Shortnosed Dogs Suffer In Air Transport

DVM Newsmagazine news editor Rachael Whitcomb reports in the September, 2010, edition that short-nosed breeds of dogs are more likely to die in flight than dogs with longer snouts.

Anatomically termed brachycephalic, meaning “short head,” these dogs have all of the structures of longer-nosed or dolichocephalic dogs, yet all of those structures are compressed and folded into a smaller space. The result is restriction of air flow, decreased cooling ability, oxygen intake and waste gas removal while breathing.

English Buldogs are among the brachycephalics who have difficulty dissipating heat.
English Buldogs are among the brachycephalics who have difficulty dissipating heat.

Brachycephalics are typified by the pug and English bulldog. Characteristic dolichocephalics include collies, borzoi and greyhounds.

The issue is extremely complicated. Let’s first look at some facts and numbers:

  • half of the dogs who died on commercial flights in the last five years were short-nosed.
  • in a DOT (United States Department of Transportation) study covering 2006-2008, Continental Airlines had the greatest number of fatalities with 53, followed by Alaska Airlines with 31 and American Airlines with 23.
  • about 2 million pets (of all species) are transported by air in the U.S. each year.
  • In 2005 DOT began requiring airlines to submit monthly injury and mortality reports. Reports are available here. Begin by clicking on Air Travel Consumer Report, on the next page choose the year in which you are interested, followed on the next page by the month of interest.
  • from 2005 to 2009, among all airlines, 122 dogs died, 22 non-pet animals died, 55 animals were injured and 33 were lost.
  • the majority of deaths occurred when dogs were transported in cargo holds instead of inside the cabin with the owner.
  • Southwest Airlines no longer allows animals to be transported in cargo areas.
  • Many airlines allow pets of a certain size to accompany owners in cabins. Typically those animals’ carriers must fit in the space under the seat in front of you unless you are accompanied by a service animal.
  • Several airlines are now requiring detailed medical records of senior and special-needs pets.

One of the factors missing from this report is information nearly impossible to obtain: How many of these dogs had preexisting conditions? For example, an anemic animal has difficulty transporting sufficient oxygen to vital tissues. Add anxiety, panting and a fast heart rate and that pet easily could decompensate fatally.

Extremely high or low ambient temperatures cause stress in animals just as it does in people. While cabin temperatures are typically regulated in a narrow zone, even oxygenated cargo holds lack temperature regulation. Airlines often require an Acclimation Certificate to certify pets’ ability to withstand extremes in temperature.

Friday we will examine Animal Airways, a new way to travel with one’s pets.

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