If you’ve ever gone hiking with your dog, you may have noticed that they seem to have boundless energy – running and climbing up hills with ease. But what happens when you take them to higher altitudes, where the air is thinner? Can dogs get altitude sickness just like humans?
The short answer is yes, dogs can get altitude sickness.
So, how do you protect your dog from altitude sickness when hiking trails with high elevations? What are the symptoms of altitude sickness in dogs? Read on to find out.
Altitude Sickness Explained
When humans climb to high altitudes, the air becomes thinner and contains less oxygen. This can cause a number of problems, including altitude sickness.
Dogs are not immune to these effects – they can also get altitude sickness. In fact, any animal that breathes air can suffer from altitude sickness.
So, what is altitude sickness? At its simplest, altitude sickness is caused by a lack of oxygen. When you climb to a higher elevation, there is less oxygen in the air. This can cause a number of symptoms, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Painful Headaches
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
Are Certain Dog Breeds More Susceptible to Altitude Sickness?
A few years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Lake Tahoe, California. After dinner one night, we went back to our cabin and my wife immediately came down with a bad headache and started throwing up everywhere.
At first, we thought it was some bad seafood – maybe she had food poisoning, I thought. But it turns out she was suffering from altitude sickness.
As for me? I was perfectly fine.
The reason for my story is that everyone reacts differently to high altitudes – and this includes dogs. Some dogs will show no symptoms of altitude sickness, while others may be severely affected. There are a number of factors that play a role in how susceptible your dog is to the effects of altitude, including:
- Size: Smaller dogs are more susceptible than larger breeds.
- Age: Puppies and senior dogs are more likely to be affected.
- Fitness level: Dogs in good shape tend to have an easier time adjusting to high altitudes.
- Acclimation: If you live in a place with a high elevation, your dog will be better equipped to deal with altitude sickness than if you live at sea level.
- Previous experience: If your dog has been to high altitudes before, they may have an easier time adjusting.
According to Dr. Karen Sanderson, DVM, a veterinary cardiologist at Rocky Mountain Veterinary Cardiology in Boulder, Colorado, If your dog already suffers pulmonary hypertension, the extra constriction may drive them into an extreme category, resulting in clinical symptoms.
She also indicated that Brachycephalic dog breeds, such as boxers, bulldogs, and pugs are more prone to altitude sickness. Brachycephalic breeds are characterized by short noses and flat faces which can make it harder for them to breathe.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Altitude Sickness?
If only they could talk, right? But since they can’t, you’ll have to be on the lookout for symptoms of altitude sickness. So let’s get right into it.
These may include:
- Excessive drooling
- Pale Gums
- Loss of appetite
Essentially, it’s very similar to us, sans the panting and drooling part. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to take action right away. The sooner you can get your dog to a lower altitude, the better.
However, sometimes these signs are subtle or readily confused with other conditions, so it is important to observe your dogs closely and obviously know if you’re in a high elevation area or not.
Also, If you do not notice and treat altitude sickness, it can swiftly escalate into a veterinary emergency, so keep a close eye on your dog while hiking in higher elevations.
How to Prevent Altitude Sickness in Dogs
Prevention is usually easier (and cheaper) than treatment, so it’s always best to take steps to avoid altitude sickness in the first place. Here are a couple of tips:
1. Take It Slow
If you’re heading to a high-altitude area, don’t just drive straight to the top of the mountain. This is a recipe for disaster. Instead, take your time and allow your dog to slowly acclimate to the change in elevation.
2. Engage in Acclimatization Walks
More specifically, If you’re traveling up to a high altitude with your dog, take a 5 to 10-minute walk every few thousand feet. These acclimatization walks will help you and your dog become used to the thin air. Keep an eye on your dog’s respiration and energy level to ensure they aren’t overexerting themselves.
3. Keep Your Dog Hydrated
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Make sure your dog has plenty of water to drink, especially if they’re active. Higher altitudes can cause dehydration at a faster rate than normal, so it’s important to keep an eye on your dog’s water intake and make sure they’re getting enough to stay hydrated.
4. Prepare a First-Aid Kit for Your Dog in Case of An Emergency
It’s great to pack a doggy first aid kit for you and your dog simply in case of illness or accident. It is also a good idea to pack an emergency canine carrier on high-altitude hikes if your dog gets injured or is unfit to walk to lower elevations.
5. Move to Lower Elevation if You Notice Any Symptoms
Gradually reduce the altitude to minimize sudden changes in air pressure and oxygen levels. If the symptoms persist after lowering your elevation, you should seek veterinary help, as altitude sickness symptoms can quickly become critical if left untreated.
6. Reduce Your Pet’s Activity Level
Allow your dog to rest and avoid overworking them. As you ascend and gain altitude, keep an eye on their panting and give them space to recover and regain their breath.
7. Health Check / Talk to Your Vet
If you’re planning a trip to a high-altitude area (or even a plane ride, for that matter), it’s a good idea to talk to your vet first. They may have some helpful advice or tips specific to your dog.
High elevations can aggravate heart abnormalities in dogs, such as heart murmurs and heart disease. Before embarking on any journey, those with other underlying health conditions should get medical advice.
In addition, older dogs are particularly susceptible to high altitudes. If you have a flat-faced dog, such as a pug, a Boston terrier, or a boxer, you should exercise particular care before venturing to higher elevations.
How Do You Treat Altitude Sickness in Dogs?
So, let’s say you took all the preventative measures possible, but your dog still gets altitude sickness. Here’s what you should do:
1. Immediately Descend to A Lower Elevation
This is the most important thing you can do for a dog with altitude sickness. If you’re on a hike, turn around and head back down the mountain. If you’re in a car, drive to a lower elevation as quickly as possible. Remember, altitude sickness can quickly become critical, so it’s important to act fast.
2. Monitor Their Breathing
If your dog is panting excessively, take breaks often to allow them to catch their breath. An active dog in high altitudes can cause fluid buildup in their lungs, so it’s important to keep an eye on their respiration and make sure they aren’t engaging in too much activity.
3. Give Them Plenty of Water
Give your dog lots of water to drink. And again, just remember: the higher you go, the more rapid the dehydration. That means give them a little more water than usual, especially if they’re urinating frequently.
Do Dogs Ears Pop at Higher Altitudes?
If you’ve been on a plane before, or have taken the subway to work (Hello, NYCers!), you know that your ears can pop when the air pressure changes. It’s a pretty strange sensation one that usually isn’t too painful for us but can be a bit annoying.
But what about dogs? Can their ears pop at higher altitudes or do they have some sort of built-in protection against it?
Unfortunately for our canine friends, they are just as susceptible to ear-popping as we are. And for some, it’ll be mild discomfort, but for others, it may be quite painful.
To help them out, you can offer your dog a chew toy or treat to help them relieve the pressure, or gently massage their ears. If you notice your dog shaking their head frequently, pawing at its ears, or even frequently yawning, it’s a telltale sign that they’re feeling discomfort, and you should take them to a lower elevation as soon as possible.
While not all dogs will experience altitude sickness or even discomfort at higher altitudes, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you’re planning on taking your dog on your next hiking adventure, make sure you take the necessary precautions to ensure their safety and comfort.
After all, they’re part of the family too! Have you ever taken your dog to a high-altitude area? What tips would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!