Preparing a Dog For High Altitude Trips


Traveling with your dog is always a fun time, but you need to take special precautions when traveling to high altitude locations. You don’t want to endanger your dog by causing altitude sickness. How do you acclimate a dog to high altitude?

Increase elevation slowly to prepare your dog for high altitude. Going too fast will cause breathing problems once you get over 6000 ft. Higher elevations will require more time to acclimate. Plan on taking 5-10 minute water breaks every 30 minutes and ascend slowly. Take special precautions when going over 11,000 ft.

Telling people to take it slow is easier said than done. Just try to remember that it’s not worth risking your dogs health. Continue reading for more info on recognizing altitude sickness and preparing a dog for high altitude climbing.

Preparing a Dog For High Altitude Climbing

If you’ve ever experienced altitude sickness you know just how dangerous it can be. You start off feeling a little dizzy, lightheaded and if you’re not careful symptoms can elevate fast. Most of the dangers of altitude sickness are reversible if caught early, but you have to know what you’re looking for.

If you’ve ever experienced altitude sickness you know just how dangerous it can be. You start off feeling a little dizzy, lightheaded and if you’re not careful symptoms can elevate fast. Most of the dangers of altitude sickness are reversible if caught early, but you have to know what you’re looking for.

When traveling in groups recognizing signs of altitude sickness is easy, what if your traveling partner is a dog? Dog’s can’t tell you when they’re feeling funny, so it’s up to you to recognize the signs of altitude sickness.

Is High Altitude Bad For Dogs?

High altitude will affect every dog differently, but lack of oxygen is never a good thing. Whether or not it will affect your dog depends on the breed, general health, and acclimatization.

Take a look at your dogs overall health before hiking to high altitude locations. Avoid high altitude if your dog’s older, overweight or has breathing problems.

Altitude sickness can be very serious if you don’t recognize the signs early. Continue reading below to learn how to recognize altitude sickness in dogs.

How Do You Acclimate a Dog To High Altitude?

While planning a high altitude trip, most backpackers have a basic understanding of altitude sickness. You don’t have to be a genius to realize your body just doesn’t feel right. It’s all about listening to your body and not taking any chances when symptoms show.

This gets challenging when dealing with your furry friend. Most dogs try to hide the pain in an attempt to please their owners. So you need to be cautious when planning a high altitude hike.

Low oxygen levels affect dogs just like humans. Most of the time, it starts off headaches, nausea, and vomiting. By the time you notice impaired motor skills it’s usually too late. You need to get to lower elevations immediately.

Acclimating a dog to high altitude is fairly straightforward. It’s all about taking your time and giving your dog time to adjust to the thin air. Take regular 5-10 minute breaks every 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Monitor your dogs breathing and watch out for signs of exhaustion. You might have to turn back if you notice a sudden change in energy levels.

Recognizing Signs of Altitude Sickness in Dogs

You might be an experienced backpacker, but it’s easy to miss the symptoms of altitude sickness in pets. Since dogs are eager to please they’ll happily hike way past their physical capabilities. You’re the one that needs to set the pace

Understanding how to prevent altitude sickness in dogs is easier said than done. It all starts off with a slight mood change when hitting high elevations.

You might notice that your dog is just a little bit off. Maybe he’s not quite as playful/inquisitive or his pace could slow down slightly. If you can’t identify the problem and treat it altitude sickness can quickly turn into a veterinary emergency. Keep a close eye when you’re climbing and slow down the pace a bit if either of you are inexperienced.

Altitude Sickness Symptoms

Humans and dogs both share many of the same symptoms of altitude sickness. Just like with humans, altitude sickness occurs when the oxygen levels aren’t high enough to sustain oxygen levels in the body.

Breathing and heart rate will naturally increase to compensate for the lack of oxygen. You need to give your dog enough time to adjust to the lack of oxygen in the body.

