By David Jess Borough
Taking Pets to Brazil Part 1 discussed legal requirements for taking pets to Brazil. This second and final part brings up topics of housing and veterinary recommendations for traveling with pets, and the return trip.
If you need to travel with pets in and around Brazil, be sure to use the carrier for their safety and for acceptance on regional buses and taxis. City busses would cause a lot of stress for you and the pet, and pets are not allowed on them; including many of the luxury busses (such as from the Rio international airport to downtown). Taxis are no problem (although the occasional driver may say something about the pet being “extra work” – don’t worry about it too much). Regional busses require a Brazilian travel certificate (costs about R$50, and only lasts a short time), which you can get from a local veterinarian.
You must have a stable residence for your pet, even if it is just a hotel room. Always use the carrier to take the pets into a new abode. Do not ever let them run free in a new neighborhood. It is best to keep them “quarantined” as indoor pets only while traveling to avoid problems re-entering your country, in case you should ever be required to certify that they were under your constant control and out of contact of any other animals for the entire trip. A scratching post, litter box, food and water must all be in the room the minute you open the kennel door (don’t leave the first day’s supply to chance: have it already in your suitcase, and buy the remainder within hours of arriving, before it’s too late).
Finding housing in Brazil was, indeed, difficult with pets. The key is to either network for a hotel that will take them, or to get an apartment, where there are virtually no restrictions on pets. Most travel professionals were slightly resistant to helping. I heard many times from travel agents, hotel reservation clerks, and real estate agents in Brazil (and the student exchange program counselors), “We don’t do pets!”. Brazilian friends were often shocked that I had brought my cats. One of them said (and I translate): “David, I don’t understand how you could bring pets to Brazil with you. Families have pets. Single students do not have pets.” This is an example of the compartmentalism you will often encounter while traveling to other countries.
Brazilians, I have noticed – and I have many stories – are particularly prone to categorize, and if you don’t fit their categories it can be difficult to negotiate for cooperation. So, my best advice for taking pets is try to make it seem natural. Give a reason if necessary that you are taking them, such as “my parents could not keep them,” and you may find your Brazilian friend saying, “Ai, OK!” (Ah, I see). Very few hotels in Rio (and I imagine by extension most of Brazil) accept pets at all. Local travel agents (especially from places such as the USA – here the value of labor is high compared with Brazil) will be reluctant to help you find a hotel that accepts pets, because their commission is not going to increase for all that extra work. What worked for me was working with more than one person, and letting each person do just a little work.
Eventually, I found a hotel that accepts pets in downtown Rio, close to the local airport, called Othon Travel Aeroporto. It is a business-traveler hotel with the typical free breakfast buffet and internet caf, and after staying for three weeks, I can recommend it. (One ironic thing about this hotel is that while most floors in Brazil are hard floors, making no problems with carpet and pets, this one that did accept pets was the only hotel I have seen that has small cracks between real wood slats the floor, which is actually not conducive to cleaning up after pets at all.) There was also a private bed and breakfast in Bzios that accepted them without problem. I was referred to it by other bed and breakfast owners that I had called.
Apartments are the opposite in terms of acceptance. The general reaction I got upon asking if I could have pets in apartments was that I was asking a silly question. The apartment would be mine, so I could have anything I wanted in it. This may not always be the case, though, especially in cases of tourist-oriented apartment arrangements or super-picky private renters. Apartments are available as short-term rentals called “flats” or “apart-hotels” from various websites. A foreigner generally must reserve one in advance of arriving to avoid the stress (and it is stressful) of finding one with face-to-face referrals (unless you can stay in the pet-accepting hotel as long as you want). Be sure to see photographs, details, rules, and arrange some way of cancelling if necessary, and getting at least some of the money back. Pets add stress to the problem of finding housing by limiting the choices.
One final problem with apartments is that they are often on very high floors with balconies (something I had never had to think about living in Arizona). Many renters install gates that prevent the pets from falling, but as a short-term renter you will have to find an apartment that already has the gates, or be really sure that your pets will not get out the windows or doors to the balcony. Pets can sometimes survive high falls, but they usually do not do so without substantial damage to their systems; so don’t let it happen to yours.
