Southwest Airlines is formally allowing miniature horses on its planes as service animals

  • Airlines have struggled to deal with increasing numbers of passengers trying to travel with service or emotional support animals.
  • Southwest has now formally said that it won't allow insects, spiders, rabbits, ferrets, or rodents to travel with passengers.
  • But it said it will allow miniature horses, as well as cats and dogs, as service animals.

Southwest Airlines has finalized its policy on the kinds of animals it will let passengers fly with — and it is formally allowing people to fly with trained miniature horses from next month.

From September 17, the airline will only let dogs, cats, and miniature horses in the cabin, according to a statement on its website.

The new policy also includes a list of animals that are not eligible to come on board, which features insects, spiders, rabbits, ferrets, or rodents.

The rule change comes after increasing reports of people trying to bring unusual animals onto planes as service or emotional support animals. The latter category is poorly understood, which has led to confusion about what should be allowed.

RELATED: Common myths about animals debunked

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Common myths about animals debunked
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Common myths about animals debunked

MYTH: Beaver butt secretions are in your vanilla ice cream and other foods.

You've probably heard that a secretion called castoreum, isolated from the anal gland of a beaver, is used in flavorings and perfumes.

But castoreum is so expensive, at up to $70 per pound of anal gland (the cost to humanely milk castoreum from a beaver is likely even higher), that it's unlikely to show up in anything you eat.

In 2011, the Vegetarian Resource Group wrote to five major companies that produce vanilla flavoring and asked if they use castoreum. The answer: According to the Federal Code of Regulations, they can't. (The FDA highly regulates what goes into vanilla flavoring and extracts.)

It's equally unlikely you'll find castoreum in mass-marketed goods, either.

(Photo via Getty Images)

Sources: Business InsiderVegetarian Resource GroupFDANY Trappers Forum

MYTH: Dogs and cats are colorblind.

Dogs and cats have much better color vision than we thought.

Both dogs and cats can see in blue and green, and they also have more rods — the light-sensing cells in the eye — than humans do, so they can see better in low-light situations.

This myth probably comes about because each animal sees colors differently than humans.

Reds and pinks may appear more green to cats, while purple may look like another shade of blue. Dogs, meanwhile, have fewer cones — the color-sensing cells in the eye — so scientists estimated that their color vision is only about 1/7th as vibrant as ours.

Sources: Today I Found OutBusiness Insider

(Photo via Getty Images)

MYTH: Humans evolved from chimpanzees.

Chimps and humans share uncanny similarities, not the least of which is our DNA — about 98.8% is identical.

However, evolution works as incremental genetic changes add up through many generations. Chimps and humans did share a common ancestor between 6 and 8 million years ago but a lot has changed since then.

Modern chimps evolved into a separate (though close) branch of the ape family tree.

Sources: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural HistoryAmerican Museum of Natural History

(Photo by John Foxx/Getty Images)

MYTH: Humans evolved from chimpanzees.

Lemmings do not commit mass suicide.

During their migrations, or if they wander into an area they are unfamiliar with, they sometimes do fall off cliffs.

No one knows exactly when the myth started, but a 1958 Disney video called "White Wilderness," which won an Oscar for best documentary feature, has emerged over the years as the likeliest suspect.

Sources: Business InsiderAlaska Department Of Fish And Game

(Photo via Getty Images)

MYTH: Bats are blind.

Being "blind as a bat" means not being blind at all.

While many use echolocation to navigate, all of them can see.

Source: USA Today

(Photo via Getty Images)

MYTH: Ostriches hide by putting their heads in the sand.

Ostriches do not stick their heads in the sand when threatened. In fact, they don't bury their heads at all.

When threatened, ostriches sometimes flop on the ground and play dead.

Source: San Diego Zoo

(Photo by Ken Canning via Getty Images)

MYTH: People get warts from frogs and toes.

Frogs or toads won't give you warts, but shaking hands with someone who has warts can.

The human papillomavirus is what gives people warts, and it is unique to humans.

Source: WebMD

(Photo via Getty Images)

MYTH: Sharks can smell a drop of blood from miles away.

This one is a big exaggeration. Jaws is not coming for you from across the ocean if you bleed in the water.

Shark have a highly enlarged brain region for smelling odors, allowing some of the fish to detect as little as 1 part blood per 10 billion parts water — roughly a drop in an Olympic-size swimming pool.

But it the ocean is much, much, much bigger and it takes awhile for odor molecules to drift. On a very good day when the currents are favorable, a shark can smell its prey from a few football fields away — not miles.

