Would You Lie About Your Dog’s Breed to Get Him on an Airplane?

Because of breathing issues, some dog breeds are on no-fly lists, but that doesn't stop some sneaky owners when they travel by air.


Several weeks ago, another vet transferred a patient to my facility when her office closed. He was an 11-month-old English Bulldog with an interesting story.

He had been purchased from a breeder in the midwest by a person in California. As the dog matured, the owner came to the conclusion that she could not handle him. She wanted to give him back to the breeder.

The breeder accepted, and the dog was loaded onto an airplane for the flight back to the midwest. He had a layover at San Francisco International Airport.

The flight happened to be on the first hot day of the year in the Bay Area. It was at least 90 degrees outside. As the dog was being moved in his crate on the SFO tarmac, an airline worker noticed that he was having difficulty breathing. Heatstroke was suspected.

Although the conditions I’ve described are ideal for triggering heatstroke, the dog was not suffering from heatstroke. He was taken to a veterinarian by an airline representative. His temperature was slightly elevated (which is not compatible with heatstroke), but he was definitely exhibiting difficulty breathing. The dog was suffering from a brachycephalic syndrome crisis triggered by heat and stress.

Brachycephalic syndrome is common in short-snouted dogs, such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, Shih Tzus, Pekingese, and especially Bulldogs. The condition is virtually ubiquitous among English Bulldogs in particular.

Short-snouted, aka brachycephalic, dogs are prone to respiratory difficulties due to their anatomy. The shortness of their snouts causes the tissues of their upper airways to be convoluted and tortuous. This leads to increased resistance to air flow during breathing. The snorting noises that English Bulldogs typically make as they breathe are a manifestation of brachycephalic syndrome.

Dogs with brachycephalic syndrome live on the edge. Anything that increases their oxygen demand and ventilation requirements can cause them to suffer from crises of respiratory distress. Stress (such as would be expected when flying), heat, and lower oxygen levels at elevation are all potential triggers for crises.

Once a crisis develops, things can spiral out of control rapidly. Dogs become stressed because they are having trouble breathing; this stress in turn increases oxygen demand further still. Dogs who struggle to breathe can suffer from swelling of the tissues in the nose and throat; this makes breathing even more difficult. Without intervention, the crisis rapidly may become life threatening.

Fortunately for the dog in question, the veterinarian who initially treated him acted quickly. He was sedated to reduce his oxygen demand. He received supplemental oxygen through a special nasal delivery system. Intravenous fluids were administered. Blood work, fortunately, showed no anomalies. By the time her office closed and she transferred him to me, he was back to normal but still in need of observation for the night.

I took one look at the dog and my mouth gaped open. What sort of crazy airline, I wondered, would be willing to ship an English Bulldog at any time, but especially on a hot day? How could things not go wrong under such circumstances?

It turns out, not the airline in question. Later in the evening I received a call from a senior representative of the airline. She was very concerned about the dog’s well-being. And she shared my opinion about flying English Bulldogs. It turns out that the airline had not known he was an English Bulldog. The person who had made the arrangements with the airline had stated that he was a Boxer. English Bulldogs are absolutely on that airline’s no-fly list.

Who could mistake an English Bulldog for a Boxer? Evidently the person at the airport counter when the dog was checked in. Of course, airline counter representatives aren’t expected to be dog-breed specialists (although you don’t need to know much about dog breeds to be able to recognize a Bulldog). The representative evidently didn’t expect people to abjectly lie about dog breeds.

Happily, the dog’s night was uneventful. He was a wild and rambunctious fellow, to be sure, but he did not suffer from any further breathing problems. A representative from the airline picked him up in the morning; ground transportation had been arranged for him.

In medicine especially, all is well that ends well. However, this case did not leave a smile on my face. I was disappointed with my species, since a member of it had jeopardized an animal’s life with duplicity. And there was something else that bothered me about the situation. The person who had purchased the Bulldog had not, in my opinion, done right by him.

I am guessing that the purchaser was inexperienced with dogs. Sadly, she evidently did not do her homework. Most people know that some breeds of dogs are not for beginners. Cane Corsos, Australian Cattle Dogs, German Shepherds, and Shar Peis are in this category. So are English Bulldogs. As has been shown, they are prone to medical problems. But they also, on average, require more and better training than many other dogs. I have known many out-of-control English Bulldogs who were owned by people who thought that, because they’re so cute, they must be easy dogs. Wrong. They’re great dogs, but they’re not appropriate for people who are inexperienced or, I’ll just say it, lazy.

A dog is a big commitment, and I become sad when people don’t investigate things enough to realize what they’re getting into. I urge anyone who’s thinking of getting a dog to do his or her homework thoroughly, and to enter the situation fully aware.

Have you ever witnessed someone lying to get their dog on a flight? Would you ever do it? Tell us your story in the comments.

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Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)

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