Air quality: How to protect your pets from wildfire smoke

As air quality worsens due to Canadian wildfire smoke clouding Ontario, Quebec and parts of the US, residents are warning experts should be cautious of the health impacts. We already know that smoke particles can be particularly harsh on the elderly, children and those with breathing conditions — but pets aren’t immune, either.

In a special air quality statement issued Thursday, Environment Canada and the Province of Ontario cautioned that poor air quality “may persist into the weekend.”

For humans, protection looks like mask-wearing, closing doors and windows, and limited exposure to the smoke, according to the experts.

So what do these conditions mean for pets who would usually go out for a much-needed walk, and how can pet owners protect them?

Toronto Humane Society Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Karen Ward and Senior Manager of Shelter Medicine Advancement Dr. Linda Jacobson offers some advice.

Air quality and impact of wildfire smoke on pets

Many of the respiratory risks from breathing contaminated air are shared by pets and pet owners alike. Wildfire smoke can be harmful to the health of every living thing, even at low concentrations. In the short term, it is common for animals to experience irritation, eye redness and coughing when exposed to air pollutants.

Underlying health issues or respiratory diseases, especially for brachycephalic dog breeds such as bulldogs and boxes (dogs with skull bones that are shorter in length), or older animals are at further health risk.

Chronic conditions such as shortness of breath or respiratory distress are only typically seen in cases with long-term smoke inhalation, something Jacobson says shouldn’t be a problem at the moment. Exercise intolerance, excessive coughing and unusual tiredness or weakness are the first signs your pet may need veterinary attention.

When should you keep your pet indoors?

“A lot of common sense things that people are doing for themselves are going to help animals,” Ward said.

Keeping animals indoors when the air quality is poor is the best way to avoid health complications, even if it means limiting balcony access for your feline friend.

Making sure they’re in enclosed spaces with closed windows, and have access to purified air circulation, are strongly recommended. Animals, especially those with underlying health issues, should be monitored closely to ensure “their general demeanor is okay,” Ward said.

Owners might also consider the time of day and type of walk when taking their dogs out. Dr. Ward said owners should consider walking their dogs out when the air quality and temperature humidity are expected to be at the lowest level of risk during the day.

In a University of Calgary news article cited by Toronto Public Health, animals should be kept indoors when the AQI is greater than 150.

Long stays outdoors are discouraged to avoid seeing “behavioral health and well-being” impacts, and exercising outdoors during the coming days should also be limited.

“If they (pets) are going to the park and start ripping, running, tearing, playing and breathing heavily, they’re going to be breathing in more of that air and more deeply,” Ward said.

With files from Kevin Jiang and Joshua Chong


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