In light of the new changes to Qantas' policy for the shipping of brachycephalic (snub-nosed) pets, I wanted to take some time to provide a more in-depth look into what makes these pets special, and how as a veterinarian, I am able to provide the specialised care that these precious travellers require.
What is a snub-nosed pet?
A brachycephalic animal has a short and flat snout as a result of years of breeding to develop this characteristic. There are many well-loved and recognised breeds of cats and dogs that are snub-nosed, including the following:
Bulldogs (all types)
Snub-nosed pets often have physical difficulty breathing, and this can vary in severity between animals. In addition, older animals may also have associated lung disease and/or heart disease. A detailed medical examination is recommended prior to considering air travel. If your pet has a clinical history of respiratory or cardiac disease, I will request copies of your pet's case notes from your local vet for evaluation.
When it comes to air travel, these breathing issues can often be exasperated, as the animal is often excited or stressed. This usually causes the animal's body heat to increase, but unlike humans, cats and dogs can't sweat. These animals rely on panting to reduce their body temperature, and in animals with obstructed airways, this process is not efficient enough, which can cause them to overheat. Although a very safe process, overheating is the biggest risk factor for air travel for all pets, regardless of breathing ability. Because of this, it is very important that your pet has a good-sized crate with good ventilation, ensuring they are kept cool.
Treatment for Brachycephalic Pets
As a veterinarian, I see brachycephalic animals all the time in my clinic. In some cases, it is very clear that the animal is having issues breathing, and in severe cases, has a condition known as Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway syndrome, or BOAS. This is more often an issue for dogs than for cats, though cats may also have some difficulty breathing.
The gold-star treatment for BOAS is reconstructive surgery, with the aim to open up the upper respiratory tract to allow for an easier time breathing. I recommend that this should be performed as early as possible, preferably as puppies. Performed young, surgery will improve overall quality of life, and reduce the risk of developing long term respiratory issues such as bronchitis and fibrosis. This surgery is highly adaptable depending the specific needs of the animal, and the severity of the obstruction. After surgery, there is a huge improvement in the animal's ability to breathe, which in turn allows them to be a lot more active, and a lot less noisy and stressed.
I Have a Snub-nosed Pet. Can they fly?
Over the past few years, many airlines have tightened their policies regarding the transport of brachycephalic animals. In fact, now the majority of international airlines either completely ban or place severe restrictions on the shipment of these animals. In some cases, special arrangements need to be made for airlines to allow travel.
One example of this is snub-nosed pets travelling from Hong Kong to Singapore. Due to airline restrictions, these pets have had to travel in style by having to be booked on a freighter cargo plane, with me as their personal escort! I accompany these animals on their flight and monitors them closely, after all, it is all about getting them safely from A to B.
Over the past 5 years, I have been the chairperson for the IPATA Research & Development Task Force. The task force was established with the understanding that the inherent risk associated with pet travel is very individual, with some pets at high risk for travelling, and others completely fit and healthy. Consequently, the current airline restrictions often result in perfectly healthy pets being unable to relocate with their loving families. The importance of individual assessment has been a main focus for the task force, and through our research as well as my veterinary experience, we have developed the Fit to Fly checklist, a tool that can be used by vets to thoroughly assess the individual risk for an animal before they fly. In the advent of this professional advice, we are hopeful that there is a promising future ahead for these special pets, as airlines, such as Qantas, reassess their policy, allowing healthy pets to fly.
You do not need to be alarmed when considering the relocation of your snub nosed pet, however careful pre-export health evaluation and specific crate consideration should be standard practice in this situation. Myself, along with the team here at PetExportVet are more than happy to assist you through this process, and keeping families together.