June 2023

With smoke from the Canadian wildfires significantly impacting many regions of the North American continent, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association reminds families that their pets are just as sensitive and susceptible to the negative impacts of poor air quality as humans.

“Animals are just as likely to be impacted by dense smoke and air quality issues as we are, particularly birds, and animals with compromised health, senior pets, young pets, brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds and equines,” said Dr. Barbara Hodges, HSVMA’s Program Director of Advocacy and Outreach. “And cats—due to their fastidious grooming habits—should be confined indoors if possible because potentially toxic wildfire-generated particulate matter may contaminate their fur, leading to ingestion of these toxins. We should take similar precautions for our pets as we would for ourselves and our other family members to minimize their health risks and keep them safe.”

Signs that a pet is experiencing negative effects of poor air quality can include coughing, wheezing, difficulties breathing, eye or nasal drainage, decreased appetite, increased thirst, lethargy, or disorientation. For concerns regarding these or any other health issues impacting your companion animals, you should contact a veterinarian promptly.

The following are some basic tips to help protect pets during periods of poor air quality:

  • As much as possible, keep animals indoors with doors and windows closed.
  • Try to ensure clean air flow when indoors by using fans, air conditioners, and air filters and purifiers.  Make sure you regularly clean or replace any filters in these units.
  • Avoid strenuous activities/exercise, allowing only short walks outside for bathroom breaks. Try to time outdoor periods when air quality is better, such as during early morning hours.
  • Birds—because of their extremely efficient avian respiratory systems and high metabolic rates—are particularly vulnerable to the health-damaging effects of air pollutants.
  • Flat-faced or brachycephalic breeds of dogs and cats—because of the compressed structure of their faces and upper airways—are more likely to experience respiratory difficulties and exercise intolerance in poor air-quality environments.
  • Irritation and injury to equine airways can—according to equine experts—take as long as 4-6 weeks to heal once air quality has normalized.  During both the wildfire period and the recovery period affected horses should be rested.
  • If pets must be kept outdoors, ensure they have access to fresh, clean water and shelter from sun and extreme temperatures.  Do not allow them to run freely, exercise or play without supervision.
  • Have a disaster preparedness plan that includes your pets. That should include a disaster preparedness kit with essential pet supplies.
  • Remember that heat, which often accompanies smoke and poor air quality, can be just as dangerous for pets and similar precautions should be taken to avoid heatstroke and other heat-related health issues.
  • Wildfire and air quality conditions can change quickly.  Stay current by regularly checking real-time air quality alerts or indices and local news outlets.
  • Check to see if the Office of (your) State Veterinarian has issued any advisories pertaining to the impact of current wildfire smoke and/or disaster circumstances on animal health in your area. 
  • For your own health and safety and that of your pets—always remain proactively on the side of caution.