Just as with humans, altitude sickness in dogs occurs because the concentration of oxygen molecules in the air is lower the higher up you go in elevation. As a pet’s body works to compensate for the decrease in oxygen, the following symptoms may occur:
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Increased heart rate
- Pale gums
- Swelling of face, limbs
- Excessive panting or drooling
- Bleeding from the nose
If your dog is showing any of these signs of altitude sickness, decrease its activity and offer water immediately, then get your pet to an elevation below 8,000 feet as soon as possible.
If these symptoms don’t improve once your dog is at a lower elevation, your dog will need to be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. If not immediately addressed, the symptoms of high altitude sickness can become life-threatening.
Here are some additional tips for safe and enjoyable hiking experiences with your dog:
- Be sure to gradually increase your dog’s exposure to higher altitudes by starting lower and taking short hikes at progressively higher elevations over the course of several weeks. If your dog is adjusting well, increase the distance in the same manner. Over time, a healthy dog’s body should be able to adapt to utilizing oxygen better as the concentrations in the air decrease with the elevation gains.
- Dehydration can happen quickly at high altitudes, so make sure your dog gets plenty of water. A good rule of thumb is: Every time you stop for a drink, your pet should drink water, too. Be sure to take more water than you think you’ll both need.
- Pack enough of your dog’s food to last for more meals and snacks than the time you intend to spend on the trail. It’s always best to be over-prepared and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
- Always closely monitor your pet’s activity levels when above 8,000 feet and watch for any signs of altitude sickness.
- Dogs with a heart condition or heart murmur should NOT be taken on hikes in the mountains.
- Brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds such as boxers, pugs, pekinese, and bulldogs, or any pet with a breathing issue, should be monitored very closely in the mountains, as they are already predisposed to breathing problems that could be exacerbated by increases in altitude.
- You should NEVER attempt a high altitude hike with any dog that has not been properly acclimated to elevations above 8,000 feet and higher. Many mountain trails will take you well above timberline to 11,000 – 12,000 feet, and hiking a fourteener means going up to and over 14,000 feet. Only healthy dogs that are well-trained and acclimated for these altitudes and long distances should be taken on these hikes.
- Take a first aid kit for both you and your dog and know how to use the items in them. We also recommend that you take along a dog carrying harness or emergency canine carrier, just in case your dog gets injured or becomes ill and needs to be carried off the mountain.