Since dogs can’t communicate how they’re feeling most of the symptoms of altitude sickness are subtle. It’s important to watch your pet closely and adjust to subtle changes by slowing down the pace and possibly calling your hike early. Keep in mind that most of these symptoms are similar to signs of dehydration.

  • Shortness of Breath(panting): excessive panting, and signs of being overworked like a racing heartbeat. Sometimes you can actually see the dog’s body pulsing as he walks. Think about how your dog acts when you throw a ball a few too many times.
  • Lack of Appetite: Your dog should work up a big appetite after a long hike. I usually carry twice the usual amount of food for my dog on long hikes. If a dog doesn’t want food after a long day on the trail something is wrong.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Look for the initial signs of nausea that happen before your dog actually vomits. Eating grass is one of the early warning signs of an upset stomach. If your dog gets to the point where he vomits it’s time to turn around and head for lower elevation.
  • Pale Gums and Drooling: Without thoroughly inspecting a dog’s mouth it’s hard to recognize pale gums(also a sign of dehydration). What you will recognize is excessive drooling usually caused by excessive panting.
  • Tiredness: You should never drag a dog past the point of exhaustion. Every dog I’ve ever owned has been able to outpace me on the trail. When a dog starts falling behind that normally means something is seriously wrong. Take a long water break and wait until he’s ready to go.
  • Lack of Coordination: Once a dog starts to wobble he’s probably too far gone. This is an emergency situation. Stop immediately and seek lower elevation even if it means carrying him down a few miles.
  • Swelling(Face and Limbs): Swelling can be caused by a wide variety of reasons. Ever notice how your hands and feet swell after a long hike? That’s your body’s way of sending extra blood/oxygen to your limbs to protect your extremities.
  • Bloody Nose: Personally, I’ve never seen a dog’s nose bleed. If this ever happened I would probably have a minor freakout.

Remember that most of these symptoms are discreet. If you notice anything out of the usual it’s time to slow down and turn around.

Treating Altitude Sickness in Dogs

There’s no easy way to treat altitude sickness in dogs (prevention is key). The only way to alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness is to head for lower elevation immediately.

You have to make a judgement call based on the way your dogs acting. It’s always better to play it safe and descend the mountain. Don’t risk your dogs health if they’re not acting normal.

Some Dogs Should Avoid High Altitude

Not every dog can handle a strenuous hike. Just like some humans are more athletic than others, some dog breeds just aren’t built for exercise. Before heading out you need to take a serious look at your dog’s physical activity level and breed.

  • Brachycephalic Dogs(Flat-Faced): Dogs with smushed in faces like English Bulldogs, Pugs and some terriers just weren’t designed for serious physical activity. Since they have squished in noses they can’t get in enough oxygen to overcome changes in elevation. However, with enough practice and patience almost any dog can handle a moderate hike.
  • Senior Dogs: Senior dogs are especially susceptible to high altitudes. Just like humans older dogs start to slow down a bit physically. They typically gain weight, start to develop heart problems and mobility issues. Elderly dogs just aren’t strong enough to adjust to high altitudes.
  • Dogs With Heart Issues: Any type of heart condition can get exacerbated at high altitude. They just don’t have the heart strength to properly circulate blood once oxygen levels drop.
  • Mobility Problems: Although mobility issues don’t affect altitude sickness it might cause problems getting up and down hillsides.

While your dog probably acts like he can handle anything(bulldogs can run circles around me), some dogs just can’t handle high altitudes. It’s important to recognize signs of altitude sickness before they get serious.

