Pet Parade: Canadian docs say keep pets out of airplane cabins

By AL SWANSON, United Press International  |  Sept. 18, 2011 at 4:59 AM
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At least one major Canadian airline is ignoring a Canadian Medical Association recommendation that most pets -- except service animals like guide dogs for the blind -- be barred from airplane cabins.

Air Canada and WestJet currently allow cats and small dogs to ride with their owners inside airline cabins and WestJet, based in Calgary, said it has no plans to change its policy.

Air Canada dropped its ban on pets flying in airline cabins in 2009.

However, the medical association said allowing pets in the cabin presents a serious allergy threat to susceptible passengers.

"While airlines argue that this is a great thing for pet owners, the practice actually exposes our patients and their passengers to significant allergens that could make the journey difficult" and could result in serious illness, said Dr. Mark Schonfeld of Vancouver, chief executive officer of the British Columbia Medical Association, who presented the motion to the CMA's general council in Newfoundland in August.

"For Schonfeld, it's a personal issue," the Canadian Medical Association Journal said in article. "His wife has severe animal allergies and must carry an EPiPen on planes. During a recent trip, exposure to a pet in the aircraft cabin led to a terrible asthma attack that left her sick for three or four days after."

The Canadian Transportation Agency, which last year ruled three people allergic to cats were disabled under federal travel regulations, is investigating complaints about pets in airline cabins filed against Air Canada and WestJet," the Toronto Star reported.

Air Canada said it reinstated its policy of allowing small pets in cabins at the request of customers and over its 70-year history has had "an infinitesimally small number of allergen-related medical emergencies."

The pets allowed in the cabin must remain inside animal carriers that can fit under a seat.

An airline spokesman told the Star, "We understand some of our customers may not wish to be seated too close to a cat or small dog in flight, in which case we will make all reasonable efforts to re-seat them to ensure the comfort and well-being of all passengers."

Opponents of a ban say airlines can take reasonable steps short of automatically relegating all animals to the cargo hold to limit exposure of allergic passengers to pet dander -- such as designating pet-free flights -- or relocating pets as far away from allergic passengers as possible.

But animal advocates warn putting all pets in the pressurized cargo hold of an airplane places their lives at risk.

Jet Airways in India last month was asked to pay $3,260 to the owner of two pugs that died on a flight from Mumbai to New Delhi in 2009, The Times of India reported.

The dogs were found dead on arrival in the Indian capital after the pilot failed to turn on the air circulation system in the live animal section of the cargo hold, the newspaper said.

Rx for older pets

The American Veterinary Association found 24 percent of dog owners and 39 percent of cat owners said they would only take their pet to the veterinarian if something was wrong.

If the rule of thumb that one year in a dog's life equals seven human years is accurate, dogs hit mid-life about the time a young child born in the same year enters the second grade.

A Virginia vet recommends aging pets be routinely screened with checkups and wellness exams starting at age seven for chronic inflammatory conditions, blood problems, cancer, diabetes, liver and kidney impairment and other conditions that can be successfully managed if caught early.

Dr. Michael Watts, owner of Clevengers Corner Veterinary Care, wrote in the Culpepper, Va., Star Exponent, that pet life expectancy has doubled since the 1960s and when pets enter the "over 50" crowd, they "should graduate to more through laboratory screening tests than younger pets."

The 2011 Banfield Pet Hospital State of Pet Health Report found diabetes up 16 percent in cats and 32 percent in dogs, ear infections up 34 percent in cats and 9 percent in dogs, and dental disease up 10 percent in cats and 12 percent in dogs.

A senior pet visit to the vet should include a head-to-tail physical, a complete blood count, a serum biochemical profile, urinalysis and possibly an EKG to check the condition of its heart.

Pet "Lemon Laws"

Puppy Mill Awareness of South East Michigan is proposing a puppy "lemon law" to protect the state's pet owners from unscrupulous breeders.

Under the proposed law, people who buy a puppy would have 90 days after purchase to take the pet to a vet for a physical examination.

Dog owners also would get a month to see whether their new puppy develops any illnesses, WEYI-TV, Saginaw, Mich., reported.

Some 18 states have similar pet laws on the books.

Pet stores

While San Francisco debates a controversial proposal to ban all live pet sales inside the city, Petland, a national pet store chain in Canada, has stopped selling puppies and kittens entirely.

The decision "reflects the fundamental change in the way consumers are sourcing and purchasing puppies, resulting in a decrease of sales within pet stores," Petland told Global Calgary television in a statement.

Petland will continue its Adopt-a-Pet program, which works with animal rescue organizations.

San Francisco's pending "Humane Pet Acquisition Proposal" would keep more than kittens and puppies from being sold at pet stores after it was expanded to cover virtually any live animal from Great Danes to goldfish sold in the city as a pet.

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