Allergy/Asthma Information Association

Donald F. Stark, MD

Should Pets Travel with People on Passenger Flights?

By Dr. Donald F. Stark, MD, FRCPC, Allergy & Clinical Immunology; Internal Medicine; Clinical Associate Professor UBC, Vancouver, BC

Some people like to take small pets on board on the plane and find it emotionally difficult to put the animal in the cargo hold. However, what about passengers who have asthma and allergies? We asked Dr. Donald Stark, an allergist from Vancouver, BC to provide his opinion.

There are several reasons why airlines should not allow the accompaniment of pets within the airplane cabin. Some allergy sufferers have severe reactions with exposure to pets, particularly with asthmatic attacks. These asthmatics have no warning that they might be flying in a plane where there is a pet, particularly a cat in close proximity. There is evidence that the air circulation in an airplane would allow cat dander to be spread throughout the entire plane ventilation system. Patients who are severely allergic to animals with even a brief exposure to animal dander in a plane could suffer a severe asthmatic response. Often patients with animal induced asthma don’t anticipate a pet on a plane and may have packed their medications in their checked luggage rather than having them on hand. There have been cases of severe asthmatic attacks occurring in such situations. Flight attendants often don’t know when they might be exposed to pets on planes. A number of the flight attendants who have animal allergies could be incapacitated in such situations, making it dangerous to all the passengers on the plane.

The other issue is the question of hygiene. Although pets are supposed to be kept in cages on the plane the owners often take them out and the risk of bacterial contamination from the pet being in the cabin also is another problem.

Although there have been some unfortunate incidences where pets have not survived the trip in the airplane cargo hold, these numbers are rather small in number and if people are really concerned about their pet, they should find adequate alternatives to look after the pet while they go on their trip away from home.

I think the health of humans must take priority over the health of pets.

from Allergy & Asthma News, Issue 4 2008

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