What do you get when dogs and cats, some of whom are visiting from lower altitudes, meet the high altitude wilderness around Park City? A recipe for some unique veterinary care and some surprising benefits.

By Kate Bjordahl, DVM

A common but little known mammal around Park City is the porcupine. When threatened, they elevate their loose quills in a protective pattern around their body. Once contact is made, the sharp quills quickly penetrate skin. Then, the microscopic barbs draw them deeper and prevent easy removal. There are many myths that surround the porcupine. They do not launch their quills at an attacker and their quills are not hollow. A visit to the local veterinarian is almost always a requirement after a prickly encounter.

Park City has a thriving moose population. Usually gentle, these giants can become aggressive if they feel threatened. One stomp or kick can cause serious injury. When hiking with your pets, please give moose a wide berth on the trails. Before letting Fluffy outside in the morning, scan the area for visiting moose. Avoiding any close contact with these majestic animals will prevent a life-threatening injury for your four-legged friend.

The biggest benefit of Park City’s dry, high altitude climate is by far the lack of fleas. Yes, we really do not have fleas. Most people do not believe me the first time I say it in the office. What a luxury! No flea repellants needed. We do get the occasional hitchhiking flea from another state, but they do not survive long in our arid climate. And while we are talking about external parasites, we cannot forget ticks too. The rare tick appears in Utah during very wet springs. Fortunately, these few ticks are nice enough not to carry lyme disease.

The high altitude in Park City can be hard on our four-legged companions. Most altitude sickness occurs during a rapid exposure to altitudes above 8,000 feet. We see cases of dogs who come to visit from lower altitudes and develop high altitude pulmonary edema (fluid buildup in the lungs). Dogs and cats with underlying heart disease or other medical issues are most at risk. For the average dog, caution should still be taken to ease them into activity and try to get them to drink more water. I recommend pouring a cup of water in their feed bowl for each cup of food. Monitor your pets closely for any signs of difficulty breathing and try to have some sympathy as they may have a headache just like you.

With a little safe moose distance, porcupine avoidance and altitude acclimation, your furry friends can safely enjoy the Park City great outdoors with you.


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