For starters, are animals actually affected by altitude?
The short answer is yes, animals like dogs and cats are also sensitive to the harmful effects of high altitude, which can include vomiting, headache, and, in extreme cases, a build-up of fluid in the lungs and brain, particularly if they will be active when they reach high altitudes.
What are some preliminary precautions a person can take if they’re planning to take their pet to an area of high altitude?
General precautions include limiting the amount of physical activity and watching your pets closely. If they seem to tire easily, pant excessively, be less interested in food and/or are vomiting, these are signs that the elevation is affecting them.
Decrease their activity, offer plenty of water to drink, and gradually move to lower elevations if that’s possible. Switching away from dry kibbled foods is important to ensure that they receive adequate moisture. Dogs and cats do not always drink in response to dehydration, so feeding a high moisture food is therefore very important.
If you move to a city at a high elevation, like Denver, your pet may experience these signs over the first few months in their new location. Go gentle with them. Don’t force them to do more activity than they can tolerate. Over time, their blood will adapt to the higher elevation and become more efficient at utilizing oxygen better at lower concentrations in the air.
How can you tell your pet isn’t adjusting to areas of high altitude?
If after moving to high elevation your pet does not go back to its baseline activity level, there could be more going on. Watch for excessive panting or a soft cough. These are signs of heart disease in dogs and cats, and animals with pre-existing heart disease may worsen at high altitudes.
Sometimes at lower altitudes these signs of heart disease may not be obvious, but when they reach high altitudes it may worsen enough that owners notice. Soft coughing, particularly at night, is a sign of heart disease and requires veterinary care.
If your pet already has breathing issues (asthma, etc.), is moving to a place of high altitude an absolute no-no, or are there things you can do to help them adjust?
It’s not an absolute no-no, but you may need to decrease their activity, and then only increase it very gradually based on how well they do when their activity goes up.