Can Dogs Get Altitude Sickness?

Most of us are low altitude pet owners that live fairly close to sea level. Even those living in mountainous regions stay close to 5,000 feet, meaning they avoid most of the effects of altitude sickness. So what if you want to take your dog on an adventure to a higher altitude region? Can dogs experience altitude sickness as well?

In this article we will discuss the effects of high altitude in our furry friends, and help you better understand canine altitude sickness going forward. We will also include how high altitude affects pregnant dogs.

What Is Altitude Sickness?

Many of us know that we can begin to feel ill in high altitudes, but what causes this occurrence? Altitude sickness is a result of transitioning rapidly to a climate with lower oxygen levels and reduced air pressure. The body can adjust to areas with low oxygen levels, but this takes time. Transitioning to higher altitudes quickly is challenging for the body to keep up with, resulting in a slew of uncomfortable symptoms.

Rapid ascension can either lead to minor symptoms referred to as acute mountain sickness, or severe altitude sickness that causes debilitating complications. The body will eventually create more red blood cells to make up for the lack of oxygen, but this can take months to occur naturally.

Can High Altitude Affect Dogs?

Can My Dog Get Altitude Sickness

Changes in altitude can affect dogs as well. Though altitude sickness is nowhere near as common in dogs than it is in humans, our pups can face some the same struggles when adjusting to a climate with lower oxygen levels. This can occur when taking dogs on hikes to regions that are 8,000 feet or more above sea level, as well as dogs that move to higher altitude regions with their owners.

Most healthy dogs will only experience minor symptoms (if any) when transitioning to higher altitudes, but dogs with underlying health conditions may struggle more. If your dog has been diagnosed with any cardiac conditions, high blood pressure, or respiratory conditions, you should speak with your vet before taking your pup to a high altitude region.

At What Altitude Can Dogs Have Altitude Sickness?

If a dog does experience altitude sickness, it will likely occur in areas that are 8,000 feet or more above sea level. This can be more exaggerated if you are transitioning from an area that is right as sea level, in comparison to a dog that is used to living at 6,000 feet.

A dog will also be more likely to experience altitude sickness if the transition to a higher altitude is rapid. If you take your time moving up to the new location, they may not display any symptoms at all.

This is why it is always recommended to spend at least a day at around 6,000 feet before ascending to 8,000 feet and higher. This may not eliminate any complications, but it can certainly make the transition easier on your pup and possibly even for you.

What To Watch For With Altitude Sickness And My Dog?

The signs of altitude sickness in dogs are similar to what humans experience. The only difference is that our dogs cannot vocalize their symptoms, meaning we have to pay close attention to their behavior.

Some of the most common symptoms of altitude sickness in dogs include:

  • Dizziness or disorientation. A dog may stumble or appear unsteady on their feet
  • Nausea or vomiting. A dog may hyper-salivate due to their nausea
  • Excessive panting or drooling
  • Appearing winded after activity, or a decreased stamina than usual
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy or disinterest in things they usually enjoy
  • Pale gums
  • Weakness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Collapse
  • Swelling of the muzzle or limbs

Symptoms such as weakness, difficulty breathing, pale gums, swelling, and collapse are often more serious complications that occur at rapid ascension to altitudes higher than 8,000 feet

Any symptoms of altitude sickness should be your cue to bring your dog to a lower altitude, but serious symptoms warrant immediate veterinary care.

While extremely rare, severe cases of altitude sickness can cause a buildup of fluid in the lungs, so it’s important to seek help at the first sign of serious complications. You should also seek veterinary care if your dog’s symptoms do not resolve once returning to a lower elevation.

Long Term Effects Of High Altitude In Dogs

Thankfully, dogs adjust well to high altitude climates if they are staying long term. Many people move to mountainous regions with their furry friends, and their dogs seem to acclimate well. I also spent time living in an Ecuadorian city that was 10,000 feet above sea level, and met plenty of active pups that were living full lives. Some of these dogs even moved from areas with lower elevation with their owners, and experienced zero complications along the way.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind when discussing potential long term effects of high altitude in dogs. Dogs may be more prone to developing an eye condition called Pannus with prolonged exposure to high elevation. This condition is thought to be a hereditary condition, but high elevation can certainly trigger it in some cases. This is one of the many reasons why dogs that work in high altitudes wear protective goggles.

Dr. Heather Steyn of the Amici Cannis Animal Hospital in Cotacachi, Ecuador (just under 8,000 feet elevation) works with many dogs that have lived at high elevations throughout their life. She states that most dogs have no issue with acclimating to higher altitudes, and that the only changes she typically observes are increases in their red blood cell count. This is due to the body adjusting to lower oxygen levels, and does not result in complications for the pet.

Can High Altitude Harm A Pregnant Dog?

Any type of travel in a pregnant dog should be handled with care. Excess stress can always be risky to a pregnant dog, especially those that are transitioning from low to high altitudes rapidly. If you are traveling to high elevation climates with a pregnant pup, there are a few extra safety measures you should follow.

First, you should discuss this trip with your veterinarian beforehand, just in case they have any advice to offer for your dog’s situation. Next, you should try your best to slowly transition to the higher altitude, allowing for adjustment along the way. This means transitioning to the higher altitude over the span of a few days, rather than immediately. This can help your pup avoid any potential altitude sickness.

Last, I would suggest avoiding any strenuous exercise, as this may not be tolerated well in a pregnant dog. As long as you are diligent about following a few safety guidelines, your pregnant pup should be just fine.

Is It Dangerous To Go From Sea Level To High Altitude?

It is not necessarily dangerous to move a dog from sea level to high altitude climates, but you should try your best to limit any complications when possible. You can do this by trying to ascend slowly to the new climate, keeping your dog calm for the week following your move, as well as monitoring your pup closely for any signs of altitude sickness.

How To Protect Your Dog From Altitude Sickness

If you are concerned about your dog transitioning safely to a high altitude region, there are a few steps you can take to prevent complications during your trip. Some of the best ways to protect your dog from altitude sickness include:

  • Speak with your vet about the effects of high altitude with your dog. This is especially important if your pup has any underlying health conditions.
  • Keep your dog hydrated throughout your journey. Every time you take a water break, your dog should take one too.
  • Try your best to ascend gradually to the new environment. This can mean spending a day or two at 6,000 feet, then transitioning to 8,000 feet and higher.
  • Monitor your dog closely for any changes in their behavior. This should involve checking your pup before you ascend, then watching them for any changes.
  • Allow for plenty of breaks when hiking with your dog in high altitude regions. It can be more challenging to catch your breath, so you will want to allow for plenty of rest periods.
  • Bring your pup back to a lower altitude region if they begin to display any signs of illness. If these symptoms do not resolve soon after bringing them back down, you should see a vet immediately.

Our pups require a bit of extra care when introducing them to higher altitude settings. Be sure to review the information we discussed above, and you can be better prepared for your journey!

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