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Hiking and Backpacking How to Guides

Altitude Sickness in Dogs – Recognizing and Treating

Altitude Sickness in Dogs

When traveling to areas of high elevation or hiking in high mountain ranges (particularly 5,000 feet above sea level and higher), dogs should be watched for signs of altitude sickness.

Factors that may impact a dog’s chance of getting altitude sickness:

  • Hydration
  • Activity level/exertion
  • Length of acclimation period the dog was given
  • The difference in the elevation where the dog lives and where he is traveling to

Just like people, sometimes it is difficult to tell when a dog might get altitude sickness, even when preventative measures have been taken, such as allowing the dog to acclimate slowly and keeping him hydrated.

Monitor your dog carefully for symptoms of altitude sickness

Other than descending to lower elevations, resting, helping your dog stay hydrated, and consulting a vet, there isn’t much you can do to treat your dog out on the mountain once canine altitude sickness has been identified. Additionally, carrying out a larger dog can be problematic and take time.

Dogs can’t tell us about initial symptoms that people typically report, such as a headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue, and nausea.  They most likely feel these same symptoms humans do, but since our dogs can’t talk, we have to rely on behavior and physical symptoms that we can see. It is important to carefully monitor your dog when traveling to altitudes that are higher than he is used to in order to catch altitude sickness before it becomes serious or even fatal.

Possible symptoms of altitude sickness in dogs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Excessive panting
  • Coughing
  • Staggering movements, lack of coordination
  • Quickened pulse
  • Excessive drooling
  • Paler than usual gums
  • Swelling of feet and face
  • Lethargy/loss of energy
  • Diarrhea

Be Proactive at Altitude

If you know that you are taking your dog to high altitudes, make sure you get a baseline on the usual color of his or her gums are on a regular day so that you can check frequently for paleness while out adventuring.  Reduce physical activity and take plenty of breaks when heading into higher-than-usual-altitudes. Monitor your dog’s behavior carefully, and turn back immediately if you notice unusual behavior, lethargy, or distress.