Does altitude change affect pets the way it does people? - Dr. Marty Becker

Does altitude change affect pets the way it does people?

Thursday, Jul 30th, 2015 | By Dr. Marty Becker

Bernese mountain dog during common way by car.

A reader is planning a move that might impact her pets:

Q: We’re moving from Louisville, Kentucky, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. We know people can sometimes have issues with the altitude change, but what about our pets? We have two cats and a dog.

A: Humans and animals can experience physical signs when they go to a higher altitude. Albuquerque’s altitude ranges from 4,900 feet to more than 6,700 feet in the foothills. Signs that altitude is affecting you include tiring easily, headaches and vomiting. Usually these symptoms don’t kick in until much higher elevations are reached — more than 8,000 feet — but it’s not unusual for people and pets to experience milder signs.

To ensure that you and your pets adjust without problems, it’s best if you can drive to your new home instead of flying, says Julia Veir, DVM, an internal medicine specialist at Colorado State University. That will allow all of you to slowly acclimate to the change.

Once you’re settled into your new home, limit physical activity at first to short, on-leash walks. Albuquerque has low humidity, so it’s easy to become dehydrated, even if you’re not sweating a lot. Be sure you and your pets drink plenty of cool, fresh water throughout the day. Encourage your pets to drink with a fountain — cats, especially, enjoy lapping running water. Another good way to get water into them is to feed them canned food.

It’s also a good idea to become familiar with the appearance of your pets’ tongues and gums in Louisville. That way, you will more readily notice changes that might be related to altitude, such as having a blue tinge instead of being a healthy pink.

Take things slow, and you will probably find that you all adjust with little problem. Most important, establish a relationship with a veterinarian before problems crop up.

Read more, including tips on hiking with your dogs, in this week’s Pet Connection!