How Wildfire Smoke Affects Pets And Other Animals

How Wildfire Smoke AfHow Wildfire Smoke Affects Pets And Other Animals A rural fire service crew attempts to protect a property in New South Wales in December 2019. Dean Lewins/AAP Images via AP

Catastrophic fires across the globe are increasing in both frequency and magnitude. The bushfires in Australia, fuelled by heatwaves and drought, have burned more than 10.7 million hectares, an area larger than Iceland.

Over one billion animals are estimated to have died in the Australian bushfires so far. This loss of life is devastating. Horses, dogs and other domestic animals are also being affected by the smoke generated by the wildfires.As veterinarians who have cared for small animals following the California wildfires and researched the impacts of wildfires on horses in Canada, we have some perspective on how smoke can harm companion animals and what people can do to protect the animals in their care.

What is smoke?

The composition of smoke depends on what is being burned. The smoke from a house fire or a barn fire will contain different compounds than the smoke from wildfires or bushfires.

When an animal inhales smoke, it brings a combination of toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, and particulate matter, a mixture of small liquid and solid particles, into its throat, nose and lungs.

Smoke inhalation can damage the respiratory tract in multiple ways; it can cause burns and lead to physical irritation, causing the airway to swell and become blocked.

How Wildfire Smoke Affects Pets And Other Animals Thick smoke from bushfires blanked the Opera House in Sydney, Australia, on Dec. 10, 2019. AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

Toxic gases can impair oxygen delivery and lead to death. Animals with immediate and close exposure to fires, such as barn or house fires, face this risk.

Exposure to bushfires or wildfires results in a sustained, lower-dose exposure to smoke. The major concern here is particulate matter. Very small particulate matter (less than four microns in diametre) can bypass the body’s natural filters and reach the lower airways.

Smoke inhalation in horses

Our relationship with horses is unique in that they bridge the gap between livestock and companion animals. As athletic animals, air quality impacts horses’ capacity to perform. The financial ramifications of impaired performance is not insignificant, given the economic impact of the horse industry in multiple countries.

Horses have a huge lung capacity. A horse moves more than 2,000 litres of air through its lungs every minute during strenuous exercise. With this air, horses also inhale a large number of pollutants, which is drastically increased during fires.

How Wildfire Smoke Affects Pets And Other Animals Horse galloping while wearing a mask capable of measuring lung capacity and oxygen uptake from the air. (Collene Ferguson, University of Calgary)

In 2018, Calgary was smothered in wildfire smoke for more than six weeks, with poor air quality warnings issued daily. During this period, we studied the impact of poor air quality on exercise performance in polo horses that were at a maintenance level of fitness at the end of the competition season. They continued the same training program throughout the trial, so all results are due to the improved conditions and not a conditioning effect.

Every horse involved in the study exhibited coughing at rest and during exercise, with owners complaining of decreased performance.

How Wildfire Smoke Affects Pets And Other Animals Inflammatory cells, intracellular debris and pollens from horses after exposure to bushfire smoke. (Angelica Galezowski, University of Calgary, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine)

We performed a procedure called a lung wash on these horses to retrieve cells and particulate matter from their lungs. Every horse in the study showed inflammation of the respiratory tract. We also found large amounts of microscopic pollens and other debris trapped in the cells. These findings are diagnostic of asthma in horses, and were also commonly seen by veterinarians working in the affected area.

We also wanted to know how much the performance of these horses improved after prolonged smoke exposure. The gold standard technique to evaluate athletic performance is the measurement of maximum oxygen consumption, also known as VO2max.

After 2.5 weeks of improved air quality, horses had a 15 per cent increase in speed, as well as a 13.2 per cent increase in VO2max, compared to those measures on the first day of improved air quality. To put this into context, training two-year-old racehorses for eight weeks has been reported to result in a 6.7 per cent improvement in VO2max.

How to keep animals safe

There are many guidelines available for people when air quality is poor, but very little information for pet owners.

