By Cheryl Lock
In January of this year, my husband and I embarked on a journey from New York to Colorado with our cat and rabbit in tow. We were determined to start a new life amid the mountains, seeking a more relaxed and stress-free environment. As we prepared for our trip, we considered everything from rest stops to pet-friendly accommodations, but one thing we failed to take into account was the change in altitude.
Denver, Colorado sits at an elevation of 5,280 feet above sea level – one mile high. While it’s not uncommon for people to experience symptoms of altitude sickness, such as extreme thirst, lightheadedness, or even nausea, we wondered how animals, like our beloved pets, would fare in such conditions.
Fortunately, our pets adapted well to the high altitude and have been thriving since our move. Still, I couldn’t help but ponder what they might have experienced during the transition. With these burning questions in mind, I sought the expertise of Dr. John Tegzes, a Veterinary Toxicology specialist, to shed some light on the matter.
Are Animals Affected by Altitude?
The answer is a resounding yes. Dogs and cats are indeed sensitive to the harmful effects of high altitudes, which can include vomiting, headaches, and, in severe cases, a buildup of fluid in the lungs and brain. These symptoms are particularly prevalent in animals that engage in physical activity at high elevations.
It is interesting to note that animals have been studied extensively to gain insight into the physiological reactions to high altitudes. The effects they experience closely mirror those observed in humans. However, it’s essential to emphasize that these effects typically only manifest above 8,000 feet. Thankfully, very few pets are affected by such extreme altitudes, as these locations typically have populations of fewer than 500 people.
Precautions for Pets in High Altitude Areas
If you plan to take your pet to an area with high altitude, there are several precautions you can take to ensure their well-being. Monitor your pet closely and limit their physical activity if they show signs of fatigue, excessive panting, loss of appetite, or vomiting. Offering plenty of water and gradually moving to lower elevations, if possible, can also alleviate the impact of altitude.
Moreover, it is crucial to transition your pet away from dry kibbled foods. Feeding them high-moisture food is essential to ensure they receive adequate hydration. Unlike humans, dogs and cats do not always drink in response to dehydration, making it more important to provide them with food that contains sufficient moisture.
If you move to a city at a high elevation, such as Denver, your pet may experience these signs over the first few months. Be patient with them and avoid pushing them to engage in more activity than they can handle. Over time, their bodies will adapt to the higher altitude, becoming more efficient at utilizing oxygen even in lower concentrations.
Adjusting to High Altitude for Pets with Pre-existing Respiratory Issues
Moving to a high-altitude location is not necessarily off-limits for pets with pre-existing breathing issues, such as asthma. However, it may require a more cautious approach. Decreasing their activity level and gradually increasing it based on their response is key. Observe how well they handle increased physical activity and adjust accordingly.
It’s important to note that excessive panting or a soft cough may be signs of heart disease in dogs and cats. Animals with pre-existing heart conditions may experience worsening symptoms in high-altitude areas. These signs may not be as evident at lower altitudes, but they become more pronounced when exposed to the challenges of high altitudes. If you notice these symptoms in your pet, seeking veterinary care is crucial.
In conclusion, while animals are indeed affected by altitude, the majority of pets do not experience significant issues unless exposed to extreme altitudes. By taking the necessary precautions and closely monitoring your pet’s well-being, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for both you and your furry companion.
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