Pets on a plane: Decrease their risk

While most pets who fly the friendly skies arrive at their destination unscathed, there have been cases of injury and death in some, and this article provides some tips for owners to help ensure the safety of their animals during flight. Veterinarian Jay King suggests getting pets used to the crate they will fly in beforehand, and he says pets’ disposition and the weather should be taken into consideration before putting animals on a flight. The ASPCA recommends ensuring your animal is up to date on vaccinations and that the collar and crate are labeled appropriately. Freezing a dish of water ensures pets have water to drink when they’re ready for it. St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Along for the Ride blog

In November 2010, a French bulldog died sometime during a pair of Continental Airlines flights between St. Louis and Seattle.

During a necropsy of the 11/2-year-old dog at the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, a “small amount of shredded newspaper” was found partially obstructing the opening of the dog’s larynx. The dog’s death was determined to be unrelated to the airline’s handling of the pet.

The cursory account is one of dozens that airlines have filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation in recent years in response to federal reporting rules.

First, it should be noted that the overwhelming majority of pets and other animals that travel by air suffer no serious consequences. Continental shipped 6,725 animals in November 2010 with only one incident.

Still, there are enough reports of animal injuries and deaths to gain some insights into these worst cases. During 2012, for instance, 58 animals were lost, injured or died, during air transportation. In 2011, there were 46. In 2010, the number was 57.

Dr. Jay King of the Watson Road Veterinary Clinic said that “99.9 percent of the time, it is noneventful” to fly with your pet. But there are steps you can take to prevent harm from coming to your family pet during a flight.

If your pet is flying in a crate, take the time for the animal to become familiar with it beforehand.

Drive the pet around town to get accustomed to the notion of travel. Tranquilizers may help your dog or cat handle the stress of air travel, King said, but they can also affect an animal’s ability to regulate its body temperature.

In one case, records show, an English bulldog died after its owner administered a dose of Xanax before a flight in late December from Orlando, Fla., to Seattle.

Recognize that some pets — just like some pet owners — are not comfortable with air travel. They can suffer panic attacks or separation anxiety, King said.

“They are in a weird situation,” King said. “They are put in a cargo hold. Their ears pop. Sometimes they will really freak out.”

Take weather into account, he said. If it is too hot or too cold, the airline may not let your pet fly if the animal is going to be shipped in the cargo hold.

Many of the reports filed during the last three years involved dogs that injured themselves while trying to chew their way out of transport crates. After one Alaska Airlines flight touched down in Seattle last December, ramp workers noticed that a dog’s mouth was stuck on the metal wires of the kennel door, according to one report. Workers had to cut a few of the wires to free the dog’s mouth.

The owners told the airline the dog suffers from “extreme separation anxiety,” and that they would be taking it to a veterinarian to check for any injuries to its mouth.

Many of the mishaps involved international flights, which King said can amount to “a nightmare” because of the extra steps required.

In June 2011, an 8-month-old chinchilla that was originally loaded onto a Delta Air Lines flight at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport was discovered dead at its ultimate destination, Moscow.

Delta officials reported that the chinchilla was “in good condition” at JFK International Airport in New York before it was loaded onto the final flight to Moscow. Once it got there, however, the chinchilla was dead. During a necropsy, the doctor determined that “to the best of our knowledge, cause of death was due to a septic gastroenteritis or acute heart failure from stress,” the report showed.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends against flying with your pet — unless it is going to fly with you in the cabin. If you must transport a pet as cargo on a commercial flight, here are some tips:

  • Make sure all vaccinations are up to date and get a health certificate from your veterinarian within 10 days of the trip.
  • Don’t forget to make sure your pet has a collar and an identification tag, and a microchip if possible. The collar should include information about your destination, in case the animal escapes.
  • Choose a direct flight whenever possible.
  • Pick a USDA-approved shipping crate, and write “live animal” in one-inch letters on the top and at least one side. Affix arrows to show the upright position of the crate.
  • Freeze a small dish of water the night before the trip so it won’t spill while loading. It should be melted by the time your pet is thirsty. King says ice cubes work too.

Your pet is family, so take the extra time to ensure the flight ends happily.

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