AVMA Answers: Acclimation certificates

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With the onset of cold weather, the AVMA began receiving an increased number of calls about acclimation certificates. What is an acclimation certificate?

Dr. Rosemary LoGiudiceDr. Rosemary LoGiudice, director of the AVMA Membership and Field Services Division, responds:

An acclimation certificate is used to allow airlines to ship dogs and cats when the airline cannot guarantee compliance with animal welfare regulations, specifically the minimum temperature allowed by the regulations.

Federal regulations specify that dogs and cats must not be exposed to ambient temperatures that fall below 45 degrees Fahrenheit for more than four consecutive hours while in animal holding areas of airport terminals or for more than 45 minutes while being transferred between the aircraft and the animal holding area.

These regulations stipulate that carriers or intermediate handlers whose facilities fail to meet the minimum temperature or maximum times allowed by the standards may accept for transportation or transport, in commerce, any live animal if the consignor furnishes a certificate executed by an accredited veterinarian stating that the animal is acclimated to air temperatures lower than those prescribed in the federal regulations, 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Executive Board approved revisions to the AVMA Guidelines on Acclimation Certificates at its November 2007 meeting. What is important to know about these changes?

The Council on Veterinary Service has reviewed the policy on AVMA Guidelines on Acclimation Certificates several times in recent years, resulting in appropriate updates. Veterinarians are requested by their clients to provide acclimation certificates, and they look to the AVMA to provide guidance on appropriate wording of the needed statement. It became evident over the past few years that some of the wording in the statement previously recommended by the AVMA was not readily understood and, therefore, was becoming less accepted by the airlines.

The term "thermoneutral zone," for example, was used previously in the acclimation certificate statement. The term is not intuitively understood by the general public and was causing the statement to be questioned.

In addition, once a veterinarian understood why an acclimation certificate was being requested by an airline, the veterinarian may have been reluctant to issue an acclimation certificate, not having the scientific data on a particular animal's thermoneutral zone. As a result, the acclimation certificate statement that referenced thermoneutral zone was replaced by the following statement:

The animal(s) in this shipment appear healthy for transport but need(s) to be maintained at a range of ambient temperatures to which the animal(s) has/have been acclimated, as determined in consultation with the owner/authorized agent to be no lower than (W degrees) F for (s) minutes and no higher than (Y degrees) F (not to exceed 85 F) for no longer than (s) minutes.

It is important that an acclimation certificate be provided only as a statement attached to a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection and, in accordance with federal regulations, be issued no more than 10 days prior to delivery of the animal for transportation. Examination of the animal and consultation with the owner or authorized agent are necessary, since individual animals are acclimated to various ambient temperatures. Some of the variables to consider are how the animal is housed, what its body and hair coat and health conditions are, and what its normal activities entail.

Some veterinarians may not believe it is in the best interest of the animals' well-being to issue an acclimation certificate. If this results in the airline refusing to ship the animals, a difficult situation may arise for the veterinarian and the client. Many veterinarians handle this situation by thoroughly explaining to the client the reasons an airline requests an acclimation certificate. They may advise a client not to ship animals with transporters or airlines that cannot guarantee compliance with animal welfare regulations.

By approving the revised statement, the Executive Board agreed with the Council on Veterinary Service that the primary responsibility of veterinarians is to protect the health and welfare of the animals for which they care. Veterinarians should not assume the potential liability of approving the handling of animals by commercial shippers, including airlines. To that end, the council believes that the revised wording of the AVMA guidelines—including the acclimation certificate statement itself—provides veterinarians with sufficient background information and language to help them and their clients assess the risks involved in shipping animals when the certificates are requested.

For the complete AVMA Guidelines on Acclimation Certficates, visit the AVMA Web site at www.avma.org/issues/policy/ and click on Acclimation Certificates.