Arnold L Goldman, D.V.M.  
Canton, CT

Specialties: general practice

Interests: critical care, oncology, surgery
Canton Animal Hospital LLC
Canton, CT
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Aero-medical & Aviation Safety Factors For Pets in General Aviation

Aug 06, 2009 - 11 comments






Aero-medical & Aviation Safety Factors For Pets in General Aviation  

By Dr. Arnold L. Goldman,

Great attention has been and is properly paid to the safety of flight with respect to our own health and pilot proficiency, and our aircrafts airworthiness. For those of us who fly with our pets, dogs in most cases, I have seen little to no attention paid to the pet's safety. As pet health is my job, I would urge all of you to begin to consider how to change that fact.

Most aero medical considerations that adversely affect humans in flight, such as hypoxia and carbon monoxide will similarly affect our pets. High altitude flight in a suddenly un-pressurized cabin has the same affect on a pet as it does on a human. While the pet's visual acuity and coordination may not be critical factors to the safety of flight, an older or frail animal may not tolerate low cabin pressures and the resultant lack of normal levels of oxygen well. While some may be trained to accept wearing a cannula, in most cases we are well advised to avoid prolonged flight at an altitude beyond which we need supplemental oxygen ourselves.

The results of carbon monoxide toxicity are similar in all mammals and are a concern for us all. Appropriate monitoring and maintenance are the only way to avoid this hazard. This holds true for our traveling pet as well.

In the typical general aviation aircraft, sound and vibration are issues that must be dealt with. These cause fatigue and when prolonged and repeated, will result in permanent hearing loss. We purchase and use noise-canceling headsets to more easily communicate with ATC in the high noise environment, but also to protect our hearing. For our four-legged passengers often nothing is done. A very simple solution to this problem can be found using cotton balls and a tweezers or haemostatic forceps. Simply place an appropriately sized cotton ball into the vertical portion of a pet's ear canal, gently packing with a fingertip until it is well seated, but still visible. That is enough to protect the pets hearing. Upon landing the cotton can be removed with the tweezers or forceps and discarded. Simple!

Temperature extremes are a concern with respect to flying pets. While comfortable in the same temperature range as we are, pets are more likely to be left in the aircraft for extended periods and be subject to extreme temperatures. In winter, when stopping for that $100 hamburger, at the least most pets should be brought indoors, away from wind and icy temperatures. When that's not possible, in many cases, especially with shorthaired animals a pet coat is necessary to conserve body heat. If it is necessary to leave a pet in a parked aircraft, your ground time should be limited.

In the summer months, pets must not be left in an aircraft at all. Just as in a parked car, temperatures rise rapidly to 150 degrees or more in minutes. Pets should be brought to a shaded area and offered water. Unable to sweat, pets cool themselves by panting alone, thus evaporating saliva to lose heat. It is an inefficient method at best, as panting increases the work of breathing and that in itself creates more heat. Thus pets are ill suited to extreme high temperatures. This is especially true when it comes to the short faced breeds such as Pugs, Boston terriers, English Bulldogs and Himalayan cats to name a few. These breeds pant especially inefficiently due to their altered appearance (through selective breeding) and respiratory anatomy.

Known, pre-existing medical conditions may increase the risk to pets at altitude. These include: unstable heart or lung disease, dehydration from any cause and ear infection. Avoid flying with a pet that has these until they are managed or corrected. Remember that altitude tends to increase the loss of "insensitive" body moisture through evaporation. This can promote dehydration.

Occasionally motion sickness occurs in pets, as with people. It is most commonly seen in young puppies during their first few car rides. Fortunately with maturity and with experience, the problem resolves in the vast majority of cases. This is likely to hold true with flight as well.

A number of non-medical hazards put flying pets at risk and should be mentioned here. Most significant of these includes unrestrained impact with aircraft cabin interior bulkheads or fittings in turbulent air or upon landing. Several well-constructed harnesses are available from pet suppliers to properly restrain your pet in flight, and these are designed to tie into a general aviation seat restraint to safely secure your pet in flight. A further advantage is avoidance of control interference by unpredictable pets. Speaking of unpredictable pets, it should be obvious to you that not every pet is ready to undertake flight. They must be trained to be calm and not to interfere with the PIC. You can judge your pet's level of flight readiness by observing their automobile behavior. If they sit calmly and leave the driver alone in a car, they will likely do so in an aircraft. The harness will offer some additional insurance in this regard. Obviously, fractious pets are inappropriate flight companions.

