People across the West Coast have been warned to stay indoors because smoke from wildfires has polluted the air. For readers with questions about how the bad air might impact pets, we have answers.
Are animals at risk from air pollution?
“If we are affected, they are affected,” said Wailani Sung, a vet with the San Francisco SPCA.
Oregon Humane Society Chief Medical Officer Stephen Kochis said pets can suffer the same problems as humans, including compromised breathing and irritated eyes.
Animals with preexisting conditions, like cats with asthma or dogs with pulmonary disease, are especially vulnerable, said Kochis. He said certain breeds of dogs with smushed faces, like bulldogs, are also at higher risk because they already have difficulties breathing.
How can people protect their pets?
Keep them inside.
Pets won’t want to wear a mask or anything else on their faces, so the best way to keep them safe is to keep them indoors, said Kochis. He advised taking dogs outside only for short bathroom breaks.
Providing a physical and mental outlet for animals is important to keep them safe and healthy, said Sung. She advised scheduling play sessions throughout the day, even if they are only five minutes long.
“Dogs are used to playing in the yard or going on long walks or hikes, but it’s not safe for them,” she said.
One way to keep dogs and cats entertained indoors is to give them puzzle toys that make them work to get a treat. Cats can also play with toys that they bat around, like a fake mouse on a string.
Rotating toys can make things more exciting, said Sung. Even old toys might seem new if a pet hasn’t seen them in a few days.
How can you tell if a pet is suffering from smoke inhalation?
Coughing, discharge from the nose that isn’t clear, and irritated or squinting eyes are all signs that an animal might be affected by smoke, said Kochis. If your pet has been exposed to heavy smoke and you are worried about its safety, you should call your vet clinic to get advice, he said.
What if you have to evacuate?
Take your pets with you.
Pet owners can prepare for possible evacuations by including pets in their emergency plans, said Sung. She said people should have a week’s supply of food and water for themselves and their animals ready to go, as well as supplies like leashes, litter and pet carriers. Documents and medicine for pets are also important items to take during an evacuation.
Sung said she keeps emergency supplies for her family, including the pets, in a bin in her garage so she can toss it into her car if she needs to evacuate. She keeps her cats’ carrier open in the house with fluffy blankets and treats inside. That way, the cats are used to it and won’t panic if she needs to put them inside quickly.
Pets should be microchipped and have collars in advance in case they get separated from their owners.
Finding a place to stay that can accommodate pets can be difficult during an emergency.
Researching places for pets to stay in advance can make things easier if an evacuation becomes necessary, said Sung. People can check if family or friends outside the fire zone can help care for their pets. People can also look for hotels and shelters that allow animals, she said.
The least stressful place for a pet is with its owner, but if that is not possible, there are resources to care for pets until they can be safely reunited with their humans, said Sung.
The Oregon Humane Society advises making a list of veterinarians and boarding facilities that can shelter animals in the event of an emergency.