Published in the April 25 – May 8, 2018 issue of Morgan Hill Life
It seems that we have seen a rash of reports on animal incidents while traveling on airlines. We all heard about the Flemish Giant rabbit who died during travel and more recently the French bulldog puppy who died during its travel.
It has become quite common for people to buy puppies online and have them shipped via air. Some breeders require them to be escorted while others will allow the pet to be checked in and stowed below. But this popular trend has diminished many people’s views of the risks associated with airline travel for pets.
Airline travel used to be a big deal, but many people now take a much more cavalier approach. So, is it safe to fly with your pets? It is not a simple answer and many factors should be taken into consideration when making the decision.
Is air travel necessary?
If you are moving, the answer may be simple. However, most travel these days seems to be for vacations and with the animal being used in a service or support capacity. If you are traveling for vacation, examine your other options for leaving the pet at home. Do you have friends or family that could care for the pet in an environment where he would be comfortable? Many pets become quite stressed during travel, whether or not you recognize these signs of stress. Maybe there is an alternative to help avoid the trip all together.
Trained service animals need to travel as part of their job. They have extensive training in many different scenarios and most are well suited for travel (as long as medically cleared). This, however, may not be the case for animals traveling as emotional support companions. These animals do not go through nearly the same rigorous training and may not be much comfort for an owner if they themselves are having difficulty dealing with the stress.
Is it medically safe?
Animals with heart and respiratory conditions in particular should be examined prior to travel to determine if air travel is expected to be safe. The high altitude puts additional stress on the cardiorespiratory system and an animal who is already compromised may not be able to compensate for these stresses.
Dogs (and cats) with flattened noses (brachycephalic breeds) are particularly susceptible to having respiratory issues under airline conditions. The flattened nose typically is also compressed and allows for a smaller volume of air to pass through the nasal passages. Many have excessive tissue in the back of the mouth (an elongated soft palate) which can make breathing difficult. Excessively and abnormally small trachea (windpipe) is also commonly part of their anatomy. When you add all these factors to the stress of travel, you have a recipe for disaster.
What are the airline specifications and previous history?
If you do plan to travel with your pet, check with the available airlines. Not all airlines permit animal travel (aside from trained service animals).
There may be differences in how the animal can travel (under plane, under seat, different types of required travel crates) as well as the requirements for travel.
Some require a veterinarian issued USDA health certificate, a temperature acclimation certificate, vaccine certificate as well as other documentation for service/support animals.
Check on the previous history of the airline in regards to complaints/animal incidents during travel. This will help give you an idea as to how the animals are treated.
Does my pet become easily stressed?
If you have a pet who becomes easily stressed, airline travel may not be for them unless absolutely necessary. Sedatives can help take the edge off, but they will not relieve all the stressors associated with travel. A stressed animal is more likely to have travel issues, especially if they require large doses of sedation for the travel.
So is it safe to fly with your pet?
You have to make the ultimate call but do some research before you decide to take your pet on a family vacation so you can make an educated decision.
Dr. Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay received her undergraduate degrees in biology, biochemistry and Spanish from the College of Notre Dame, Belmont. She graduated from U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. She enjoys spending time with her husband and three young children.
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