want to care for an exotic pet that isn’t domesticated in your home country.

Examples of the more commonly kept wild animals are birds, squirrels, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, foxes, and raccoons.

It is also it is important to point out that the offspring of a wild animal that has been crossbred with a domestic animal is still considered a wild animal according to the National Association of State and Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV) and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. In the case of wolves, Bengals and Savannah cats, your pet must be fifth generation removed from the wild animal to be classified as domesticated and travel under the same regulations as other domesticated animals.

Furthermore, wild animals, even though they have been bred in captivity, are still classified as wild animals and are subject to laws related to their species.

There are things you need to know before taking a wild animal into your home, especially if you intend to travel with a domesticated wild animal.

Is it legal to travel with a domesticated wild animal?

Most wild animals require a permit; however, these protection levels differ by State, nationally and worldwide. It’s best to check out your local laws before domesticating a wild animal.

As an example, ff you have a sugar glider and intend to travel to Alaska or California, know that they are illegal in those states. You will need a permit to keep them in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Massachusetts.

This may not be problematic day-to-day but if you need to travel nationally or internationally, taking a domesticated wild animal could mean you end up on the wrong side of the law – and your animal could be confiscated and destroyed.

It’s also worth adding that owners are legally responsible for their animal’s actions. There are Youtube clips of owners taking their cute raccoon on a leashed walk, but if it were to bite someone, the owner would be liable.

Wild animals can carry rabies

traveling with a domesticated wild animal - raccoon
Courtesy of Pixabay

Rabies is carried by some warm-blooded mammals and is virtually 100% lethal to humans if not treated quickly. According to the World Organization of Animal Health, one person dies every 9 minutes from rabies and almost half of them are children.

Any warm-blooded mammal can theoretically contract rabies; however, the more common species are bats, skunks, foxes, and raccoons. Some wild animals rarely develop rabies such as hedgehogs and hares, but it has been known particularly in Russia. Animals such as squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats, mice and rabbits are rarely known to contract rabies and never known to pass the disease to humans.

Rabies can be passed onto domestic pets as well as cattle which is the most common way humans are infected with rabies.

Related: Why rabies vaccinations are important for pet travel

Wild animals can carry other zoonotic diseases

Wild animals can carry other zoonotic diseases aside from rabies. Any disease that ca be passed to humans is classified as zoonotic..

Salmonella is a zoonotic disease which is commonly found in reptiles. Another example is ringworm, the fungal skin disease, which affects a wide variety of wild animals, Ground squirrels, deer and another 200-odd species can carry bubonic plague.

There is also the risk that a wild animal could pass a disease to your other domestic pets. Distemper can be passed from wild animals to domesticated animals, and, more often than not, causes fatalities in unvaccinated cats and dogs.

Diseases from wild animals is a danger to everyone, especially those with suppressed immune systems and young and old people. If you’re taking a wild animal into your household, think very carefully about diseases that might come with them.

Veterinary treatment for domesticated wild animals

Most veterinarians commonly treat domesticated animals. Should your wild animal fall ill, your veterinarian might not have a good understanding of how to address its needs. Not to mention how you will find treatment for your pet in a foreign country where veterinarians may not be familiar with treating wild animals. A language barrier could make things more difficult.

Many medications, including vaccinations, are not cleared for use in wild animals. So, emergencies could turn into a very expensive and heart-breaking story.

Regulations for traveling with a domesticated wild animal

traveling with a domesticated wild animal - hedgehog
Courtesy of Pixabay

Regulations to import a wild animal to a foreign country are very different than those for a cat or dog. Government agencies responsible to oversee the import and export of wild animals must issue import permits for your pet. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are two examples of such agencies.

Furthermore, some wild animals are subject to protections under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and permits are required to relocate them.

Owners who are traveling with a domesticated wild animal should know that their pets can be classified as invasive and cannot be imported to a foreign country. The American Racoon is prohibited from entry to the European Union, for example.

Some countries will not permit the import of wild animals including Australia, New Zealand. Others limit many species of exotic animals such as Hawaii and Costa Rica.

