Animal owners should be aware of wildfire smoke hazards

wildfire smoke in skylineBy Charlie Powell, College of Veterinary Medicine

PULLMAN, Wash. – WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine recommends that animal owners be aware that wildfire smoke advisories, issued by county and municipal health districts for people, apply to animals, too.

Now through the early fall, wildfire season conditions are varying from unhealthy to hazardous levels for people, particularly with as winds shifts and air quality changes. Pets and other animals should be protected from potential dangers of smoke inhalation as well.

wildfire smoke fills Palouse skies by Henry Moore Jr WSU
Wildfire smoke fills Palouse skies. Photo by Henry Moore Jr. , WSU Biomedical Communications Unit

“Advisories meant to caution people to avoid heavy work or exercise outdoors and to remain indoors as much as possible, also should be applied to our pets,” explained Dr. Robert Dyke, a member of the veterinary faculty in the Community Practice Service of WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “Mammals lungs are all very similar, and some in other species like birds are extremely sensitive to particulates in the air.”

Take note of wind shifts

Currently, advisories show winds shifting and possibly bringing more smoke from a number of regional fires. Dryland harvest is also underway, and those conditions naturally put more dust in the air.

Smoke tends to worsen at night as it settles into valleys and low-lying areas and disperses somewhat during daylight hours.

Exercising pets

“Pet owners who must walk or exercise pets outdoors should look for times of the day when smoke and dust settle as much as possible,” explained Dyke. “On really severe days, designated with a red air quality warning, maybe only a quick outing in the yard is best. By all means, though, avoid intensive exercise during these periods of poor air quality.”

“Birds need to remain indoors as much as possible during the highest level advisories,” said Nickol Finch, the veterinarian who heads the WSU veterinary college’s Exotic Animal and Wildlife section. “People have a mistaken belief that because animals originated in the wild, they have developed some mysterious superpowers that allow them to tolerate any condition. That’s not true. Birds, especially pet birds are extremely susceptible to respiratory insult from smoke and particulates in the air.”

Pre-existing conditions

The college’s board-certified internal medicine and cardiac specialists also recommend paying more attention to pets that have been diagnosed with lung or heart disease. Just like humans with such conditions, smoke and dust in the air represents an increased hazard for those patients.

Symptoms of smoke or dust irritation can include:

  • increased coughing,
  • difficulty breathing,
  • eye irritation and excessive watering,
  • a dry, irritated throat,
  • nasal discharge,
  • chest pains,
  • asthma-like symptoms,
  • increased heart rate, and
  • increased fatigue.

For animals that cannot be sheltered indoors such as livestock or horses, these signs can signal increasing respiratory distress in those species, too. Large animals however seem to deal with wildfire smoke better than pets.

Interested parties in the Inland Northwest can check air quality at the Spokane Clean Air site.

Other states and regions should check with their regional air quality and health organizations.


Media Contact:

  • Charlie Powell, public information officer, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, call or text 509-595-2017,