Finally, some additional hazards in and around the airport may pose risks to your pet. These include: Falls from cabin or wings, contact with other moving aircraft or vehicles, sharp objects or debris and system fluids such as fuel, oil, hydraulic fluids, antifreeze, deicing fluid or contaminated water. Another hazard may be another pilots or airport personnel's dog. Dogs are territorial and if kept frequently at an airport may not take kindly to your "intruder." The simplest solution for all of these hazards is already in your hand...a leash or other restraint device. Use them!

In summary, flying with your pet is a rewarding and fun experience that I highly recommend. Dogs especially treasure time with their masters and enjoy going anywhere. They have no fear of heights or small spaces, love whatever food you give them and don't complain. If only all our passengers were so accommodating!
Dr. Goldman is the founder of Canton Animal Hospital LLC in Canton, CT, and is president of the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Foundation.  He is also a commercial pilot with instrument and multi-engine ratings.

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WOW!   What a great posting!   Not being a pilot myself, I never thought about the potential issues of taking your pet along with you in your own airplane.

This was a great topic Dr. Goldman...thanks for posting it.

144586 tn?1284666164
by caregiver222, Aug 07, 2009
One of the problems with pets in light aircraft stems from disturbances of the vestibular organs, particularly when the aircraft is in a turn. This is what causes "airsickness" in humans.  It is especially critical in "IFR" conditions. Flying alone with a 100 pound dog who suddenly jumps in your lap while you are on final in a pouring rain at 3 A.M. is not helpful. I would not fly alone with a dog unless the dog was in a proper container and unable to romp about the cockpit. Humans and dogs have organs in which fluid sloshes around, which tell the dog or person which side is "up". When these organs become disturbed, the dog will believe it is upside down and panic. In pilots, this is demonstrated by the so-called "Baroney Chair". It makes believers out of everyone. All animals are subject to this phenomena and all animals have the potential to go complete out of control in a cockpit. Don't pass go. Don't collect two hundred dollars. I respectfully completey disagree with the statement that "if your pet is normally calm, they will be so in an aircraft." The only truly safe way to transport a dog in an aircraft is in a container or a harness.  I am also a commercial pilot and flight instructor with multi engine land and sea, as well as rotorcraft and instrument ratings.

931217 tn?1283481335
by Arnold L Goldman, D.V.M.Blank, Aug 07, 2009
Interesting perspective. I'm glad another pilot has weighed in.  All I can say is I have flown in IMC (instrument meteorological conditions= bad weather, to the non-pilot reader) and at night with my own dogs, one or more, and have had no behavioral issues.

Despite the sensation of positive or negative "G"s the dog may experience, they remain able to see and feel their immediate environment. The aircraft interior and its other occupants in an appropriate orientation gives, I have believed, the spatial orientation needed to remain upright relative to the aircraft and not feel panic.

I will also share that a client of mine, a businessperson with his own G5, regularly travels with 2 very large dogs loose in the cabin in all weather and finds the dogs tend to sleep. Your point about jumping in the lap is well taken and generally mine are harnessed to a seat and seatbelt....to your point restrained.

389974 tn?1331015242
by swampcritter, Aug 07, 2009
If Swampy ever gets to write a comedy on the level of "Airplane", Swampy is going to have a scene where the oxygen masks drop and a seeing eye dog puts on a mask and then assists his owner.

931217 tn?1283481335
by Arnold L Goldman, D.V.M.Blank, Aug 07, 2009

144586 tn?1284666164
by caregiver222, Aug 07, 2009
The key to inducing this bahavior in an animal is (a) the aircraft must be entering a turn and (b) the dog must turn his head from one side to the other at the same time. As an instructor I insisted even my basic students have a session in the "baroney chair".  Without this experience nobody believes. In the chair the person is blindfolded and the chair rotated in various directions while the person in the chair is instructed to turn his head in specific directions. The instructor stands ready to catch the student, who, when the chair is as a full stop, lunges because he/she is convinced they are being turned upside down. The teaching point is for a pilot to always rely on the gauges, no matter how strong the sensations are of "not being level". A thousand experiences with a doc all represent anecdotal information. With a small dog, the operation of the aircraft will probably not be compromised. With a larger animal the situation is more problematical. With an animal on board I would only make very gentle turns, certainly less than standard-rate, which should reduce the chances of an incident.

