I often get questions from our readers about how to care for a pet in Mexico. Rather than give you the dry facts, I thought it would be better to share my personal story that incorporates much of what you need to know.
When I decided to adopt a dog back in 2010 – the first dog that would be mine as a grown-up rather than my family’s pet – I set out on a mission to find the perfect companion.
I knew I wanted a female. I also knew I wanted an adult, a dog whose personality was already basically established, and I wanted a mutt because 1) they do not get adopted as easily as purebreds, and 2) I believed it would have fewer potential health problems.
I wanted her to be big and scary looking enough for when I was out walking with her alone, but kind and gentle enough to accept guests inside my home without attacking or being annoyingly insistent on lavish attention. She would also need to be relatively calm and preferably a tad lazy so that she would not suffer hanging out by herself while I was away teaching high school during the day.
I began my search by looking up local animals shelters in Querétaro, the city I lived in at the time. One was essentially a farm a bit outside the city where all the dogs ran around together, free and happy. There, I found a lovely golden retriever whose owners had died suddenly. She was a top contender.
But I found my true canine love at a run-down downtown shelter. After having talked to the person who ran the shelter and gone to visit a specific dog that seemed to have ticked off all the boxes, I began to walk out in disappointment. The dog they had in mind for me was nervous and snippy, and it was obvious that we did not have good chemistry.
As I walked toward the exit, however, I noticed a large cage with three dogs inside. Two of them were literally bouncing off the walls. The third, however, a beautiful boxer-sized white dog with black and brown spots and black around the eyes that made it look like it was wearing eyeliner, was sitting calmly, simply observing the goings-on around her with her head casually resting on her paws. “Can I see this dog?” I asked. The rest is history. She-ra (named for a favorite cartoon hero of mine as a kid) was with me for ten years until her death of old age last May.
She-ra’s history was always a mystery to me. She had been found on the street a few weeks before I adopted her. She didn’t have her shots and had not been sterilized. She had some health issues stemming from the lack of basic care in the face of simple infections. Like me, she was half-deaf, having suffered from untreated ear infections. She also had a delicate stomach and sensitive skin that was prone to fungal infections.
Physically, it was easy to believe that she had always been a street dog. But she was so well-behaved and tame that it was hard to believe she had not been in the care of someone who had put a lot of effort into her doggie education.
Whatever her story had been, it was not something we would ever find out. Her background a mystery, we simply did what we could for her health problems, which turned out to be a bit more extensive than we had suspected they would be.
Needless to say, I became somewhat of an expert in pet care, both in terms of what was available and what resources were available for me to DIY it.
Like most things in Mexico, one can usually find the best option in any given area by asking for recommendations. That’s how I found her first veterinarian, a nice lady who made house calls to see those patients that could not be taken in taxis or buses to her office. She would come with her suitcase full of some of the most common medicines, and treated She-ra for ear, skin, and stomach infections.
Like the costs for private doctors who make house calls, the prices were quite low and accessible, especially for someone who had lived in the United States. This is something I have found to be as true now as I did when I first started frequenting veterinarians almost 15 years ago (before She-ra, a cat had adopted me before being run off by a neighbor while I was out of town).
So, what can you expect in the way of animal care and resources in Mexico? While, of course, there will be regional differences, the overall message is this: you will find care for your pets.
You can find a great number of veterinarians in big cities, and there are usually several in even small communities, as well.
Like many institutions in Mexico, there is great variety in terms of how official and/or automated different places might be. This also varies, as it does all over the world, by the size of the community you live in. Mexico City, of course, will have many more options, including world class animal hospitals, than Jalcomulco, Veracruz. Many veterinary offices are simple store-fronts with a back room for consultations. Like in the U.S. and Canada, veterinarians tend to have a small staff, usually a secretary and/or assistant to help out, though some might work alone. Prices for both care and medicine tend to be very reasonable.
Asked about prices for typical services, my own long-time vet, Dr. José Manuel Cortés Lechuga (“Dr. Lechuza” is the name of his vet office), told me approximately how much one could expect to spend for some of the more common services in my city of Xalapa, Veracruz: 700 pesos a year for vaccines; 1,200 a year for anti-parasitical medicine (including heartworm pills and flee control); 2,000 pesos for sterilization, unless you are able to get it for free during common campaign pushes in most communities (shelter animals are never given for adoption before being sterilized),; 300 pesos for grooming, and 500 pesos for a chip if you must travel with your pets.
Many veterinarians are easily accessible.
Like with medical doctors, it is not uncommon to have a vet’s personal number or an emergency number to call if needed. If they are not available for emergencies, they will be able to direct you to someone (or an animal hospital) that is. Prices for emergency care might be slightly higher, but will not usually be comparable to the price hikes for similar services in the rest of North America.
Bigger cities have chain pet stores like PetSmart, but prices tend to be quite high compared to smaller places or what you can find online.
To be clear, prices at chain pet stores are roughly the same as in the U.S., translated into pesos. It is just a much larger portion of most people’s income here. Smaller pet shops sell beds and pet accessories, and while the trade-off for lower prices is a smaller selection, you can usually find what you need. There may even me homemade options for things like pet beds at regular markets.
