By Christine Osborne
We know that poor air quality can cause serious health issues for people, but did you know that our furry and feathered friends are also susceptible to the effects of air pollution? Wildfire smoke is particularly harmful to animals, and those living close to a burn area may wonder what they can do to protect their pets.
Fortunately, the same precautions we take for ourselves— including strapping on an N-95 mask, which (surprisingly) is also available for dogs— can prevent our pets from unnecessary exposure to wildfire smoke and air pollution. Pets experience the same ill effects from smoke that we do: burning eyes, respiratory congestion, coughing, and lung damage. And just like us, fine particulates cause the most serious health effects because they get deep into the lungs and can lead to a variety of respiratory problems.
Like humans, certain pets are affected more by wildfire smoke than others. These include:
- Puppies or kittens
- Elderly animals
- Brachycephalic breeds (snub-nosed dogs and cats) such as pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers, Pekingese, and Persian cats. The shape of their heads, muzzles, and throats naturally obstructs their breathing.
The best thing you can do is keep your pets inside. Other safety measures you can take:
- Keep windows closed. Use fans and an air purifier if possible to reduce indoor air pollution.
- Keep your pet hydrated. Have clean water available and use a humidifier to increase moisture in the air.
- Reduce pet activity
Often, the wildfire smoke you see and smell is blown into your area from distant fires. But what if the fire is at your doorstep? During the 2018 Camp Fire in California, many pet owners were separated from their animals. If a wildfire requires you to evacuate your home, you’ll want to be prepared so your pets will be safe and sheltered.
Many human shelters DO NOT accept pets for health and safety reasons. Contact friends, relatives, or an animal shelter outside your immediate area to make arrangements for your pets well before you are forced to evacuate. Several websites, such as bringfido.com and hotels.petswelcome.com, can help you find pet-friendly hotels and motels outside your immediate area. You can also check Petfinder Shelter Center or RedRover for information on local animal shelters and rescue groups.
The AVMA advises you to be prepared for a disaster by assembling a pet evacuation kit well in advance of any emergency. Store your kit in an easy-carry, waterproof container close to an exit in your home. Your kit should include the following emergency supplies:
- Food and Medicine
- A three to seven-day supply of dry and canned food for each pet
- A two-week supply of medicine
- A seven-day (minimum) supply of bottled water for each pet
- Feeding dish and water bowl
- Pet first-aid kit
- Important Information
- Up-to-date collars and tags
- Identification papers including proof of ownership
- Medical records and medication instructions
- Emergency contact list, including veterinarian and pharmacy
- Photo of your pet, preferably with you, in case you need to be reunited
- Litter, disposable litter trays, and scoop
- Newspaper, paper towels, and trash bags
- Liquid dish soap
- Household chlorine bleach or disinfectant
- Travel Supplies
- Crate or pet carrier labeled with your contact information
- Extra collar/harness with ID tags and leash
- Flashlight, extra batteries
- Comfort Items
- Favorite toys and treats
- Extra blanket or familiar bedding
Whether you’re experiencing lung irritation from smoke or facing a full-blown evacuation, preparation and simple health precautions can protect you and your pets in the event of a wildfire.
Want to learn more? Check out DEQ’s Wildfires web pages. You will find links and apps to help you track air-quality conditions, learn how to protect yourself, understand the short- and long-term health effects from wildfire smoke, and get real-time information on wildfires in your area.
Although the efficacy of N-95 masks for protecting dogs from particulate pollution has not been proven, there are companies that manufacture and sell pollution masks designed specifically for dogs. Several types of these “doggie” masks can be found online. The ASPCA has disaster preparedness information for a wide range of pets, including birds and reptiles.
I am a content strategist/communication specialist at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. I have a Masters in Strategic Communication (MSC) degree from Westminster College and earned my Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). I currently teach Integrated Marketing Communication to graduate students in the MSC program at Westminster. In a previous life, I was a bassoonist with the Utah Symphony for 26 years. I love to hike, bike, camp, read, garden, geek out on all things science, and spend time with two college-age sons. I volunteer with a number of local refugee organizations and am currently a teen mentor with the 4-H New American Goat Club and Teen Leadership Club.