Many people travel with their pets this time of year, often for spring break. This is often no big deal for cats and smaller dogs, but for larger pets that must travel in the cargo hold, it can be a big problem. When the temperatures dip below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, some dogs will be ineligible for travel, while other dogs will require additional documentation in the form of an airline acclimation certificate.

An acclimation certificate consists of a veterinarian certifying that the animal traveling in cargo can adapt to temperatures below 45 degrees. How much lower? The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service states that veterinarian should indicate on the acclimation certificate the range of temperatures that is safe for the individual animal to travel in. This certificate should also include an upper range. However, most airlines prohibit pet cargo travel when the temperature is above 84 degrees, no matter what the certificate says.

To fully understand the implications for pet travel, the policy for most airlines is that animals are prohibited from traveling when the forecasted temperature is below 45 degrees at either the departure or destination airport. But if the actual temperatures unexpectedly drop below 45 degrees, this type of pet travel may still be prohibited.

The commonsense pet owner may also wonder why these temperature restrictions are in place when the external temperature at cruising altitude is always freezing. Even the cargo holds of airplanes are pressurized and temperature controlled. It’s the temperatures on the ground and the possibility of prolonged delays that create these pet travel guidelines and restrictions.

Federal regulations state that dogs and cats are not to be subjected to surrounding temperatures below 45 degrees for over four consecutive hours while within animal holding quarters of airport terminals. These regulations also restrict contact with these colder temperatures to 45 minutes or less while moving the pet between the airplane and the animal holding vicinity. The airport staff is obligated to protect animals from mixtures of temperature, humidity, and time that could have a negative effect on the animal’s health. Thus, without this acclimation certification, most airlines are unwilling to assume the liability that comes with unexpected delays and unforeseen circumstances.

Will Your Pet Get Approved for an Acclimation Certificate?

The veterinarian will consider all the health factors and characteristics of your pet when conducting an examination and issuing a health certificate. Generally speaking, however, if your pet is known as a cold-weather breed and a reasonably healthy adult, there’s no reason to think a veterinarian would refuse to issue this travel documentation. If you’re wondering about the professional veterinary guidelines for making these determinations and issuing acclimation certificates, we recommend this resource from the American Veterinary Medical Association.