Birds are especially difficult to transport due to outbreaks of Avian Influenza. Your wild bird will likely be quarantined in your origination country, your destination country, or both.

Additionally, if you leave your country with a domesticated wild animal, regulations to re-import your pet will be the same as those entering for the first time. (except for US-origin birds) For this reason, you will not only need to understand regulations to import your pet to a foreign country; but you must also need to know regulations to return home.

You must be prepared to provide evidence that you did not take your animal from the wild. Unless proof of purchase or bred-in-captivity documentation is available, your pet could be confiscated.

Flying with a domesticated wild animal

Very few airlines will fly small wild animals such as hedgehogs in the cabin or as checked baggage, even when domesticated. In almost every case, wild animals must fly as air cargo. The environment of a cargo hold can rattle any animal that has not been previously exposed to it.

Owners traveling with a domesticated wild animal must be sure that their pets are flying in IATA-compliant pet crates that are escape-proof and will keep their pet safe. Many domesticated wild animals may become upset with the introduction of confinement. This may cause them to act aggressively or destructively. Sharp claws or teeth can chew through plastic crates and metal mesh coverings. A custom crate made from heavy plywood would be best for transporting a larger domesticated wild animal.

In most cases, a transport agent must book the flight with the airlines. The agent can assist with regulations to import your pet to your destination country.

A domesticated wild animal will always be part wild

pet travel with a fox
Courtesy of Pixabay

Bonds between animals and humans occur at a very young age. This makes hand-reared wild animals much easier to care for. Adult wild animals do not have this bond and are therefore more unpredictable.

Domestic animals have been selectively bred for our households for hundreds if not thousands of years. This makes them easily trained to fit in – except the occasional feral that just can’t stand it indoors. Most domesticated pets are basically diurnal where many wild animals are nocturnal.

A wild animal does not have this genealogical background. Tts instincts are right at the forefront – wild instincts such as lashing out in fear and anger, or aggression over food. These traits are not something you can tame. Stress and frustration can result in biting and other unattractive behaviours.

Where will you keep your pet?

Domesticated wild animals will need a suitable environment to live out its years.

Raccoons are clever and can quickly destroy your soft furnishings. A squirrel will climb and pee wherever it pleases. A fox will chew anything, spray urine scent marks, and bury food.

The greatest challenge will be to provide a suitable enclosure that caters to their wild instincts. Left unrestricted, domesticated wild animals can turn quickly your household upside down and create a lot of damage.

What is a suitable diet for your pet?

pet travel with sugar glider
Courtesy of Pixabay

A wild animal probably isn’t going to happy with a convenient diet of tinned food or dry chow from the grocery store. Chances are it won’t provide them with the nutrients they need either.

Are you happy to buy specialty foods for the entirety of its lifetime? After all, foxes and raccoons can live for up to 15 years.  

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What will happen if you are unable to care for your pet?

Consider what might happen if you become unwell or you have to travel without your pet. Who would look after the animal in your absence?

Kenneling won’t be an option unless your kennel accepts wild animals. A house-sitter might not be familiar with how to care for a wild animal.

Releasing your domesticated wild animal back into the environment is extremely unwise. It has become dependent on you for shelter and the provision of food. In some cases, it could be illegal.

Surrendering your pet to a local wild animal shelter would be the only responsible solution when you can no longer care for your pet.

Related: How you can support your local animal shelter

Consult an expert

Think very carefully before domesticating a wild animal. If you find an animal in the wild that is injured, know that there are professionals trained to raise wild animals so they can be quickly released back into the wild.

As cute and cuddly as they are, caring for wild or exotic animals is a sizable responsibility. Traveling with a domesticated wild animal is, in most cases, extremely difficult.

In the majority of cases, leaving wild animals in their environment is the better result for everyone. If your animal cannot be released or it’s an imported exotic pet, then breed-specific experts can help educate you you on the legalities and the best husbandry.

Contributing to this article is Becky Simmonds of Breed Advisor is a wildlife rehabber. She rescues all sorts of hapless wildlife from netting, drains, and the roadside with the aim of releasing them back into the wild when they have recovered.


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