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Is it Safe to Fly With Your Pet? Seven Dogs Dead After American Airlines Flight

August 31, 2010 | 13,698 views
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Pug coming out of his carrierAn investigation is ongoing into the tragic deaths of seven dogs aboard an American Airlines flight traveling from Tulsa, OK to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in early August.

There were 14 dogs in kennels in the cargo bay of the aircraft. When airport workers began unloading the pet carriers after the flight’s arrival in Chicago, they noticed the dogs seemed lethargic. The animals were taken to a veterinarian, where half later died.

American Airlines has established rules for the temperatures at which it is safe for pets to travel. According to CNN.com:

“The airline's website says pets cannot be accepted when the current or forecasted temperature is warmer than 85 degrees at any location on the itinerary.”

The American flight was an hour late leaving Tulsa and arrived in Chicago at shortly before 9:00am. The temperature in Tulsa at 7:00am was reported to be 86 degrees. That would have been the air temperature – not the temperature inside the cargo bay of the plane sitting at the gate.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

According to the Department of Transportation, 144 pets, including 122 dogs, died during air travel from May 2005 to May 2010.

This is actually a very small percentage of the total number of pets flown during that five-year period. But to the heartbroken owners of those 144 animals that didn’t arrive alive, the number that did really doesn’t matter.

Traveling with Pets is Inherently Risky

Most veterinarians agree that unless traveling with a pet is a necessity, the best advice we can offer is to leave your furry companion behind with a trusted pet sitter.

Traveling is stressful for even the most laid-back pet. If your dog or cat is a little shy or hyper to begin with, he’ll suffer significantly more stress during travel.

Pets do best with familiar surroundings and a daily routine they can count on. Any sort of travel removes those two anchors from their lives temporarily. And as connected as your pet might be to you – as eager as he is for rides in the car, or to go on walks and hikes with you – traveling a long distance and being away from home for days or a week is another matter altogether. That’s really not “fun” for a dog or cat – it’s stressful.

Many pets are prone to motion sickness, which can make travel truly miserable for them.

Certain breeds, like brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs and cats, can have extra difficulty traveling, especially by air.

A dog or cat can be too stressed to drink water on a long flight or car trip, risking dehydration.

Some pets cry, whine, whimper, bark or wail non-stop during travel, for hours on end.

Many pets, both dogs and cats, will attempt to escape their kennel or the vehicle they’re riding in.

It’s not uncommon to hear of a dog owner who pulled over in a rest area to walk his pet, only to have the dog leap from the car or pull out of his restraint and run away, never to be seen again by his devastated family.

If you feel you must bring your pet with you – if you’re moving to a new city or state, for example – the following tips will help you keep your pet safe and healthy during travel.

Tips for Flying a Pet

Make sure your pet is healthy enough for air travel. If your pet has a chronic illness or pre-existing condition, it can play a big role in how well he travels by air.

Talk with your vet about the risks of flying your pet, as well as what kinds of health certification will be required. Pets traveling across state lines by air must have an up-to-date rabies vaccination and a certificate of veterinary inspection within 10 days prior to travel.

I don’t recommend sedating your pet for travel except under extreme circumstances, and only after consulting with your holistic veterinarian.

Invest in a high-quality pet carrier. Defective carriers are to blame for the majority of escaped or injured pets during air travel.

According to the AVMA, approved transport crates must:

  • Be large enough to allow the animal to stand (without touching the top of the cage), sit erect, turn around, and lie down in a natural position.
  • Latch securely.
  • Be strong and free of interior protrusions, with handle or grips.
  • Have a solid, leak-proof bottom covered with plenty of absorbent material.
  • Be appropriately and clearly labeled. Include your name, home address, home phone number, and destination contact information, as well as a designation of "Live Animals," with arrows indicating the crate's upright position. In addition, carry your pet's photo and health information with you on the plane for easy identification in the event the cage label is lost.
  • Be adequately ventilated so that airflow is not impeded.