Other Tips For Hiking With Your Dog

  • Start off with lower elevation hikes, gradually increasing distance and elevation. You need to be able to recognize your dogs normal hiking behavior so you can recognize warning signs on the trail. If she’s limping or lacking energy it’s time to head home.
  • Always respect trail etiquette and give other hikers the right of way. You never know if a person is comfortable around dogs. Show respect for other hikers and move your dogs to the side.
  • Keep your dog under control. I like to use a hands-free leash(On Amazon) attached to my belt so I can use trekking poles.
  • Buy your dog a brightly colored trail pack so he’s highly visible on the trail. Both you and other hikers will be able to spot your dog at a greater distance. You might even want to get your dog a trail pack (On Amazon) so he can carry his own gear.
  • Pack a first-aid kit specifically designed for your dogs. I also bring a small multi-tool and tick remover just in case I need to remove something from my dogs skin.
  • Bring along treats for your dog to eat. If your dog starts to show initial signs of altitude sickness you need something to lure him to lower elevation.

If you’ve ever experienced altitude sickness you know just how dangerous it can be. You start off feeling a little dizzy, lightheaded and if you’re not careful symptoms can elevate fast. Most of the dangers of altitude sickness are reversible if caught early, but you have to know what you’re looking for.

When traveling in groups recognizing signs of altitude sickness is easy, what if your traveling partner is a dog? Dog’s can’t tell you when they’re feeling funny, so it’s up to you to recognize the signs of altitude sickness.

FAQ- Preparing a Dog For High Altitude

Can Dogs Get Altitude Sickness?

Yes, dogs are highly susceptible to altitude sickness. The lack of oxygen at higher altitude will cause altitude sickness in dogs. It might not be as common as with humans, but you should watch out for symptoms at higher elevations.

Understanding how to prevent altitude sickness in dogs will hopefully prevent a scary emergency. So how do you tell if your dog is showing signs of altitude sickness?

Can Dogs Die or Get Sick at High Altitudes?

Just like humans, dogs can get seriously sick and possibly die at high altitudes. Most of the dangers of altitude sickness can be eliminated by properly acclimating as you climb.

If your dog starts showing signs/symptoms of altitude sickness you need to descend immediately. Keep an eye out for panting, drooling, vomiting, and any other change of mood.

How do you treat altitude sickness in dogs?

The only way to treat altitude sickness is to head for lower elevations. You just need to gauge the level of danger and adjust accordingly. For minor symptoms, taking a break and adjusting your pace is usually all it takes.

When Should You Look Out For Altitude Sickness?

When it comes to altitude sickness, every dog is different. Some dogs don’t have any problem while others show signs at lower altitudes. Just like with humans you never really know when altitude sickness is going to kick in.

It all depends on how fast you climb, the dogs breed, age and severity of symptoms. Remember that by the time you start to notice signs of altitude sickness it’s probably been going on for hours.

Altitude sickness starts to set in somewhere between 5,000-10,000 feet with most hikers experiencing issues around 8,000ft. By slowly acclimating to the altitude you can significantly push up the danger zones.

What Altitude Can My Dog Go Up To?

Altitudes above 11,000 feet are considered extreme for both humans and dogs. This is extremely dangerous terrain which requires adequate acclimatization and lots of experience.

If you decide to travel above 11,000 feet stop regularly and give your dog a lot of water. A slow and steady pace should help your dog adjust to higher altitudes.

Watch out for extreme symptoms including-excessive panting, drooling, dry cough, vomiting, discolored(gray/blue) gums or tongue, extreme lethargy. If you notice any of these signs get to a lower altitude re-hydrate and head to your vet if symptoms persist.

How Can I Acclimate My Dog For High Altitudes?

Just like humans, dogs need to acclimate to higher altitudes before hitting the trail. When traveling into high altitude locales you should plan on exploring the city for a few days before your climb.

Dogs can’t adjust to altitude any faster than humans. It’s always better to play it safe since dogs can’t tell you when they’re suffering.
Fitness really doesn’t help much at high altitudes.

It’s all about keeping a slow and steady pace and moving slower the higher you go. Once you reach 8000 ft you shouldn’t ascend more than 1500ft per day.

The old saying “Hike High, Sleep Low” comes into play. Even if you hike 2000ft drop down to lower altitude to sleep. It’s all about slowly acclimatizing to the change in altitude.

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