Disruption of microvascular blood flow is a common cause of tissue hypoxia in disease, yet no therapies are available that directly target the microvasculature to improve tissue oxygenation. Red blood cells (RBCs) autoregulate blood flow through S-nitroso-hemoglobin (SNO-Hb)-mediated export of nitric oxide (NO) bioactivity. We therefore tested the idea that pharmacological enhancement of RBCs using the S-nitrosylating agent ethyl nitrite (ENO) may provide a novel approach to improve tissue oxygenation. Serial ENO dosing was carried out in sheep (1–400 ppm) and humans (1–100 ppm) at normoxia and at reduced fraction of inspired oxygen (FiO2). ENO increased RBC SNO-Hb levels, corrected hypoxia-induced deficits in tissue oxygenation, and improved measures of oxygen utilization in both species. No adverse effects or safety concerns were identified. Inasmuch as impaired oxygenation is a major cause of morbidity and mortality, ENO may have widespread therapeutic utility, providing a first-in-class agent targeting the microvasculature.