Dogs That Fly

The United States Department of Transportation recently released breed-related information about dogs that have died while traveling in the cargo compartments of airplanes since May 2005. Of the 122 dogs that died, 108 were purebred. Brachycephalic breeds (ones I affectionately refer to as “smoosh faced”) such as Pugs, English Bulldogs, and French Bulldogs represented approximately half of the purebred dogs that took their last breath while in the plane.    

Credit: Dallasnews.com, Dallas Pooch Parade

You’d have a tough time finding a veterinarian who would be surprised by these results. For us, it’s a given that the vast majority of these adorable, snub-nosed dogs have some degree of upper airway obstruction because of nostrils that are too small, a windpipe that is too narrow, and/or excessive fleshy tissue in the region of the larynx (the anatomical entryway into the windpipe). When brachycephalic dogs breathe harder and faster in response to heat or stress (both may certainly be factors in the cargo compartment of an airplane) it makes sense that they are much more susceptible to heatstroke and/or respiratory compromise.    

What’s the take home point here?  One should always think long and hard about the potential pitfalls of transporting your dog to and fro via airplane. But if your heart belongs to a smoosh-faced dog, please strongly consider other options such as transport via car, renting a private jet (yeah, right!), or leaving your little sweetie at home. If flying is a must, ask your veterinarian to thoroughly assess your dog’s baseline level of respiratory compromise before you purchase your tickets and discuss ways to potentially make the flight less stressful.    

Have you ever flown with your dog? If so, please share your experiential wisdom.  

Now here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health. 

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.   

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12 Responses to “Dogs That Fly”

  1. Ellen Sluder says:

    I was alternately delighted that flying private was mentioned as an option and then disappointed that the viability of it was dismissed in the same sentence. While surely it is out of reach for many people, there are plenty of charter options for regional flying that are quite affordable.

    I work at Fleet Aviation, a small airplane charter company headquartered in the NYC area. Our range is approximately 500 miles and we are very pet friendly. We have even flown animals by themselves before.

    Many of our clients want their pets to come with them for their weekend trips and with us, it can be a practical option. Currently, it’s $575/hour flight time for up to 3 passengers and $800/hour for up to 5 passengers. When you break that down on a per-passenger cost, it is quite reasonable. Large dogs will need their own seat, lap dogs are welcome with a full flight.

    We find most of our clients fly with us to avoid the long traffic queues to get to hard to reach places — such as Martha’s Vineyard or Vermont. What would take 5+ hours to drive is reduced quickly to a one hour flight.

    You can read more about our pet travel policies here: http://www.flyfleet.com/travel-with-pets. Also, we’re big fans of Pet Airways, who fly only pets, for longer hauls (e.g. cross country). It takes two days, but your pet is well taken care of during the journey.

    If you have any questions or are interested in a quote, please feel free to contact us any time!

  2. Rachel says:

    I have three pugs – one who is actually small enough to fly in cabin with me and she has done so several times. She’s one thousand percent better behaved than 90% of the kids on flights – in fact, when I open her carrying bag in the luggage or gate area and people see her, I’ve had people tell me they sat across from me the entire flight and never knew I was travelling with a dog. My two who are too big to fly in cabin with me will never travel by plane. It’s simply not worth the risk to fly any dog in cargo, in my opinion – look at the champion show dog (I want to say she was a whippet?) who escaped her carrier at an airport in NY a few years ago. I don’t believe she was ever found. So, although a dog flown in cargo may not die, there are all sorts of things that can (and do) go wrong flying animals in cargo. NOT WORTH THE RISK.

  3. Miria Yarden, B.Sc.,MS,APDT says:

    Several years ago when this subject was firstvaired, the airlines excused it by stating that of all the thousands of pets they were transporting, only 5% resulted in fatalities. While it is indeed, a small percentage, it is no consolation to the owner of the pet who died!
    The whole situation of forbidding pets in the cabin is ridiculous. I travel to Israel every two years on board EL AL, the Israeli airline and have taken my dog, a 50 lb pup in the cabin with me. She bothered no one, slept 90% of the time, behaved better than small children who scream, yell, run around and keep kicking the back of my seat.
    I have never flown on EL AL without at least half a dozen pets of all kinds in their owners’ laps – dogs, cats, rabbits, etc. In fact, I have seen large German Shepherds, Mastiffs, Greyhounds, Great Danes, etc., traveling in first class in their own seats which the owners have paid for. Expensive? Yes, but it is a matter of the owner’s discretion.
    If I can not take my dog in the cabin, then I leave her home with a live-in sitter who has been “sitting” for me for the last 20 years and my dogs and cat love her.
    Under no circumstances will I endanger my pets by either dying in the cargo hold or breaking out of the carrier and running wild on the tarmac.
    My motto: BETTER BORED AT HOME THAN DEAD!

  4. Lois Snyder says:

    What a statistic of 122 dogs who died on planes in the last five years omits is the literally hundreds of thousands of dogs flown safely during that time. Without a context it is a scare tactic rather than a valid statistic. Put into another perspective, that many dogs a DAY! are probably killed either in car accidents or by escaping from cars while they travel. Just like with people air travel is very, very safe! have personally flown my dogs dozens of times in the last twenty years without a mishap.

    It is true that caution should be taken with short muzzled breeds but these breeds require caution during any exertion.

  5. I don’t even fly myself anymore. Cramped conditions, lost luggage, long lines, etc. No way my fearful rescue is getting on a plane.

    In the late 1970’s I flew with my terrier. It was “up north” on a Otter. He sat in the passanger cabin and got lots of petting and admiration!

  6. For people who might be putting their anxious or fearful dog on a plane, or worry that their pet ‘might’ be anxious, caution must be taken when giving medication to a dog in the cargo hold. Sedatives or tranquilizers (or meds which can cause sedation) can be dangerous.

    Was the use of meds taken into consideration in the study on dogs that died on flight?

  7. Anne Dorley says:

    If it were me and I felt I really had to transport my dog this way, I would find some way to get him one of those vests that designates therapy dogs.

  8. Louisa says:

    Flying my dogs is against my personal religion.
    Although I don’t have a “smooshed-nose breed”, I also don’t have very small dogs that could possibly come in the cabin with me, (eg: in a bulkhead seat with the extra legroom for the crate), so I simply wouldn’t do it. To me, there are some chances you just don’t take. Ever.

  9. Jackie says:

    One more option is the airline that flies ONLY pets. Never seem to remember the name of it since I do not intend to fly my pets, but they fly in the passenger section, not cargo, and have attendants. I believe they fly out of Sacramento, CA, but that is all I know.

  10. Thanks for these statistics. Didn’t really surprise me, since my very active Pug can’t go for hikes if temperatures are in the mid-60s or higher — but still good to know. We’ll share the info with all our pug friends :)

  11. Susan says:

    I think the various guide dog establishments probably have lots of tips on “flying
    dogs”, e.g. Guide Dogs for the Blind, San Rafael, California.

  12. Sandy Mesmer says:

    I have shipped dogs on planes for the last 30 years. I breed Silky Terriers – definitely not a “smooshed nose” breed. I have never had any accidents or trouble, but I feel strongly that there is a right way and a wrong way to fly your dog. I have posted at length about this in my website’s travel section.