AVMA helps United revise pet flight document

The Veterinary Health Form requires a licensed veterinarian's signature and contains other recommended changes.

AVMA helps United revise pet flight document

United Airlines’ new Veterinary Health Form, which acts as a permission slip for psychiatric service and emotional support animals onboard flights and is intended to help fight the fraudulent transport of pets, has been rewritten following input from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The AVMA reported March 2 that the form, set to go into effect the previous day, would have “created potential liability risks for veterinarians” who attested to the health, behavior and training of certain animals flying with a passenger.

The organization stated that it “worked collaboratively” with United and that airline officials “told us they soon will be posting a new form on their website that reflects alternate language.”

AVMA PLIT, which offers business, personal and professional liability insurance to veterinarians, assisted with the revisions.

The AVMA explained:

  • “Because an affirmation of health status is requested, which requires the ability to diagnose, AVMA recommended the form be completed and signed only by a licensed veterinarian.”
  • “United had asked the veterinarian to attest to a statement that s/he ‘is not aware of any reason to believe that this animal would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others.’ AVMA did not believe this statement provided enough information to enable United to determine what such threats might be or how they might best be mitigated. Instead, we recommended that United address disease and behavioral concerns separately. Doing so supports the acquisition of more specific information that will help United make good decisions regarding the risk(s) posed by a particular animal.”
  • “We recommended adding a field indicating the date on which the last physical examination was conducted, as well as an affirmation that there was no evidence of infection or contagious disease, at the time of the examination, that would endanger other animals or public health. Such statements are consistent with those found on other certificates of veterinary inspection.”
  • “A question originally was included that asked the veterinarian to determine which measures could be taken to safely carry the animal in the aircraft cabin. Responses would have required that the veterinarian predict how the animal might react to the (likely) foreign environment of a commercial aircraft, as well as the circumstances of a particular flight. However, the examining veterinarian is not in a position to assess whether an animal is qualified to be a psychiatric service or emotional support animal, whether its presence with the owner on the flight is required, nor how an animal might react when placed in such a foreign environment. Instead, we suggested adding language that would allow the veterinarian to offer additional information, obtained from the owner, regarding certain behaviors (e.g., biting, scratching) and the circumstances surrounding those behaviors, that might assist United in determining whether the animal presents an unacceptable risk for passengers or employees, or whether that risk might be mitigated through actions taken by the owner and/or airline (e.g., muzzling, kenneling, transport in the cargo hold).”

The AVMA stated that it would contact other airlines “to ensure that veterinarians have input into any requirements they might be considering for the transport of these animals.”

Delta Air Lines on March 1 enacted a new policy covering service and support animals. Details are available at

Delta reported that the changes followed “an 84 percent increase in reported incidents involving service and support animals since 2016, including urination/defecation, biting and even a widely reported attack by a 70-pound dog.”

“Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums, snakes, spiders and more,” the statement read. “Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs.”