How To Keep Your Pets Safe From Wildfire Smoke

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The hazy air is filled with particles that hurt your pets' lungs, so it's best to stay inside.

Because it contains dangerous gasses and particles, wildfire smoke can endanger our pets if they spend time outside, causing respiratory issues, eye problems, and even overheating. Thankfully, pet owners can protect their dogs and cats by simply keeping them inside and limiting outdoor bathroom breaks as much as possible. 

The smoky air can hurt both healthy pets and ones with pre-existing conditions like asthma, so pet owners should keep an eye on the Air Quality Index when there's smoke in the region. Here's what else you should know about how wildfire smoke affects pets—including when you should see a veterinarian.

Warning

If it's smoky outside and your pet displays any unusual behavior—such as coughing, not eating, or panting—head to your veterinarian immediately.

Why Is Wildfire Smoke Dangerous to Pets?

Wildfire smoke harms pets because it's full of gasses (like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide), chemicals, and particles of what's burning. That's why you'll see haziness in the sky or even the Armageddon-like orange smog that descended on New York City in early June 2023 after originating from Canadian wildfires. 

Those skies mimicked what San Francisco residents saw in September 2020. In late June, Chicago and other regions of the Midwest dealt with wildfire smoke from Canada, earning the "worst air quality in the world" title. 

Breathing in that air is similar to smoking a cigarette, says Grant Little, DVM and veterinarian expert for JustAnswer.com. Our lungs struggle to filter out the gasses, particles, and chemicals, making it harder for us to breathe. The same thing happens to our pets. 

"Mammals are mammals, so if it's bad for a human, then it's probably bad for an animal as well," Little says.

How Does Wildfire Smoke Endanger Pets? 

The smoke can cause a slew of respiratory problems, but it can also affect our pets' eyes. Little and Brett Levitzke, DVM and chief medical director at VERG Brooklyn, say the smoke can cause:

Additionally, your dog or cat may appear weak or disoriented while refraining from eating or drinking.

If you know the air quality in your area is bad and notice your pet is suddenly having respiratory problems, head to your vet immediately, Levitzke says. The same goes for any other unfamiliar signs your pet might begin showing.  

"They can really decline rapidly and go into a crisis," he adds. 

At his New York office in early June, he saw patients "one after another" who were suffering from the miserable air quality. Several had conjunctivitis and others had developed a sudden dry cough. He hospitalized some patients who were suffering severe asthma attacks. 

That's another danger. Pets who already have trouble breathing—ones with asthma or prior respiratory system damage—are more susceptible to the smoky air. That includes brachycephalic dog breeds, the flat-faced pups whose appearance makes it hard for them to breathe.    

So if you own a bulldogFrench bulldogpug, or boxer, you'll need to know how to keep your dog safe from the smoke. 

Tip

No matter how bad the air quality is, don't fit your dog for a mask. They're choking hazards that prevent our pups from breathing properly.

How to Protect Your Pet From Wildfire Smoke

The best thing you can do to keep your pet safe from the smoke is to keep them indoors with access to plenty of clean air, Little and Levitzke say. That means no walks, trips to the park, or outdoor play dates. 

Close the windows and fire up the air purifiers and dehumidifiers. Little suggests sequestering at-risk pets—asthmatic cats, flat-faced dogs—in rooms with plenty of clean air. You'll want to keep them cool, too. 

Now, dogs will still need to go to the bathroom. That means a trip to the outdoors. Keep it as short as possible. It's possible to train your dog to use an indoor potty pad, but that usually takes weeks or even months to master, Little says. 

Exercise and playtime will have to stay inside, so make sure you have some good indoor games, puzzle toys, and other sources of enrichment.

If you're wondering whether your pet can go outside, check the Air Quality Index in your area. If it's risky for people to venture out, keep your pet inside with you. 

Unfortunately, this is advice all pet owners need to heed. Wildfires fueled by climate change are sending smoke hundreds of miles away, so it can affect pets almost anywhere. 

"It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," Levitzke says.

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