By Colin Marshall , CNN Written by
The US Federal Aviation Administration is set to introduce tougher requirements for passengers traveling with pets, including two-hour assessments to ensure dogs, cats and other animals are fit to fly.
The new testing, set to be introduced later this year, is part of a recently announced overhaul of the US pet sitter industry and animal passports, following a Reuters investigation into Air India baggage policies and safety concerns with India’s new Airbus A321neo.
“We intend to introduce a pilot program later this year in which airlines must take certain steps before allowing pets on board,” said FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor in an emailed statement.
“These measures include conducting a medical exam of the animal, including neurological tests, blood tests and examining the dog’s heart and lungs.”
Dr. P. Peter Sis, a board-certified emergency veterinarian who runs the emergency veterinary clinic in Atlanta, Georgia, told CNN he didn’t know of any specific cases in which the tests had been required and might not have performed them.
In response to the Reuters investigation, Sis said one sign that a pet may have a medical problem was an abnormal heart rate.
“Dog owners can’t really predict if their dog is going to have a heart attack — especially if they have an asthmatic dog or a cancer dog,” Sis said.
“I don’t think it’s something that they need to worry about if they’re taking the dog to the vet for a checkup, but maybe they shouldn’t fly with their dog on a flight.”
Sis, who also recommends vaccinations, said the tests could be especially important for the elderly and other vulnerable passengers.
“It could be a good idea to take a simple screen to see if they’re OK, but there are so many other things that people should worry about.”
The tests will also provide airlines with information about medications — Sis said usually the diabetic patients take a battery of drug tests before traveling.
Generally, airlines won’t take underweight animals seriously and won’t check their food, and the assessments will “not have any effect on non-medical baggage,” the FAA spokesman said.
Airlines without individualized animal handlers will have to either start their own team or get a certified animal sitter to provide the exams, Gregor said.
The software will be tested before it is introduced, he said.