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Flying With Fido: Risks Pet Owners Should Know About

Pets, like humans, prefer routine and predictability. When things happen that they don’t understand, pets tend to become stressed. Whereas with humans certain difficult circumstances and situations can be explained in an effort to help them understand what is happening and why no amount of explanation can help a pet understand unusual and unexpected situations. They place a lot of trust in their owners, and can, therefore, become even more confused when their owners place them in challenging and upsetting situations, such as a crate on an airplane. But while a pet owner may recognize that flying is stressful for their furry friend, they may not realize that it comes with many other more serious risks.

Flying Risks for Pets

A pet who is traveling by plane has a lot more to deal with than just stress. Since many commercial airlines only permit pets to travel in the cargo hold, it’s important to take a moment to consider what this means for your pet.

Cargo holds are not designed to be comfortable, the way passenger seating is. Pets who travel in cargo holds are normally exposed to wide variations in temperature, constant, extremely loud noises, and significant drops in air pressure. Nervous pets may actually chew their own limbs, drawing blood and worse, in response to these dramatic conditions. This means that flying is not just stressful for pets, it’s dangerous and potentially even fatal. In 2011 alone, thirty-five pets died shortly before, during or shortly after traveling on commercial flights run by U.S. airline companies. In 2012, twenty-nine pets died just before, during or after traveling on commercial flights run by U.S. airline companies. Considering that roughly two million pets travel on commercial flights each year, these numbers may seem relatively small. However, they aren’t small at all to the pet owners whose pets did lose their lives while flying.

Unfortunately, airlines don’t usually take any sort of corrective action when a pet is lost, injured or killed during a commercial flight. In fact, they may assert that the fault lies with the pet’s owner for choosing to place their pet at risk, especially if the pet was older or had known, pre-existing health problems. This, of course, can make an already difficult situation even more so for grieving pet owners.

Some pet care professionals believe that flying is simply too stressful for most, or even all, pets to endure well, especially if they are placed in the cargo hold of the airplane. Even if they are healthy enough to survive the flight, they may suffer from the effects of stress and fear for some time afterward. They can sense changes in air pressure, temperature and noise levels and while they can tell that something huge is happening, they simply don’t understand it. Being away from the human they trust can only serve to further exacerbate the situation.

Making the Right Choice for Your Pet

If you are considering air travel with your pet for the purpose of a family vacation, you may want to take a moment to consider whether it will truly be worth it–for your pet. Of course, your pet doesn’t it like it when you are away and you are right to assume that they would love to be with you, but the combination of stressful and frightening air travel along with being in a new and unfamiliar location may make the whole experience entirely unpleasant for them. If you feel that you absolutely must take your pet on an airplane with you, as in the case of moving, take the time to thoroughly research your options. Some commercial airlines try to mitigate potential harm by prohibiting pet travel in cargo holds during periods of extreme weather, or when temperature predictions are below or above certain levels. There are also some commercial airlines that will permit some small cats and dogs to fly under a seat in the main cabin, provided their owners pay a special fee and provide important health documentation. However, some airlines will also completely refuse to transport certain breeds of animals, such as snub-nosed or brachycephalic dogs like pugs, boxers, bulldogs and chow chows, because their basic physiology makes normal respiration difficult, even in non-stressful conditions, which increases the risk of injury or death during air travel.

If you are considering air travel for your pet, it is always wise to contact a veterinarian to gain their opinion on whether they feel your pet will do well with air travel, and what can be done to further ensure their health and safety.

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