Pets can make amazing travel companions, especially if they’re curious and up for adventures in new places. This summer, your travels might take you to mountainous regions, where you and your adventure pup can enjoy day-long hikes and breathtaking vistas. Unfortunately, there are more than a few dangers that await you in the mountains. One of these is altitude sickness.
If you’ve ever visited an area far above sea level, you may have experienced some unpleasant symptoms, such as nausea, a headache and light-headedness. The reduced air pressure and oxygen levels up in the mountains cause these symptoms. But humans aren’t the only ones who can experience the effects of altitude sickness! Dogs and even cats can, too. If you’re planning a mountain adventure for your pet, keep your eye out for this problem.
What is altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness is a physical response to being in high-altitude locations. The symptoms are caused by the lowered air pressure and reduced oxygen in the air as you climb higher above sea level. Most cases of altitude sickness are caused by rapid ascension, meaning you went too high too quickly. It’s also particularly common in people and pets who live close to sea level and abruptly visit high-altitude regions.
Like humans, pets can be susceptible to changes in altitude and suffer from altitude sickness. Experts believe that pets can experience altitude sickness in many of the same ways, although their symptoms may present a little differently.
Common symptoms of altitude sickness in cats and dogs may include:
- Panting excessively
- Tiring easily
- Increased heart rate
- Lack of coordination
In severe, unchecked cases of altitude sickness, your pet might collapse or even experience a fatal buildup of fluid in the lungs and/or brain.
You have to climb pretty high in order for altitude sickness to start taking its toll—most problems occur 8,000 feet above sea level. If you’re planning a big hike or camping trip high up in the mountains, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for the symptoms.
Even moving to places of slightly high elevation can have minor effects on your pets, though. As their bodies adjust to the reduced oxygen, they might not be able to run or play as much as they had before and will tire more easily. They may also appear thirstier and will require more water to stay hydrated.
Preventing altitude sickness
There’s no tried and true way to prevent altitude sickness. It will affect some people and pets more than others. However, there are a few things you can do to make altitude sickness less likely for your pets on your summer adventures.
If you’re taking your dog or cat on a hike or camping trip to the mountains, go slow. Consider working your way into the mountains over the course of a few days to allow your bodies to adjust to the higher elevation more gradually. The same goes for when you’re actually on the hike. Don’t try to rush to high altitudes, or your pet could start to feel sick.
Also make sure your pet is drinking enough water. Always carry fresh water for them and stop at regular intervals to encourage them to drink. You may want to switch from dry kibble to wet food for the trip, since it has more moisture.
Finally, reduce your pet’s activity level at high altitudes. Encourage them to walk, not run, on the trails and avoid playing long or intense games of fetch in elevated areas. If your pet overexerts themselves, they could begin to feel sick.
If your pet has a health condition that already worsens their activity level or breathing, be extremely cautious when heading to high altitudes. It’s not impossible to take these pets on adventures, but altitude sickness could make them feel even sicker and might be dangerous to their health. It’s best to consult your vet before you go, just to be safe.
What to do if your pet experiences altitude sickness
If you’re on the trails with your pet this summer and begin to notice your pet exhibiting symptoms of altitude sickness, it’s a good idea to give them lots of water and start heading to lower altitudes. It’s unlikely that your pet will begin to feel better if you stay at high elevation (or climb higher). And, since they can’t communicate how sick they feel, it’s better to cut the trip short and take care of your pet’s health.
After you return to lower elevation, closely monitor your pet’s condition. They should return to normal behavior within a day. If their condition persists, check in with a veterinarian to ensure your pet is okay.
Altitude sickness can be a scary thing to witness in your pet, and it’s definitely something you’ll want to take seriously. On your summer adventures, take care to acclimatize your pet to higher altitudes and watch closely for signs of illness, so you can care for their health right away.