Keeping pets safe from wildfire smoke


The poor air quality being seen in some areas of the United States and Canada can affect the health of animals.

Air quality and pets

Photo: Imagine/Adobe Stock

As smoke from active wildfires continues to compromise air quality in the parts of the United States and Canada, veterinary professionals can help pets safe. The animal welfare group American Humane and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) are providing tips that can be shared with clients.1,2

“Smoky conditions triggered by wildfires can affect cats and dogs just like humans, and pet owners should act accordingly,” said Thomas Edling, DVM, MSpVM, MPH, the chief veterinary officer of American Humane, in an organizational release. He suggested taking pets on shorter walks to avoid strained breathing.1

According to American Humane and the AVMA the following precautions are also recommended1,2:

  • Limit the time dogs and cats spent outdoors.
  • Keep birds indoors at all times when smoke or particulate matter is present.
  • Keep doors and windows shut.
  • Avoid strenuous activity and exercise for all animals. This includes playing fetch, going for a jog, or taking a long walk.
  • Take your pet outside for short bathroom breaks and come immediately back inside.
  • Bring outdoor water bowls inside so it doesn’t collect airborne particles associated with the smoke.
  • If pets have to be outside, mornings are preferred, as the weather is cooler.
  • Livestock need a 4-to-6-week period to recuperate after the air quality returns to normal is needed. Attempting to handle, move, or transport livestock may delay healing and compromise your animals’ performance.

Recognizing signs of respiratory distress is also important for keeping pets safe. “Monitoring your animal for coughing, sneezing, and general respiratory issues is recommended,” said Edling, in the release.1 Signs may also include “difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, sneezing or runny nose, eye irritation or discharge, lethargy or decreased activity level, loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea,” according to Rachel Hinder, RVT, with Embrace Pet Insurance, in an email.

In a 2022 interview with dvm360 , Kenichiro Yagi, RVT, VTS (ECC), VTS (SAIM), MS, chief veterinary nursing officer with the Veterinary Emergency Group in White Plains, New York, emphasized the importance of noting both visual and auditory cues to help determine if a pet is experiencing a respiratory emergency. “What does their breathing pattern look like? What color are their gums? [There are] different kinds of things that we can tell just by visibly looking at [the pet],” he said.3

“We probably hear animals breathing with a loud noise…if it’s really bad. [Diagnosis] gets better when we start using our stethoscopes,” Yagi added. He noted that an examination can help determine the source of the respiratory problem,3 which could also be attributed to a medical condition.

Animals with cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, inherent breathing problems—including French bulldogs and pugs—or older animals should be under even closer observation during periods of poor air quality. Clients should consult with a veterinarian if their pets are showing signs of smoke irritation or distress.1,2

“Americans should take precautions to keep all members of their family safe—even the furry ones,” Edling added.1


  1. As Americans grapple with hazy skies and poor air quality, animal welfare group says don’t forget pets. News release. American Humane. June 7, 2023.
  2. Wildfire smoke and animals. American Veterinary Medical Association. Accessed June 8, 2023.
  3. Burke J. Assessing respiratory emergency patients. dvm360®. May 12, 2022. Accessed June 8, 2023.

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