Another problem is hair. Since most floors in Brazil are hard tile, and since most rooms have only fans or window-style air conditioners, the pets get a little hotter while you are gone than they may at home. If you are used to carpets and central air conditioning (like I am) then there will always be lots of hair to clean up. I absolutely had to sweep thoroughly every day in every single room we stayed in. At this hotel the housekeepers will do it for you, but I felt a responsibility to make it as easy as possible for them, so as to not outstay my welcome in the ONLY hotel found so far in the city of Rio that accepts pets. (Note: other Otheon hotels, such as in Copacabana and Ipanama, do not).
There was no shortage of pet stores and veterinarians in Rio (including the medium-sized surrounding cities such as Maca, Rio das Ostras, and the Bzios penninsula). Everywhere I have been in Rio and São Paulo states in past visits I have seen pet stores. Most all the veterinarians spoke English (virtually anybody from a university will know some English). The store staff might not speak your language, but the veterinarians will usually have time for you if you need to call or speak to them directly. (The value of labor is the major cultural-economic difference between Brazil and USA) Veterinarian’s are a good resource not only in your home country, but also in Brazil should you need somebody to host or care for your pet for part of your visit. Many of them have kennels, from organized services with nice brochures telling you what is covered, to make-shift cages and care during all the working hours. A veterinarian in Rio wanted R$40 per day for professional 24-hour cat-hotel type care (with individual quarters, view, and attention, away from the direct view of other animals). Another, described below, charged only $20 for a basic wire cage in the middle of the clinic.
Brazil has its own veterinary standards, different at times from those in my own country (or yours). They are well-developed ways of practicing – not necessarily bad – just different, and in a way, they must be respected. One point of difference is that to fly locally in Brazil, pets are required to be sedated. Veterinarians in Brazil will also recommend fasting 24-hours before the flight. Both of these differ from usual current recommendations in the USA, where veterinarians in my experience generally now recommend that pets NOT be fasted before the flight (and the US even REQUIRES that pets be fed), and that they NOT be sedated as a rule. The MAIN problem for the pets is the danger of stress and not eating, NOT throwing up (the usual reason for fasting). Stress can cause a refusal to eat for long periods before, during, or after the flight, which can shock the system of an otherwise functioning body. You can partially alleviate that stress by helping your pet get used to the carrier, using calming techniques every time you see your pets, and by feeding and watering your pet at every available opportunity before, during, and after the trip ordeal. If you do sedate your pet, then the overriding reason should be to reduce stress for the pet, NOT to make it easier for attendants to handle or to stop it from throwing up, and it should be done only upon the full evaluation and advice of a veterinarian.
Brazilians are very hospitable, but they may not be prepared for your pets. You must never plan on being able to leave your pets with anybody for sure, unless you confirm all the necessary details – and a backup plan as well, before your trip. Do not rely on a friend’s advice about available care, or on friendly offers to keep your pets, unless you thoroughly verify the details – independently if necessary. While some families may be very well prepared to accept pets as part of the hospitality arrangements – because many Brazilians keep pets in enclosed yards, kennels, or in their homes – the much more likely scenario is that they will say that everything is fine, but then it may actually cause various and serious problems when you get there. The most important arrangement that you MUST insist upon is your own bedroom with a closeable door (perhaps with you being the only one who opens the door), or an enclosed space for your pet, with a very good understanding that the pet must stay restrained from running away at all times. That is an ideal probably not attainable in most Brazilian homes (for one thing locked doors are considered abnormal).
To illustrate what can happen in such cases, the offers I received from friends turned out to be absolutely unacceptable conditions: my friend who had offered to host me and the cats turned out to upon my arrival to “never” allow cats in his house, but said that we can leave the cats outside in their airplane kennel and then handle the problem after lunch, and then the friends he took me to turned out to have a gigantic Doberman pincher who was free to come in and out of a one-room home with 1 adult and 4 children living in it, and completely unclosable windows. I was able to find a veterinarian there (in Bzios) to take care of my cats for three days, and she charged me R$20 per day. However, the conditions were less than ideal as the cats were in a wire cage in the middle of all the veterinary hubbub, with people in and out and dogs barking all day. I was able to visit a couple times to sooth the cats, but if I could do it again, I would have moved back to the bed and breakfast rather than taking advantage of my friend’s “generosity,” even though he insisted that I stay in his home.
