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Residents across the West have been experiencing poor air quality due to wildfire smoke, from the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia to southern California and Utah. Air quality is worse than it’s ever been in many locations and has reached unhealthy levels in major metropolitan areas like Seattle and Los Angeles. As dog people, we immediately turned to experts to find out what this means for our pets. Poor air quality and wildfire smoke are a concern for animals, too!
While wind patterns and fire behavior can change rapidly, it’s important to keep these tips in mind throughout the fire season.
Poor air quality is a concern for our dogs just as it is for us. Luckily, the same precautions you’d take for yourself apply to our furry family members as well. If you (and your dog) live in an area affected by wildfire smoke, doctors at Portland’s DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital suggest the following.
Safety tips for dogs when the air quality is poor
The biggest danger to your dogs when breathing wildfire smoke comes from fine particles, which can reach deep into the lungs and cause a variety of health issues from burning eyes to chronic congestion. To keep your dog safe from the smoke-laden air, the best thing to do is keep them inside! But that’s not all.
- Keep pets indoors with windows closed
- Use air conditioning, if possible, to filter the air
- Keep potty breaks short
- Avoid long walks and other prolonged outdoor exercises
- Keep pets well hydrated
- Watch for signs of respiratory stress and eye inflammation (see below). If your pet shows symptoms, see a veterinarian immediately
Dogs susceptible to respiratory distress
Just as young children and senior citizens are more at risk for harm from breathing wildfire smoke, so too are certain dogs more likely to suffer from poor air quality. This includes:
- Any dog with asthma or bronchitis
- Brachycephalic dogs like bulldogs, Boston terriers, and pugs
- Puppies and senior dogs
Signs of respiratory distress in pets
Any of these symptoms warrant an immediate trip to the vet. Don’t hesitate to take your dog in if you’re concerned.
- Difficulty breathing
- Unusual or excessive coughing, sneezing, vomiting or loss of appetite
- Swelling or inflammation of the mouth, eyes, skin or upper airway
- Open-mouthed breathing (especially in cats)
- Uncoordinated walking/unable to stand
- Increased salivation
More severe side effects of smoke inhalation in dogs
While rare, these symptoms are particularly alarming. These are more likely to show up if your dog is inhaling vast quantities of smoke or is in very close proximity to a fire.
If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, especially breathing troubles, see your veterinarian or visit an emergency vet right away.
What about air masks for dogs?
In China, many dog owners have turned to air masks or “pollution masks” for their dogs to protect them from routinely heavy smog. While air masks are not typically as effective for humans (or dogs) with lots of facial hair, you can certainly try one, as some California dog owners did during last year’s wildfire season.
Keep in mind that with any face mask, effectiveness is directly related to fit. One of the world’s most renowned air mask manufacturers, Cambridge Mask, has noted this problem and is at work on a “snout mask” specifically for dogs.
Of course, whether your dog tolerates a face mask is another story altogether…
Indoor activities to keep your dog busy
If you live in an area affected by wildfire smoke, it’s a great time to brush up your dog’s training, try enrichment games, and get help from a local pet sitter or in-home daycare to keep your dog busy in the absence of outdoor walks.
Indoor “exercise” for your dog can include:
- Puzzle toys like the classic KONG or an IQ puzzle
- Fetch and tug
- Teaching tricks
- Brushing up on basic training
If you’re feeling ambitious, or your dog is of the herding variety (hello, cattle dogs, shepherds, and collies), these activities take indoor games to the next level:
The Bottom Line
Stay safe out there! When the air quality is poor, keep your dog indoors as much as possible. Extra couch snuggles with your pet are never a bad idea, either. Just saying.
Featured image: Washington Smoke Blog