Adoption From Abroad

Be sure you understand all the rules and regulations before packing up that cat to bring back home. Here's why.

Youve been staying in a sweet little apartment in Valletta, the capital of the island of Malta. As in Italy and other Mediterranean countries, cats and kittens there roam the streets and share their territory with their human neighbors.


A cute little feline has befriended you for the past two weeks. Once an inside cat, she now sleeps and eats outside. “Why dont you take her back with you?” asks one of your Maltese neighbors.

Why not indeed? But before you think of bringing this cat or any other foreign felines into the United States, there are several factors and regulations you must consider.

Check the Rules

Your main concern should be that your foreign cat is healthy. And that is also the main concern of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “The CDC requires proof that your foreign feline is free from zoonotic diseases, especially rabies, that can infect humans,” says Jennifer McQuiston, DVM, of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine of the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia.

“The difficulty in taking a cat from the street is that you dont know its history,” says Dr. McQuiston, “or what diseases it may be carrying.” Rabies, especially, has a long incubation period, and infected animals may appear totally healthy at the time they are picked up.

“The good news is that many European and Mediterranean countries are considered free of rabies,” says Dr. McQuiston, “which means vaccination is not required for entry into the United States.” Currently, “rabies-free” countries in Europe include Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Gibraltar, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Italy, Luxemburg, Malta, the Netherlands, mainland Norway, Portugal, Spain (except Ceuta/Melilla), Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Cats that appear upon arrival to the U.S. to be ill with a zoonotic disease (a disease that is shared between humans and animals) may be required to be examined by a veterinarian and then treated or quarantined. For a full explanation of CDC requirements, visit

Also check the regulations for your final destination in the U.S. to make sure that your cat meets all the state requirements. For example, Hawaii and Guam have very strict requirements for importation of dogs and cats.

But rabies should not be your only concern. Make sure your cat is free from other cat diseases that could affect its life and well-being even if the illness is not contagious to humans.

Therefore, before bringing your feline to the U.S., take her to a veterinarian for a full examination. Note that many airlines require a health certificate for the cat from a licensed veterinarian, although the CDC doesnt have a specific requirement for one.

As you would in the U.S., thoroughly check out the breeder before you buy a cat from one. The CDC does not have any specific information on foreign breeders.

Prepare The Cat For Travel
First, check with your airline to determine what requirements it has for shipping pets. Again, many airlines may require a recent health certificate from a licensed veterinarian.

“Traveling places a lot of stress on an animal, especially young or debilitated animals,” says Dr. McQuiston. “These pets are more likely to suffer serious or fatal conditions during transport.” Most injuries or deaths occur because the animal tries to escape from the transport kennel or cage. Cats may be able to push the door partially open and then escape, hurting themselves in the process. And once loose in the planes cargo hold, your cat can get badly injured, trapped or killed.

According to the CDC, you should acclimate your cat to the kennel she will be traveling in by having her spend varying lengths of time in the cage several days before the trip. Make sure the kennel lock is secure. Look for ways your cat might try to get out. By settling your cat in the cage before the trip, you can reduce his stress and the likelihood that he will try to escape. You may also calm down your cat by placing some article of clothing, which you have worn recently, in the kennel. A T-shirt with your scent can help make your cat feel more secure.

Veterinarians advise against sedating your cat before air travel. So use other means as described above to help your cat relax a bit during the trip.

For more information about appropriate cat carriers and cages for airline travel, check the International Airline Transportation Associations regulations for transporting pets. These can be found at

When bringing your cat home from abroad, preparation is key. But the one thing you wont have to worry about is your foreign cat understanding you. Cats have no trouble picking up English! v