I may be wrong, but my general rule of thumb in the future would be to accept such hospitality – even if insistent – for no more than one or two nights, with the pets, or without them, because Brazilians – it seems to me – are resistant to telling you if something is wrong in the situation, that you are becoming “chateado” – that is, bothering them or being irritating or boring, or any other bad news, for that matter. They will just go along like everything is fine until the situation perhaps explodes. Communication in advance about these matters is important by principle, but nevertheless it is far more difficult in Brazilian culture, because your genuine need for clear communication can be interpreted by Brazilians as attempts to check their trustworthiness, which can be viewed extremely negatively. Another thing to be very careful of with Brazilian friends is offering money. You may be expected to give and receive as pure friendship, without contract of any kind that could make it seem like a business arrangement. That kind of restrictiveness on negotiating, and other intercultural considerations makes it quite difficult to compensate friends for their extra trouble unless you already have established a very strong give-and-take friendship. Thus, taking pets complicates any offer of hospitality, and so I would STRONGLY suggest making your own arrangements for pets independently of your friends. Let them suggest a hotel, apartment, or veterinarian, but then make your own business arrangements for the housing and care of pets, if at all possible.
The general requirements for re-entering my country (the USA) are that the pets MAY be inspected at the arrival airport by a veterinarian hired by the airport and charged to the passenger if they appear to be sick, and they MAY not be allowed re-entry to the country based on that evaluation (and that could mean a tragedy for your pet). You can get a travel certificate in Brazil before returning, but it is not required for international travel FROM Brazil, only for inter-city travel within Brazil (and it is not required to ENTER the USA), although it could perhaps be used as supporting evidence of a healthy animal. Note that the same travel certificates that I used to take the cats into Brazil was asked for again upon arriving in the USA. One point of confusion was that the cats NEVER arrived on the baggage claim in the USA entry city. After waiting 40 minutes for them, somebody told me that the cats automatically go on without me, but that I still would have to produce the pet-travel papers and let the pet food be inspected (the ingredients were scrutinized, and had I needed to take some prescription food or medicine back into the USA, a translation would have been helpful). Amie got good veterinary care while in Brazil at a low price, but she died a couple months after we came back. I will never know if it is the stress of the trip that caused her death, or if it would have been worse had she stayed with a friend and died in my absence without me ever knowing why. All in all, I am glad that I took her, and I just hope that it was truly for the best. Chica, my 6-year old, meanwhile, is now a seasoned world traveler.
David Jess Borough is an economist living in Tempe, Arizona, with his cat, Chica, and preparing for his soon-to-arrive Brazilian fian, Valria.
Thank you so much for you article on taking pets to Brazil! I am close to making a move there and being able to bring my beloved cats/friends has been a major source of stress for me. I couldn’t sleep tonight (it’s 3:30 a.m.) and through the grace of the good Lord found your article on the net. Having nothing to go on but worry, I wasn’t sure at all whether or not I could even bring my pets, how hard it would be and how/what to do. Your article was a Godsend and really helped to alleviate a lot of anxiety. Maybe I can sleep now!!!
To make a long story short, I married a Brasileira in Belize (where I had been living the past 5 1/2 years). I to have a pet dog and we arrived in Rio, yesterday, 25 OCT, where I will be living with my wife in São Gonalo.
I followed fairly closely the suggestions given in the article. I obtained the International Health Certificate for “Mickey” from BAHA (Belize Agriculture Health Agency) with a lot of difficulty. The newly opend Brazil Embassy/Consulate (6 + months ago) approved the certificate which included a fee of US$20. The other 2 documents mentioned in the article were not required, according to the Brazil Embassy/Consulate. What would have bothered me, but since it was Mickey, it was no problem, his visa was signed by the Brazil ambassador, my visa was signed only by a vice-consul.
After arriving in Rio recently, I was prepared to go through all of the governmental paperwork regarding Mickey’s entry into Brazil. As we approached the customs official, I had the IHC & shot record in hand for the official to review, but when we got to him, he looked at my customs declaration & motioned us on through, not even bothering to give a glance to the documents that I had spent so much time & sweat to obtained.
My question is, should I have grabbed that customs official and insisted that he look at the documents that I had gotten for Mickey or did I do right and take Mickey and my cowardly butt out of there as fast as we could go?
Previous articles by David: