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Preventing Dog Altitude Sickness: Tips for High Altitude Travel

Preventing Dog Altitude Sickness: Tips for High Altitude Travel

Until I had traveled to Park City with an old dog several years ago, I had never wondered about altitude sickness in dogs. My dog, who had a heart murmur, was running around happily, and then suddenly collapsed. He was out for a few minutes and then rebounded back to his happy-go-lucky self.

While the episode may not have been entirely linked to the high altitude, it was the only out-of-the-ordinary factor that could explain what had happened.

Years later, just prior to traveling with Sora at 15,000 feet in the Chilean altiplano, I decided to do some research to learn more about how dogs are affected by elevation.

If you’re planning a high-altitude adventure with your pup, it’s important to be aware of the risks of altitude sickness in dogs. Just like humans, dogs can experience symptoms of altitude sickness at high elevations, but with some preparation and precautions, you can help your dog stay safe and comfortable during your mountain getaway.

Can Dogs Get Altitude Sickness?

Like humans, low oxygen levels from high elevations can give dogs altitude sickness, causing headaches, vomiting, and nausea, among other symptoms. In extreme cases, it can cause a build up of fluid in the lungs and brain.

Altitude sickness is not as common in dogs as it is in humans, but pet owners should be aware of the symptoms when they travel to higher elevations.

Most of the effects of high altitude generally present in elevations higher than 8,000 feet.

Some dogs have no problem with the high altitude, while others may exhibit more signs. The speed at which you ascend will affect the onset and severity of the symptoms.

Elevations ranging between 5,000 feet to 11,500 feet above sea level are considered high altitude. Anything from 11,500 to about 18,000 feet is extreme altitude.

Signs of Altitude Sickness in Dogs

Since our dogs can’t tell us how they feel with words and because they notoriously mask pain, it is up to pet parents to monitor their dog for any signs of malaise.

Symptoms of altitude sickness in dogs includes:

  • Panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Pale gums
  • Bleeding from the nose and retina (only in extreme cases)
  • Increased pulse
  • Dry cough
  • Swelling of feet and possibly the face
  • Sudden collapse
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Lack of coordination
  • Lethargy and refusal to move
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
Source: https://www.vetinfo.com/altitude-sickness-in-dogs.html

If you detect any of these signs, take a break to allow your dog to rest and recover. Gradually move your pet to a lower elevation if they persist and seek veterinary care immediately.

Keeping your dog hydrated is one way to prevent altitude sickness in dogs.

Preventing Altitude Sickness in Dogs

If you’ve ever experienced altitude sickness yourself, then you understand how awful it feels. I personally suffered from a pounding headache for several days and was unable to sleep for three straight nights. 

Watch your dog closely as you begin to climb, keeping an eye out for indications that they may be experiencing altitude sickness. 

There are some steps you can take prior to reaching high altitude to help both you and your dog feel most comfortable.

Keep Your Dog Hydrated

Hydration is key to preventing symptoms of high altitude. The dry air and increased activity can cause your dog to become dehydrated more quickly than usual. 

Bring a portable water bowl and pack water specifically for your dog and offer them water more often than you would on a typical hike.

You can also give your dog electrolytes before visiting high altitude locations. I lean toward more natural offerings, like coconut water or bone broth for dogs.

Gradually Acclimate Your Dog to High Altitude

Just like humans, dogs need time to adjust to higher altitudes. If you’re planning a trip to a high-altitude destination, it’s important to gradually acclimate your dog to the change in elevation. 

Start by spending a few days at a lower altitude before heading to higher elevations. If you are driving up to high altitude with your dog, stop every few thousand feet and take a short five to 10-minute walk. These acclimatization walks will help you and your dog adjust to the thin air. This will give your dog’s body time to adjust to the change in air pressure and oxygen levels. 

Monitor your pup’s breathing and energy level to make sure they’re not overdoing it. Ideally, you’ll want to take several days to acclimate rather than go straight from sea level to over 10,000 feet.

Additionally, make sure to give your dog plenty of rest and water during the acclimation process. If your dog won’t drink extra water, you can add it to their meals.

Limit Exercise

Over the first few days in high altitude, limit the amount of exercise you give your pup. It’s not the day to head out on a 10-mile hike.

Keep them on a leash during the first few days, if necessary, to force them to slow down as they adjust to the altitude.

Stop often to allow your dog to rest and catch their breath during hikes and monitor their panting level.

Give Your Dog a Chew

If you notice your dog pawing constantly at their ear, they may be popping. Give your dog something to chew on as you progress toward higher elevation to help pop their ears and relieve the discomfort.

How to Treat Altitude Sickness in Dogs 

Not all signs of altitude sickness indicate that your pet is in trouble.

It’s natural for your pet to feel unwell or out of breath, just keep a vigilant eye on your dog to make sure symptoms don’t worsen.

In the meantime, there are several ways to help relieve your dog of some of the discomfort as they acclimate.

Stay Hydrated (Yes, again!)

Proper hydration is the best way to prevent and overcome the symptoms of altitude sickness.

Since we can’t explain this to our dogs, we’ve got to ensure they are consuming more water than they usually would on their own.

If your dog won’t drink water or other liquids on their own, add it directly to their food.

Dogs require at least one ounce of water for each pound of body weight per day, and at least 1.5 times that in high altitude, so be sure your dog has access to clean water at all times.

Be Prepared for Emergencies and Have a Plan

Just like any other time you will be spending time on the trails, having an emergency plan in place can help facilitate stressful situations. In addition to bringing plenty of water and food, pack a first aid kit that includes dog-specific items, identify the location of the nearest veterinary clinic, including emergency hospital, and bring along the 10 Essentials for you and your dog.

Some Dogs Should Avoid High Altitude

Dogs with certain medical conditions or specific breeds should likely avoid high altitude excursions to ensure safety.

If your dog is one of the breeds or presents one of the medication conditions mentioned below, have a chat with your vet before hitting the thin air as exposure can cause life threatening problems.

  • Flat-faced or brachycephalic dogs like pugs, Boston terriers, and boxers should take extra caution before heading to higher altitudes. The thin air can cause breathing problems.
  • Dogs with pulmonary edema can experience severe problems at high altitude. The thinner air will create respiratory distress and can cause fluid in the lungs to occur.
  • Heart diseases or heart murmurs may also become exacerbated in high altitudes, as we saw in the case of my old dog mentioned at the beginning of this article. Some conditions may not present at lower altitudes so it may be a good idea to have your pup checked out before going to higher elevation.
  • Senior dogs may also be more sensitive to higher altitudes.
Dog goggles like RexSpecs help prevent diseases that can come from spending time in high altitude.

Eye Protection

In addition to immediate physical signs of high altitude sickness, long term effects of spending time in high altitude could cause vision problems, such as pannus.

Dogs who spend frequent time in the altitude and/or have light colored eyes are more susceptible to eye problems caused by the sun.

I use and recommend eye protection, like RexSpecs to protect your dog’s eyes in high altitude, among a number of other conditions like water, snow, and sand. They are well-designed and incredibly durable.

With the precautions and care listed above, dogs can acclimate to high elevations, but they may experience altitude sickness. With the right knowledge and preparation, it’s absolutely doable to explore high elevation regions with your dog.

PIN FOR LATER!

Like humans, some dogs can get altitude sickness. This post explains what signs to look for, how to reduce or prevent the symptoms, and when to see veterinary attention.

Kim Tanzer

Monday 14th of June 2021

So glad to have found this article. I'm a full time RVer who travels with my 2 America Eskimo dogs. My girl was diagnosed with Bradycardia after having an episode of walking wobbly and face planting into the side of our dog pen, once when we were in Mount Vernon Washington state, after a few ball throws. Very scary. Since that time, I restrict her ball fethching to 25 throws - and then she's cut off. She will pant quite heavily, but recovers within about 15 minutes or so. Anyway, in an attemp to beat the heat, we are heading to Leadville CO, elevation 10,150 ft. We are currently in New Mexico at 7,500 ft (for the past 2 weeks). And, back in mid April we spent a couple of days at 8,600 ft. Also, the summer before that we spent the summer at 8,200 feet. So far, she has been just fine. I say all that to ask, besides keeping a vigilant watch on her, do you have any thoughts or concerns about our climbing 2,600 ft later this week? We plan to stay in Leadville for about 3 weeks. Thank you so much for your input.

Jen Sotolongo

Sunday 20th of June 2021

I've had a dog that had a similar issue and our vet told us that high altitude was not a great idea. He collapsed while we were in Park City in the spring one year and it was very scary. I guess it's your call. Go prepared for an episode and know how to care for your pup in the event that it happens. I would limit her physical activity at that high of altitude, for sure.

Rob Williford

Friday 7th of May 2021

Jen, Thanks for posting. My wife and I plan do some hiking in CO this summer. We want to hike at least one of CO's "14-ers" (peaks greater than 14,000 ft. altitude) with our 5 year-old Aussie (looks like your Sora). Our plan to spend several days at successively higher elevations in CO before we attempt that. My wife and I have obtained an Rx for Acetazolamide used to prevent and reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness. I will be speaking w/ our vet about also prescribing that for our dog.

Jen Sotolongo

Monday 10th of May 2021

Aw, I love that your pup looks like Sora. <3

Definitely talk to your vet about any prescriptions. Since dogs can't verbally communicate with us, it's important to pay attention to signs of discomfort. Under medication, their ability to communicate how they feel is reduced further. Something to think about! Your trip sounds great!

Sonny

Thursday 22nd of October 2020

Hi Jen,

When your family went to Chile with Sora, what was the starting elevation when you first got to Chile? And how long/slow did you take to drive up to the 13k ft altitude level? Did you stay a night in the lower elevation part of the city before heading up to 13k ft?

I'm planning a trip with my dog to Colorado where we will first fly into Denver (~5k ft) and then drive to our final destination (~10.5k ft in altitude). Because we're traveling with a group of people, we unfortunately don't have a full day to acclimate in Denver before heading up to the mountains. It would be ~ 2 hour drive from when we land at the airport to the mountains. I'm going to consult the vet before committing to taking my dog with me but just curious what your thoughts are based on your experience.

Thanks in advance!

Jen Sotolongo

Thursday 22nd of October 2020

We started at sea level before going to the altiplano, so we basically went from 0 to 12K ft in a matter of hours. We stopped only for a short acclimation walk. Sora seemed completely fine, aside from the ear popping, far better than her humans, anyway! I would just go prepared for both yourself and your dog. Drink A LOT of water, watch for signs of discomfort (yawning, lethargy), and ask the tour company what their protocol is if someone, including your dog, experiences altitude sickness. If they are not willing to take your dog back down to safety, then it's probably best to leave them at home.

Gloria

Sunday 9th of August 2020

Hi, I have two questions in mind. I have a 6 months shihtzu Sushi. Can she travel 15 hrs in a car? And also travelling up to the mountains of altitude 8200 ft. What health problems can she face in the mountains?

Jen Sotolongo

Wednesday 12th of August 2020

I think as long as you stop frequently and give Sushi plenty of potty and walk breaks, then she should be ok to travel that long. Regarding the health problems, I wrote about them in this same article, so take a look back and let me know if you have any more specific questions!

SHAROLYN NELSON

Sunday 20th of January 2019

It happened to our dog when we moved to a higher altitude! We didnt know she had a heart murmur. She died within a month of moving. The vet here told us it was a very common thing!

Jamie

Wednesday 22nd of February 2023

@Jen Sotolongo, My dog is a chihuahua 11 years old. He has a grade 4/5 heart murmur and is on vetmadin and two other medications daily. I travel to mammoth quite often and the altitude is 8500 feet.

I always would bring my dog but ever since he got diagnosed with this heart murmur i have been so scared to bring him. He is always by my side so leaving him is also hard on my dog.

Do you think i am taking a risk by bringing him to high altitude ? He does sleep a lot and would not be active but my fear is if the altitude can cause serious damage or can be fatal ?

Thank you let me know

Jen Sotolongo

Wednesday 23rd of January 2019

Oh no! I'm so sorry that happened to you. It's so scary to have that happen and it's not something that one necessarily think about asking a vet to check before noticing an issue.