As with all mammals, dogs are susceptible to the effects of hiking in high altitudes. Owners considering elevation hiking with their dog should ensure that they understand the risks associated with high altitude, how to identify altitude sickness in dogs, and what to do in the event of an emergency.
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What is Altitude Sickness?
Altitude sickness is a potentially life threatening medical condition that occurs when moving too quickly into areas of high elevation. At higher altitudes, the pressure of the surrounding air drops and oxygen becomes less available. This decreased oxygen availability can quickly lead to dehydration and cerebral or pulmonary edema if ignored.
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness in Dogs
Symptoms of altitude sickness can generally be seen at elevations of 8,000 feet or higher and tend to mimic those of a bad hangover in humans with the most common symptoms being nausea, dizziness, headache, and difficulty breathing.
In dogs, symptoms of altitude sickness include excessive panting, nausea or drooling, difficulty breathing, vomiting, increased heart rate, pale or bluish colored gums, facial swelling, nosebleeds, and collapse.
What to Do if Your Dog Displays Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
The first step owners should take when noticing symptoms of altitude sickness in their dog is to immediately stop, rest, and offer fresh drinking water. If able, hikers should reduce their elevation and discontinue hiking for 24 to 48 hours as long-lasting effects of altitude sickness in pets can gradually develop over time.
Symptoms should resolve once getting to an elevation below 8,000 feet, but dogs displaying signs of altitude sickness should receive follow up veterinary care to ensure a clean bill of health. If symptoms do not resolve, emergency veterinary intervention may be needed to provide supportive care and address any severe medical concerns such as pulmonary or cerebral edema.
Tips on Avoiding Altitude Sickness in Dogs
The best way to avoid altitude sickness in dogs is to prevent the condition from developing by following elevation hiking precautions and guidelines and offering plenty of water. Dogs with medical conditions, brachycephalic noses, or dogs without proper training should never be taken on high elevation hikes.
As with humans, dogs need to be in good health and complete a training regimen before beginning elevation hiking.
When setting out on a high altitude hike, owners should ensure they bring plenty of supplies along for the trip including fresh drinking water and collapsible bowls, a pet first aid kit with a sling in case of emergency, and plenty of foods and snacks.
To avoid altitude sickness, owners should ensure they offer their dog water each time they stop for a drink to prevent dehydration as high elevation hiking requires approximately 1.5 times the normal daily water intake in dogs.
Training Dogs for High Elevation Hiking
When first starting elevation hiking, dogs should be taken on slow, controlled leash hikes where they are gradually exposed to increases in elevation over time. After several weeks, a healthy dog will be able to acclimate to the changing oxygen levels and naturally compensate for the decrease in oxygen availability at high altitudes.
Safety Considerations When Elevation Hiking with Dogs
Dogs participating in elevation hiking with their owners should always remain on a leash. When on a leash, owners have better control over their dogs and can ensure they ascend gradually. It also ensures that the pet stays close by so that owners can monitor for any symptoms of altitude sickness and provide necessary relief.
Occasionally dogs will begin pawing at their ears as they begin to pop as elevation increases. Owners can mitigate this sign of discomfort by giving their dog a chew toy to help with acclimation.
Owners hiking at high altitude with their dog should also provide appropriate pet eye protection as UV light exposure at high altitudes has been linked to a number of eye related conditions in pets.
Pet owners should be prepared for inclement weather as conditions at high elevations often require the use of protective gear such as canine cold weather booties and jackets to keeps pets warm and avoid hypothermia.
With proper training healthy, well-conditioned dogs can make an excellent companion when it comes to elevation hiking. Owners should always exercise caution and be mindful of how their dog responds once approaching elevations greater than 8,000 feet and ensure their pet receives a clean bill of health from their veterinarian prior to starting elevation hiking.
Any dog showing symptoms of altitude sickness should receive veterinary care as soon as possible to avoid the risk of developing severe, life-threatening medical conditions.
How susceptible your four-legged hiking companion is altitude sickness is ultimately dependent upon their breed. We have dozens of breed-specific hiking guides that can help give you the answers you need to hike safely with dog.