Source: American Museum of Natural History

(Photo via Getty Images)

MYTH: Giraffes sleep for only 30 minutes a day.

This one is a big exaggeration. Jaws is not coming for you from across the ocean if you bleed in the water.

Shark have a highly enlarged brain region for smelling odors, allowing some of the fish to detect as little as 1 part blood per 10 billion parts water — roughly a drop in an Olympic-size swimming pool.

But it the ocean is much, much, much bigger and it takes awhile for odor molecules to drift. On a very good day when the currents are favorable, a shark can smell its prey from a few football fields away — not miles.

Source: American Museum of Natural History

(Photo via Getty Images)

MYTH: There are bugs in your strawberry Frappuccino.

This one used to be true — but not anymore.

Before April 2012, Starbucks' strawberry Frappuccino contained a dye made from the ground-up bodies of thousands of tiny insects, called cochineal bugs or Dactylopius coccus.

Farmers in South and Central America make a living harvesting (and pulverizing) the bugs that go into the dye. Their crushed bodies produce a deep red ink that is used as a natural food coloring, which was "called cochineal" red but is now called "carmine color."

Starbucks stopped using carmine color in their strawberry Frappuccinos in 2012. But the dye is still used in thousands of other food products — from Nerds candies to grapefruit juice. Not to mention cosmetics, like lovely shades of red lipstick.

Sources: Business Insider, CHR Hansen, AmericanSweets.co.ukFoodFacts.comLA Times

(Photo via Getty Images)

MYTH: Sharks don't get cancer.

Back in 2013, researchers reported a huge tumor growing out of the mouth of a great white shark, and another on the head of a bronze whaler shark.

And those aren't the only cases of shark cancers: Other scientists have reported tumors in dozens of different shark species.

The myth that sharks don't get cancer was reportedly created by I. William Lane to sell shark cartilage as a cancer treatment.

Sources: Journal Of Cancer ResearchLiveScience

(Photo Pieter De Pauw via Getty Images)

MYTH: Goldfish can't remember anything for longer than a second.

Goldfish actually have pretty good memories.

They can remember things for months, not seconds like many people say.

Source: ABC News

(Photo via Getty Images)

MYTH: Humans got HIV because someone had sex with a monkey.

The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, almost certainly didn't jump to humans through human-monkey sex.

Based on the virus' genetic similarity to a strain of simian immunodeficiency virus, or SIV, that infects chimpanzees, most experts think the virus jumped to humans through hunting primates for bush-meat food.

This interaction may have led to blood-to-blood contact — perhaps through an open cut on the hunter — and the transfer of a new strain that could silently infect people.

Sources: Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives In MedicineAvert

(Photo via Getty Images)

MYTH: Any shark that stops swimming will suffocate and die.

You often hear sharks can breathe only when swimming pushes water over their gills.

That's true of a lot of sharks, but many others — like bottom-dwelling nurse sharks — can pump oxygen-rich water over their gills without swimming.

All sharks lack swim bladders, however, so if they stop swimming they will sink to the bottom. Luckily a shark's body is incompressible and rapid descents or ascents don't harm them.

Source: American Museum of Natural History

(Photo via Getty Images)

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In January, United Airlines rejected a woman's effort to bring a peacock on a flight as her emotional support bird. Delta airlines changed its policy in January after what they said was an 84% increase in reported incidents with animals like biting and urinating since 2016.

Delta said that it carries around 700 animals a day and that people have tried to fly with animals like turkeys and snakes.

Southwest's move also comes after an emotional support dog was removed from one of the airline's planes in February for biting a child's face.

Miniature horses are recognized as a service animal by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which oversees laws about service animals. They are stronger and live longer than most service dogs.

This is what it looks like when one is on a plane:

While miniature horses will be allowed to travel as service animals, only cats and dogs can be emotional support animals, Southwest said. Emotional support animals do not perform tasks like guiding a person or pushing a wheelchair for their owners and are classed differently from service animals in the US.

Southwest says that it will only accept the animal if they can determine that the passenger has a disability, and if passengers can answer questions that prove the animal has been trained. 

"Customers with disabilities seeking to travel with a trained service animal must still provide credible verbal assurance that the animal is a trained service animal," the website states.

Animals must be in a carrier or be on a leash at all times in order to stop them from attacking other passengers. They also can't sit at an emergency exit seat. Every passenger is limited to one animal.

Southwest says that it "strongly" encourages passengers to notify the airline in advance if they will be traveling with a service animal.

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