How to keep pets safe amid unhealthy air quality alerts from Canada wildfire smoke

Poor air quality may pose an even greater risk to animals because of their smaller size

Meredith Clark
New York
Friday 30 June 2023 16:37 BST

Apocalyptic time-lapse shows New York disappear into orange smoke from Canada wildfires

Air quality has plummeted again this week across large parts of the United States and Canada as hundreds of wildfires rage out of control north of the border.

Air quality ranged from “unhealthy” to “very unhealthy” in the Midwest with Chicago ranking number one in worst air quality in the world on Tuesday. By Friday, New York City’s air quality had dropped to unhealthy levels as the smoke shifted east.

Canadian officials have warned that this could be the country’s worst wildfire season on record and smoke would be a problem “all summer”.

Experts estimate that each hour of exposure to wildfire smoke is equivalent to smoking cigarettes continuously for the same amount of time - but that’s just for humans.

Imagine how wildfire smoke affects our beloved pets? Poor air quality may pose an even greater risk to animals because of their smaller size.

Here’s how to protect your pets from wildfire smoke as air quality alerts continue.

The biggest danger to pets comes from the fine particles found in air pollutants, which can get into the lungs and cause a variety of health issues – like eye irritation or respiratory problems. Some of the most vulnerable pets are older animals suffering from heart or lung disease.

Certain breeds, such as pugs and bulldogs, may be especially at risk of inhaling too much smoke, according to the American Kennel Club.

There are several signs that indicate a pet may be having problems from poor air quality. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some of the symptoms include coughing or gagging (particularly in cats), red or watery eyes, inflammation of the throat or mouth, trouble breathing, fatigue or weakness, and reduced appetite or thirst.

The first thing pet owners should do at the sign of wildfire smoke exposure is to call their veterinarian. In the meantime, saturating a cotton ball with lukewarm water and squeezing it over an animal’s eyes can help with irritation and flush them out.

In order to protect pets from wildfire smoke, try to reduce their exposure as much as possible. For outdoor pets like horses or livestock, bring these animals into a room with good ventilation, such as a utility room or garage.

The EPA also states that smoke is especially tough on pet birds because of the construction of their respiratory systems. Birds that are exposed to too much smoke may act lethargic or struggle to breathe, and may sit in the bottom of their cages.

Keeping the indoor air clean can also help protect animals against wildfire smoke. Pet owners should keep their windows closed and their pets in a room with an air purifier. Activities such as frying foods, burning candles, or using a fireplace can also be bad for pets because it adds air pollutants to your home.

If necessary, pet owners take short potty breaks with their dog or cat before returning inside. It’s probably not best to go on a long run with an animal when air quality alerts are in effect, either.

This article was updated on Friday, 30 June

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