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Short-snouted dogs most likely to die on planes

Bulldog and pug owners, beware: Short-snouted breeds accounted for roughly half the purebred dog deaths on airplanes in the past five years, government data released Friday shows.
Image: Bulldog
Over the past five years, bulldogs and other short-nosed breeds had the highest fatality rate when flying on passenger airplanes, the governement said Friday.Jessica Hill / FR125654 AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Bulldog and pug owners, beware: Short-snouted breeds accounted for roughly half the purebred dog deaths on airplanes in the past five years, government data released Friday shows. That comes as no surprise to the owner of the University of Georgia's famous mascot, Uga, who gets the dog a special procedure before he flies.

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Overall, at least 122 dog deaths were reported since May 2005, when U.S. airlines were required to start disclosing them, the department says. The dogs died while being shipped as cargo.

English bulldogs account for the single highest number of deaths among the 108 purebreds on the list: 25. Pugs were next, with 11 deaths, followed by golden retrievers and labradors, with seven deaths each, French bulldogs with six, and American Staffordshire terriers, four.

Boxers, cockapoos, Pekingese and Pomeranians accounted for two deaths each.

Owners should consult with veterinarians before putting their dogs on planes, the department said. It believes the deaths represent a tiny percentage of the pets shipped on airlines.

Short-nosed breeds — known as "brachycephalic" in the dog world — have a skull formation that affects their airways, said Dan Bandy of Shawnee, Okla., chairman of the Bulldog Club of America's health committee.

"The way all dogs cool themselves is basically through respiration, either just panting or the action of breathing in or out, is a method of heat exchange for them," Bandy said. "A dog that has a long snout or a long muzzle has more surface area within its nasal cavity for that heat exchange to take place. So breeds like labradors or collies or those types of dogs with the long muzzles have a more efficient cooling system."

Brachycephalic breeds tend to be heat-intolerant in general, Bandy said. They pretty much have the same amount of tissue and structures within their skulls as long-nosed dogs, but it's compressed, and that can contribute to encroachment on their airways, he said.

Sonny Seiler of Savannah, Ga., who owns the University of Georgia's mascot, Uga the bulldog, said people who fly English bulldogs are taking a risk. Seiler said that's why he takes precautions before flying his dogs. Before each Uga is a year old and flies for the first time, Seiler has a procedure done at the University of Georgia veterinary school to enlarge the dog's airways.

"They go into the nasal passage and clip muscles and tissue and in essence, what they do is they make a bigger air passage," Seiler said. "It's a quick procedure, and once you have it done it really eliminates a lot of the problems with the breathing."

Uga routinely flies to the football team's away games, often in the team's charter plane or the university's smaller plane, and is in the cabin or an air-conditioned cargo hold, said Seiler, who is now searching for the eighth Uga. The seventh died last football season, and his half-brother Russ, the backup, is the acting Uga during the quest for No. 8.

"It's just business as usual with us," Seiler said of Uga's air travel. "He goes with the team."

The bulldog club's Bandy said that in addition to trying to cool themselves, dogs may also pant excessively in the cargo hold due to stress or excitement.

Bandy said he has flown one puppy and one adult dog before, both in early spring with no issues. He advises against shipping dogs during hot months, and says owners should make sure the cargo hold is climate-controlled. If dogs are easily stressed or not well-socialized, they are probably not good candidates for air travel, Bandy added.

The Transportation Department said mixed breeds accounted for four airline deaths and a dozen dogs who died were of unknown breed.

In all, 144 pet deaths were reported by airlines over the past five years, along with 55 injuries and 33 lost pets.