Altitude Sickness in Dogs

Altitude sickness in dogs may be an issue in some pets, and may manifest when the dog is at least 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) above sea level. Not all dogs suffer from altitude sickness, and this problem is only an issue if the dog needs to climb mountains or fly. Altitude sickness can create fatal problems (i.e., pulmonary edema), so the problem needs to be addressed if noticed.

Causes of Altitude Sickness

The reasons why dogs get altitude sickness are not known. In the past, altitude sickness was believed to be the toxic air people thought was present at high altitudes. However, this theory has been proven wrong. The problem may be due to the concentration of the oxygen or the air pressure which is different at elevated heights. Altitude sickness may be present when going on mountains, but some dogs may also suffer from it during flights.

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness in Canines

The symptoms of altitude sickness are mainly due to the fact that the dog gets dehydrated and is unable to breathe normally. The symptoms of altitude sickness in dogs may include:

  • Panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Pale gums
  • Bleeding from the nose and retina (only in extreme cases)
  • Increased pulse
  • Dry cough
  • Swelling of feet and possibly the face
  • Sudden collapse
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Lack of coordination
  • Lethargy and refusal to move

The symptoms may vary and may be less severe, depending on how sensitive the dog is. If the ascent has been gradual, the dog may have fewer symptoms.

Detecting Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness can only be detected judging by the dog's symptoms. If the dog displays this behavior whenever exposed to high altitudes and has no other health issues, the diagnosis may be altitude sickness.

Treating Canine Altitude Sickness

A dog with altitude sickness can be given acetazolamide, but the dose should be recommended by the vet. Dexamethasone may also be recommended if the pet has edema, and may also be taken as a preventive measure. However, these drugs may only be given if prescribed by the vet.

Oxygen masks may reduce altitude sickness and can be given as an emergency treatment. The dog should also be taken to a lower altitude immediately.

A dog that has altitude sickness and is constantly exposed to heights should be treated, as the sickness can cause high altitude pulmonary edema or cerebral edema. These problems have been reported in humans, but not in dogs yet.

Preventing Altitude Sickness

The easiest way to prevent altitude sickness is not to take your pet on climbing trips or flights. If you decide to take your pet on a trip, make sure the ascent is gradual, to allow the dog to get used to the height. Dogs that live at high altitudes may get used to heights and may be able to overcome altitude sickness.