Online is another option. There are a variety of online companies in Mexico that sell just about anything you would need to care for your animal.
If your pet needs specialty food, you can probably find it, but it will be much more expensive than you are used to in the rest of North America.
I suspect that this is due to import fees, but when I needed to feed ProPlan to She-ra for her skin condition, I had to drop about 1,200 pesos on a 15-kilo bag each time, and that was five years ago. It lasted for a couple of months, but it was still a fairly big chunk of change. I ended up taking the advice of Dr. Lechuza to feed her rice and chicken, instead. It was better for her; tastier and much less expensive than the specialty pet food I had been giving her before that.
Most vets offer grooming services, and most cities have stand-alone pet grooming businesses. Services can range between 200-500 pesos.
Traveling with a pet in Mexico
If you need to travel, there are a couple of different options. If you travel by plane, then the airline will of course inform you of their rules. For buses, animals are not allowed to travel with the people under any circumstances. They must go in an appropriately sized hard container under the bus with the luggage. If you will be travelling through hot places, the recommendation is to leave the pets in the care of someone else, as they could die from the heat or a minor accident since there is no way to strap their kennel in place. Thankfully, many vets have “pet hotels” that are very economical, so if you decide to leave them behind, they will be safe and happy. Dr. Lechuza recommends taking a tour of the facilities and finding out about routines for pets kept there before making your final decision.
If you are traveling on any kind of public transport in Mexico, you will need your pet’s cartilla de vacunación (vaccination card) and a certificación de salud (health certificate). Many airlines also require that your pet have an identification chip. Any veterinarian with a cédula professional (a professional ID) will be able to provide these documents for you.
If your pet needs medicine, the veterinarian will need to write you an official prescription if it includes antibiotics. Much of that medicine can be bought at regular pharmacies more cheaply than from specialized pet stores, and the vet will likely include specific instructions about dosing (a pill cutter could be a handy thing to have). The prescription will need to be written on official letterhead specifying the doctor’s cédula professional in order to be accepted.
Training your pet
Pet obedience schools are common, but also largely unregulated, so be sure to get recommendations and check out the schools or individual trainers you are considering well before committing to their program.
Adopting a pet in Mexico
First and foremost, make sure it is legal to adopt the animal that you want. Dogs and cats are, of course, commonplace, but wild animals like parrots, while many people have them as pets, are technically not allowed. Be sure to check with a local vet which animals are permissible as pets.
Like most places, the best bet for finding a furry friend is an animal shelter, which many communities will have, and which I would personally recommend. You might also simply adopt a stray animal off the street. Animals are for sale by private citizens, but buying them can be risky since you do not know the background or the conditions under which the pet previously lived. If you are looking for a specific breed, look for a reputable breeder who is very transparent and can provide lineage information and health guarantees. You can find them online or get recommendations from local vets. Purchasing a specific breed puppy, though, can be quite pricey.
Importing a pet into Mexico
To import your pet into Mexico, you will need a health certificate (original and a copy) issued by your veterinarian. The certificate must be on letterhead with the veterinarian’s license number printed on it. You will need to present this certificate at the Office of Animal and Plant Health Inspection (OISA) located at the port of entry to Mexico.
If you bring more than two pets, you must complete additional forms and pay additional taxes. For more than three pets, you will have to pay approximately US$115 at the first port of entry.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides further details on requirements for importing your pet into Mexico.
Other things to consider
So, what is the difference here in Mexico when it comes to animals? When I asked Dr. Lechuza this, he immediately mentioned the fact that there are still many animals, especially in more rural areas, that are primarily used for work, as opposed to being pets. And because there are veterinarians that primarily focus on work animals, some pet owners might find them to be lacking in the kind of bedside manner that they are accustomed to in their home countries.
Another difference is the degree to which people in Mexico humanize (or do not) their pets. It is still common to see guard dogs essentially abandoned in what seem to be empty lots to prevent others from taking over the land in the owners’ absence, which is a topic for another article, by the way. If you buy land and are not going to be there, please secure it. It is also typical to see dogs that live on roofs by themselves. This is partially because there is generally more “running around” space on roofs than in small patios or yards. It also means that guard dogs cannot be poisoned with tainted food as easily in order to gain entry into the property, something that unfortunately, and mercifully infrequently, happens.
If you see an animal that you suspect is being subject to abuse or abandonment, you can call the Centro de Salud Animal (Center for Animal Health) of your local municipality, which is under the umbrella of the Secretaría de Salud (the Health Ministry) to report it.
Speaking of laws, make sure your dog is always on a leash when out for a walk. It is illegal to not have it leashed in public, and you will be held liable for any damage it causes as a result, even if it was in self-defense.
Another helpful tip is to call the Veterinary Doctors Association in your area and find out what illnesses are most commonly treated there. Doing so can help you be prepared with preventative measures if you are moving to a new place, and to identify what might be wrong should your pet start to feel ill.
Wherever you live, pets make everything better. In Mexico, you and your animal companions can live happily, safely and plentifully!