Hundreds of thousands of animals travel on planes every year, with only the rare health problem. That said, some pets require extra care and planning to ensure they have a safe travel experience. Flat-faced dogs and cats are of particular concern -- for pet parents and airlines alike. In fact, some airlines no longer accept brachycephalic pets, and those that do have introduced stricter limitations on when and how flat-faced pets can fly.
What’s the problem?
The American Veterinary Medical Association explains that air travel poses greater risks for brachycephalic pets than for those with longer muzzles, for several reasons. The term brachycephalic combines two Greek words to mean “short head.” The wrinkly, flattened muzzle may give your pooch or kitty a cute expression, but it doesn’t function very well. There is significantly less room to accommodate nasal anatomy, resulting in smaller-than-normal nostrils, squashed sinuses, and a narrower-than-normal windpipe.
No wonder your cute guy’s breathing is constricted. And if he gets overheated or excited or stressed, he pants, right? Or tries to. That’s a lot harder for short-nosed pets, too. If he is overweight, that also exacerbates his breathing problems because excess weight puts additional stress on bodily functions. In addition to breathing difficulty, flat-faced dogs and cats often suffer from problems with their teeth, skin, eyes, and/or gastrointestinal system. Some of these may also make air travel more difficult.
Despite all that, there’s a good chance your beloved companion can safely relocate overseas with you.
Step 1: Pick the right airline
As noted above, airlines now have stricter rules for flat-faced pets. Some carriers never allow brachycephalic dogs or cats on board unless they qualify to ride in the passenger cabin with their owner. Other airlines restrict which breeds of dogs can travel in the cargo hold. Pet space is pressurized and temperature controlled much like the cabin, and pets travel in specially-designed kennels that are well-ventilated. But flying can still be stressful, and stress makes it even tougher for short-snouted pets to breathe.
All airlines have certain rules in common, ones that apply to all pets. For example, if the weather is too hot (over 85o F) or too cold (under 45o F), dogs and cats are not allowed to fly, unless they are in-cabin. This applies to every ground point on your itinerary, and the determination is made day-by-day, so it can wreak havoc with your travel plans. Temperature extremes can also add to your pet’s breathing difficulty.
The following breeds are all recognized by veterinarians as brachycephalic. However, every airline has their own list of embargoed breeds. The only way to know for sure if your dear pup or kitty is a “go” from the airline’s perspective is to ask. (Confirm the answer with a second source, so you’re sure you have accurate, current information.)
- Boston terrier
- Brussels griffon
- Cavalier King Charles spaniel
- Chihuahua (apple-faced)
- Chow chow
- Dogue de Bordeaux
- English bulldog
- French bulldog
- Japanese chin
- Lhasa apso
- Old English bulldog
- Shih tzu
- Tibetan spaniel
- Toy spaniel
- Victorian bulldog
Step 2: Take extra precautions to ensure your pet’s safety
First, talk to your vet, to discuss your pet’s specific health challenges and fitness to fly. You’ll be seeing the vet anyway, because traveling internationally with dogs and cats requires an assortment of health-related documentation and, possibly, immunizations and tests.
Once your vet gives the OK and you’ve found a suitable airline, the most important thing you can do is obtain your guy’s airline-approved travel kennel as soon as possible. Even if your pet is crate-trained, riding in one for extended period of time on a strange journey can induce stress. Giving your pup or cat a chance to become familiar with his carrier will reduce his anxiety.
When it’s time to depart, you’ll want to put something soft and absorbent in the bottom of the carrier. However, because your pet is a brachy, don’t use anything so fluffy he could bury his nose in it.
We can help
The kindest thing you can do as a pet parent is to call on our Pacific Pet Transport team for help. Identifying the most pet-friendly itinerary is not usually as easy as choosing flights for yourself. Add the “brachy factor,” and the process can become even more complex. We know the best airlines and the best routes for pets. And we’ve had extensive experience working around challenges of all types, always with your pet’s safety and comfort as our ultimate goal.