Avatar universal
by n85082, Aug 07, 2009
Interesting post.  I fly commercial airliners for a living and never really thought about the impact of air travel on pets; I certianly never thought that my own dog would enjoy flying.  After years of watching him howl when I took off without him in my Super Cub (a tiny, noisy 2 seater), I finally relented and took him for a ride.  He loved it.  One caution with dogs: secure them during the entire flight, even during engine shutdown.  A friend and I returned from a trip in a C310 with his dog in the back seat; as we were shutting the engines down, the dog saw my friend's wife pull up in her car in front of the place and the dog jumped out the right window to greet her.  Unfortunately this happened before the engines had been shut down and there was a sickening thud and an immediate spray of blood against the right window.  This is one of the saddest things that I have ever seen in 25 years of flying.  Don't let it happen to you.

Avatar universal
by Jim Humphries, B.S., D.V.M.Blank, Aug 08, 2009
Great post Dr. Goldman:  

I am a commercial multi-engine, instrument pilot with over 2,000 hours.  Many hundred of those hours were with my dogs.  They have always done FINE and none have ever been in a Baroney Chair.  Of course, I have and completely understand flight physiology and being a veterinarian, we always secured them for take off and landing - but they would NOT listen to the pre-take-off briefing (found it too boring).  And they hated the in-flight snacks.  

Never took them when expecting bad weather.  

It was a great experience and we ALL enjoyed it.  

Thanks for the nice Blog Post.  

675347 tn?1365460645
by ginger899, Aug 08, 2009
This is fascinating. Wish I had an aeroplane. But Misty and I are strictly terrestrial.....The most aerial fun we had was being dive-bombed by a Buzzard....and standing on a large hill in the wind....wishing we had an areoplane....

931217 tn?1283481335
by Arnold L Goldman, D.V.M.Blank, Aug 10, 2009
I have to admit, I never imagined this brief article would engender quite so much discussion or controversy. It originally appeared, in an edited version, in the aviation newsletter Atlantic Flyer, and was written on a request that I address possible issues with canine passengers that had already been flying, in many cases for yerars. While it touched on airport ground operation safety and canine airborne comfort, it did not address the issue raised by caregiver222, sudden-onset vertigo. Caregiver's concerns and points are well-taken, however, some have expressed less concern based on personal, anecdotal experience. I have wondered if this concern is an issue for infants and  babies that might accompany an adult in IMC. Do they routinely experience a disorientation and panic during such maneuvers?

It certainly seems to me that "picking your passenger", just as a surgeon would pick his/her patient for a given procedure is wise. A generally unruly animal may remain so airborne while a calm one may be expected to do likewise. A restraint device like a seatbelt harness is reasonable and perhaps moreso, a gradual introduction to flight in ideal conditions of day VFR, night VFR etc, would give a clue as to how a dog might behave in the air. My own 4 dogs, cotton in ears, fly with me regularly day and night, and sleep in a pile in the rear seat uneventfully. The real key to this was training for calmness from an early age. Teaching a dog to "get calm" as a youngster is an undervalued skill and one that many, many dog owners forego to their detriment.

Thanks to all for participating in this lively discussion.

Avatar universal
by Claudia62, Aug 15, 2010
Awesome posting!!   There just aren't enough writers thinking or talking about this;  the general public looking for "flights with pets" on the Internet will be steered to rules about pet carriers, suitable for placing your pet in the checked luggage/cargo area of a "heavy" aircraft.  

I see some aircraft owners with their pets loose along the busy ramp.  Even if you trust your dog, why risk it?  

My dog is still a puppy, less than 6 months old.  Currently ,she's improving her skill at sitting motionless in the car (except when someone at the drive-up window offers a treat!); she's also doing very well with housetraining and walking on a leash.   But I'm a female private pilot with an instrument rating and I love flying PIC.  I just haven't brought her with me.  My efforts training my puppy, on the ground, have been rewarding but time-consuming, and I don't want my flying skills to atrophy before I feel she's ready to join me.  So, other family members keep her occupied whenever I practice. I may introduce her to the airport environment, but gradually, in the next few weeks.  

For night flights in particular, I would think having a dog who's comfortable with the plane (especially, after she has matured) will build even more of a bond between us, and provide some visual inhibition to any would-be, after-sundown assailants!  (I can already tell by her paws that she's going to be a big German Shepherd.)  I am working with a couple different companies who provide confidence/obedience training and coaching, as I continue to socialize her.  She is beginning to exhibit a much calmer demeanor even since we adopted her a 8 weeks ago, and ever-improving vocal manners.  So, the more time and attention we focus on training the more I see her as a good candidate for flight.  When she is grown, I fully anticipate bringing an upholstery-protecting seatcover, and securing her via an approved travel halter (already purchased) .   We'll take off for the skies with plenty of water, snacks and other supplies for our stops along the way and the ultimate destinations.    Looking forward to it!

Thank you, again, for the encouraging, common sense tips!

Claudia and her air dog, "Happy"

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