Establish your pet’s carrier as her safe place. Well before you put your pet on a plane, get her comfortable with her carrier. Buy it ahead of time and get her used to being in it in the safe surroundings of home, with you nearby. You can use the same rules of crate training for carrier training.

Put little enticements like treats and a favorite toy in the carrier to encourage her to go in. Put a soft towel or one of your articles of clothing in there for her to snuggle on (if you know your pet won’t eat it!).

If you make her transport crate a safe place at home, she’ll feel safer in it when she’s at the airport and aboard the aircraft, both of which will be scary and overwhelming for your pet.

Fly non-stop if possible. Non-stop flights are generally less taxing for all of us – including our pets. If your pet is flying in the cargo hold, a plane change is just another opportunity for a problem to arise, not to mention even more stress on the animal.

During warmer months, choose early morning or evening flights. In cold weather, choose flights during the warmer hours of the day.

Reconfirm your flight the day before you leave. Give yourself plenty of time the day of your flight to arrive at the airport and exercise your pet if necessary before the flight.

If your pet will be in the cargo hold, let the flight attendants know, and pick your animal up promptly when you arrive at your destination. If your pet will be in the cabin with you, arrange to check-in as late as possible to minimize the amount of time your dog or cat will have to be in the airport terminal.

Make sure your pet is wearing a current ID tag and a secure collar. Consider not printing your dog’s name on the ID tag. My dog’s tags say “HUGE REWARD” and my phone number only. In certain situations, it can be helpful if no one knows the name your pet responds to but you, this has also been proven to reduce pet theft. Also keep a photograph of your pet with you to assist with identification in case he is lost.

Tips for Traveling with Your Pet by Car

Assess your pet’s comfort level with car rides. Unless your dog or cat is used to car travel, it’s a good idea to take her for a few pre-trip outings to see how she does in your vehicle. A car-sick pet will be miserable, as will everyone traveling with her. If she does get sick, consult your holistic veterinarian for suggestions on how you can make her more comfortable.

If you opt to use natural calming herbal medications, make sure you know your pet can handle new supplements before the real event. Never give sedatives without first knowing your pet’s response to the medication at home, before traveling.

Plan well ahead for overnight stops. If you’ll be making overnight stops on your trip, plan in advance to locate friends, relatives, hotels, motels or campgrounds that will welcome your pet. If your dog won’t be in a crate during travel, it’s still a good idea to bring one along in case you need to confine your pet at any point along the way.

Keep your pet safe during travel. Cats should always be in a carrier. They feel more secure, and you won’t look down to find Fluffy wedging himself under your brake pedal.

If your dog must ride in the bed of a truck, he should be placed in a kennel that is fastened to the truck bed.

Dogs that ride inside a car shouldn’t ride in the front seat of vehicles equipped with airbags. And no dog, no matter how small, should ever be allowed to sit on the driver’s lap.

There are many types of dog car restraints available – seatbelt harnesses, tethers and the like — which will keep your dog safe during travel. It’s a good idea to get your pet used to a restraint before you embark on a long trip.

I also don’t recommend you let your dog ride with his head out the window. Dirt and debris can lodge in your pet’s eyes or nostrils and cause an injury or infection. Trying to find an ER vet while traveling can really put a damper on everyone’s trip.

Plan your pet’s meals in advance. It’s important not to make changes to your pet’s diet while traveling. If you feed raw or cook homemade food for your dog or cat, you’ll need to prepare meals for the trip and also plan in advance for how you’ll keep your animal on the diet he’s used to once you reach your destination. Many people opt for commercially available freeze-dried raw food during travel.

Make sure your pet has access to fresh, clean water either en route, or at a minimum at rest stops.

ID your pet. Your pet should always wear an ID tag with your phone number on it attached to a secure collar.

If you find it necessary to travel with a furry family member, don’t approach the situation casually. Preparation is priceless and will help to keep your pet safe and healthy en route and after you arrive at your destination.

[+] Sources and References

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