The air quality index (AQI) is used in Australia and the United States. The AQI is a single number presented on a scale of 0-500, ranging from excellent air quality to the most hazardous air pollution. Canada uses the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), using a scale from 1 to 10.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported several regions where AQIs had surpassed 500 in December 2019. Wildfires in northern Alberta in 2018 sent AQHI index past 11 in Calgary in May 2019.

Stay indoors

Where possible, animals should be kept indoors when the AQI is greater than 150 or AQHI is 10+ for multiple days in a row to reduce exposure to small particulate matter. The environment matters, however. For example, a dog in a tightly sealed home will have less exposure to airborne irritants than a horse in a stable.

Like human asthmatics, staying indoors might not prevent symptoms in animals with pre-existing respiratory conditions, especially when smoke persists for greater than five days. In addition, brachycephalic breeds such as pugs and bulldogs are likely to have a reduced tolerance to smoke.

How Wildfire Smoke Affects Pets And Other Animals The breathing difficulties faced by pugs and bulldogs can grow worse when exposed to smoke. Owners should keep them indoors and limit their exercise. (Shutterstock)

Reduce outdoor physical activity

When animals exercise, they increase the amount of air they inhale, which increases the deposition of particles deep in the lungs.

Based on guidelines from multiple regulatory bodies and associations, we recommend limiting outdoor exercise in animals when smoke is visible. Moderate to intense exercise should be reduced when there is a high or very high risk rating (AQI exceeding 100; AQHI greater than 7). We recommend cancelling events (such as a Thoroughbred race) when there is a very high risk rating (AQI greater than 150 or an AQHI of 10+).

There’s every indication that fire seasons are going to become longer and more frequent. When smoke starts to blanket the land, remember there are simple things you can do to protect the respiratory health of both you and your pets.

About The Author

Stephanie Laura Bond, Postdoctoral Associate, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary; Laura Osborne, Adjunct associate, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary, and Renaud Leguillette, Professor, Calgary Chair in Equine Sports Medicine, DVM, PhD, Dipl.ACVIM, Dipl. ACVSMR, University of Calgary

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

books_pets

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

bright light from under small building light terraced rice fields under starry sky
Hot nights mess up rice’s internal clock
by Matt Shipman-NC State
New research clarifies how hot nights are curbing crop yields for rice.
A polar bear on a large mound of ice and snow
Climate change threatens the Arctic’s Last Ice Area
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
Parts of an Arctic region called the Last Ice Area are already showing a decline in summer sea ice, researchers report.
corn cob and leaves on ground
To sequester carbon, leave crop leftovers to rot?
by Ida Eriksen-U. Copenhagen
Plant materials that lie to rot in soil makes good compost and play a key role in sequestering carbon, research finds.
image
Trees are dying of thirst in the Western drought – here’s what’s going on inside their veins
by Daniel Johnson, Assistant Professor of Tree Physiology and Forest Ecology, University of Georgia
Like humans, trees need water to survive on hot, dry days, and they can survive for only short times under extreme heat…
image
Climate explained: how the IPCC reaches scientific consensus on climate change
by Rebecca Harris, Senior Lecturer in Climatology, Director, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania
When we say there’s a scientific consensus that human-produced greenhouse gases are causing climate change, what does…
Climate heat is changing Earth’s water cycle
by Tim Radford
Humans have begun to alter Earth’s water cycle, and not in a good way: expect later monsoon rains and thirstier…
Climate change: as mountain regions warm, hydroelectric power plants may be vulnerable
Climate change: as mountain regions warm, hydroelectric power plants may be vulnerable
by Simon Cook, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Change, University of Dundee
Around 27 million cubic metres of rock and glacier ice collapsed from Ronti Peak in the northern Indian Himalayas on…
Nuclear legacy is a costly headache for the future
by Paul Brown
How do you safely store spent nuclear waste? No-one knows. It’ll be a costly headache for our descendants.

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.