Westerners are all too familiar with wildfire smoke, but now other North Americans, including pets, are getting a taste of it
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Are you and your pet finding it hard to breathe? Smoke from wildfires in Canada is moving hundreds of miles into the United States, making air quality unhealthy -- or very unhealthy -- in areas ranging from the mid-Atlantic to the Northeast to parts of the Upper Great Lakes. At the time of this writing, it was pushing south and west.
Veterinarian Diane Walker lives west of Ottawa, Canada, and says that the day before we communicated, her area experienced the worst air quality in North America, the orange sky filled with choking, stinky air.
No matter where you live, you’re likely to experience poor air quality in the next few months as drought-triggered wildfires spread smoke, leading to deteriorating air quality. Even if it lasts only a couple of days, it’s important to protect pets of all species from the effects. Microscopic particulates can be inhaled, entering the lungs and bloodstream and causing serious health problems.
Walker says the animals at greatest risk are birds; cats and dogs with flat faces, such as Persians, pugs and bulldogs; senior pets; and pets with heart, respiratory or lung conditions.
Poor air quality affects pets with flat muzzles because they typically have narrow nostrils, enlarged tonsils, smaller-diameter tracheas and elongated soft palates. All of those conditions make it more difficult for them to draw in air. You may notice that flat-faced, or brachycephalic, pets breathe more easily through their mouths than their noses.
Toy breeds such as Walker’s 5-pound Chihuahua, Remy, may be at increased risk as well due to their small size and tiny lung capacity. Animals being managed for cancer and underlying immune system problems, such as hemolytic anemia and asthma, must also be carefully monitored. They should go out only for quick bathroom breaks. “This is where pee pad training can be helpful,” Walker says. “These dogs need to be kept inside as much as possible.”
Take at-risk pets out only for brief, on-leash potty breaks. Walker recommends keeping windows closed as much as possible and using HEPA filters or other air purifiers.
The same advice applies to cats with asthma or breathing issues such as chronic upper respiratory disease, as well as to breeds such as exotics (shorthaired Persians), British shorthairs, Himalayans and Scottish folds, all of which are known for their brachycephalic facial anatomy.
Larger dogs in good health or with longer muzzles can take short, slow walks of 10 to 15 minutes. “Unless longer walks are necessary, they should be avoided during air-quality alert warnings,” Walker says. “You will want to time any necessary walks to mornings or evenings when air is cooler, as this may be helpful.”
Avoid strenuous activity such as jogging or biking, playing fetch or swimming when air quality is poor, even if your dog doesn’t seem to be affected.
Walker warns as well that the smell of smoke may cause some dogs to become anxious or stressed. They may associate the odor or the darkened skies with fireworks or storms. Talk to your veterinarian about potential calming products that may help such as ThunderShirts, nutraceuticals like Anxitane or Zylkene or pharmaceuticals.
At Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York City, veterinarians advise keeping pets indoors as much as possible, keeping doors and windows closed and contacting your veterinarian if your pet is coughing, gagging or having trouble breathing.
Pet birds are especially vulnerable and should not be allowed outdoors.
“If they and we can stay indoors, at least until the air quality changes favorably, we all will be better off,” says avian veterinary specialist Brian Speer, DVM, who practices in California.
Q: I love my dog, but caring for him is more expensive than I realized. Do you have any tips on saving money?
A: I understand, and your concerns are shared by other dog lovers. The following tips may help.
-- Prevent accidents -- and save on vet bills -- by pet-proofing your home. Keep human and pet medications, poisons, trash and toxic plants out of dog reach. Get down on your hands and knees to see what might look interesting to him, and either put it away or prevent access to it.
-- “Yearly shots” are no longer recommended. Studies have shown that immunity provided by vaccinations lasts for at least three years. Work with your veterinarian to tailor vaccines to your pet’s needs. Most dogs now get “core” vaccines -- distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, parainfluenza and rabies -- on a three-year cycle (fearfreehappyhomes.com/when-does-your-dog-need-shots-our-timeline-tells-all). Other vaccines may depend on a dog's breed, size, location or lifestyle. Go over the options with your veterinarian.
-- Spend a little to save a lot, especially if your dog is young. Veterinary medicine advances include stem cell treatments, complex orthopedic surgeries, monoclonal antibody therapy and chemotherapy, but all of that costs big bucks. Purchasing a pet health insurance policy can help you afford to take advantage of the amazing care available in the event your pet experiences an expensive accident or illness.
-- You can save money on pet care without shortchanging your pet. While you shouldn't skip wellness exams (they can spot a problem when it's still easier and less expensive to treat) or lower the quality of your dog's food (good nutrition means good health), you can save money by price shopping for prescription medications (but give your veterinarian the option of matching prices), buying items in bulk and sharing with others and keeping your pet at a healthy weight. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
-- The Dog Writers Association of America recently announced the winners of its communications contest. If you’re looking for a dog-centric summer read, here are the winners of the book categories: “Extraordinary Old Dogs,” by Laura Greaves; “Returned,” by Amy Victoria Gilvary; “A Dog Show Companion,” by Leila Grandemange; “Doggie Language,” by Lili Chin; “Solomon: One Dog’s Improbable Two-Year, Thousand-Mile Journey to Find Home,” by Gail Gilmore; “Beware of Dog: How Media Portrays the Aggressive Canine,” by Melissa Crawley; “The Hiding Place,” by Paula Munier. On the kid side, winners are “Dog Says, Cat Says,” by Marilyn Singer; “Rats in the White House,” by Judith Ann Tabler; “Dog Daycare,” by Kathryn Kazoleas; and “Color Me Canine (Terrier),” a coloring book for all ages by Sandy Bergstrom Mesmer.
-- It’s a common misconception that cats aren’t affectionate and don’t need attention. On the whole, cats like it better when their people are around. It’s not unusual for cats to follow their humans around like furry shadows and to hop into a lap as soon as one is available. Cats can even develop separation anxiety if they are left alone too frequently or for long periods (learn more here: fearfreehappyhomes.com/kit/separation-anxiety/#blog_link1). If you must be gone, arrange for a pet sitter to come in daily to clean the litter box, make sure they’re eating and provide some companionship until you return.
-- Like aging humans and other animals, senior birds can develop cataracts. Surgical options can restore vision in some older birds with cataracts, but if that’s not a possibility, birds who are otherwise healthy can get along fine with diminished or lost eyesight. When approaching, speak or whistle so they can use their hearing and other senses to determine where you are. That ensures they don’t bite out of fear. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.