Acute hypoxia causes hyperventilation and respiratory alkalosis, often combined with increased diuresis and sodium, potassium, and bicarbonate excretion. With a low sodium intake, the excretion of the anion bicarbonate may be limited by the lower excretion rate of the cation sodium through activated sodium-retaining mechanisms. This study investigates whether the short-term renal compensation of hypoxia-induced respiratory alkalosis is impaired by a low sodium intake. Nine conscious, tracheotomized dogs were studied twice either on a low-sodium (LS = 0.5 mmol sodium x kg body wt-1 x day-1) or high-sodium (HS = 7.5 mmol sodium x kg body wt-1 x day-1) diet. The dogs breathed spontaneously via a ventilator circuit during the experiments: first hour, normoxia (inspiratory oxygen fraction = 0.21); second to fourth hour, hypoxia (inspiratory oxygen fraction = 0.1). During hypoxia (arterial PO2 34.4 +/- 2.1 Torr), plasma pH increased from 7.37 +/- 0.01 to 7.48 +/- 0.01 (P < 0.05) because of hyperventilation (arterial PCO2 25.6 +/- 2.4 Torr). Urinary pH and urinary bicarbonate excretion increased irrespective of the sodium intake. Sodium excretion increased more during HS than during LS, whereas the increase in potassium excretion was comparable in both groups. Thus the quick onset of bicarbonate excretion within the first hour of hypoxia-induced respiratory alkalosis was not impaired by a low sodium intake. The increased sodium excretion during hypoxia seems to be combined with a decrease in plasma aldosterone and angiotensin II in LS as well as in HS dogs. Other factors, e.g., increased mean arterial blood pressure, minute ventilation, and renal blood flow, may have contributed.