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Protecting Pets from Wildfire Smoke: What You Need to Know



In recent months, various parts of the United States, particularly the Midwest, Ohio Valley, Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic regions, have been under air quality alerts due to wildfire smoke drifting from Canada. This smoke is expected to persist for several more months, affecting not just human health but also the well-being of pets, including dogs, cats, horses, and birds that spend time outdoors. Understanding the impact of wildfire smoke on pets and taking proactive measures to protect them is crucial during these times.

The Impact of Wildfire Smoke on Pets

Wildfire smoke consists of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles from burning vegetation, building materials, and other substances. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), exposure to this smoke can cause significant irritation to the respiratory tract and eyes of pets. Older pets, as well as those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions, are particularly vulnerable. Additionally, pet birds are highly sensitive to air quality and should not be exposed to outdoor smoke.

Signs of Smoke Exposure in Pets

Identifying the symptoms of smoke exposure in pets can help prevent serious health issues. According to the AVMA, pet owners should watch for the following signs:

  • Coughing or Gagging: Persistent coughing or gagging can indicate respiratory irritation.

  • Red or Watery Eyes: Irritation or discharge from the eyes is a common symptom.

  • Nasal Discharge: Increased nasal discharge or sneezing may be observed.

  • Throat or Mouth Inflammation: Pets may show signs of inflammation in the throat or mouth.

  • Asthma-like Symptoms: Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or other asthma-like symptoms can occur.

  • Reluctance to Eat Hard Foods: Pets might avoid eating hard foods due to throat discomfort.

  • Breathing Difficulties: Open mouth breathing, noisy breathing, or rapid breathing can indicate severe issues.

  • Fatigue and Weakness: Pets may appear unusually tired or weak.

  • Disorientation and Stumbling: Lack of coordination or disorientation can be a sign of smoke exposure.

  • Reduced Appetite or Thirst: Changes in eating and drinking habits may be observed.

If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms, it is essential to contact your veterinarian for guidance and potential treatment.

Protecting Pets from Wildfire Smoke

When an air quality alert is issued for your area, the AVMA recommends several steps to protect pets from the harmful effects of wildfire smoke:

  1. Keep Pets Indoors: Limit your pets' exposure to outdoor smoke by keeping them indoors as much as possible. Ensure that windows and doors are closed to prevent smoke from entering your home.

  2. Limit Outdoor Activities: If your pets must go outside, restrict their physical activities such as walks and runs. During periods of poor air quality, keep outdoor bathroom breaks brief.

  3. Provide Fresh Water: Ensure that your pets have access to plenty of fresh water to help them stay hydrated and reduce the risk of respiratory irritation.

  4. Have an Evacuation Plan: If you live near the wildfire area, it is crucial to have an evacuation plan that includes your pets. Make sure your pet is permanently identified with a microchip, such as the BuddyID Complete Protection System. Prepare a pet emergency kit and research pet-friendly shelters in advance.

  5. Stay Informed: Keep track of the latest air quality information by visiting or your state’s air quality agency’s website. Staying informed will help you make timely decisions to protect your pets.

Detailed Guidelines for Specific Pets


Dogs are often more active and may require frequent outdoor breaks, making them susceptible to smoke exposure. Follow these additional tips to safeguard your dogs:

  • Indoor Exercise: Engage your dogs in indoor activities to keep them active without exposing them to outdoor smoke. Consider playing fetch in a hallway or using puzzle toys to stimulate their minds.

  • Short Walks: If outdoor walks are necessary, choose times when air quality is better, such as early morning or late evening. Keep the walks short and avoid strenuous activities.

  • Respiratory Health: Monitor your dogs closely for any signs of respiratory distress. If your dog has a pre-existing respiratory condition, consult your veterinarian for specific advice and possible use of protective gear like masks.


Cats, especially those that enjoy outdoor activities, need special attention during wildfire smoke events:

  • Indoor Entertainment: Provide plenty of toys and climbing structures indoors to keep your cats entertained. Creating an engaging indoor environment can reduce their urge to go outside.

  • Litter Box Placement: Ensure that litter boxes are placed in well-ventilated areas away from any potential smoke infiltration points.

  • Hydration: Encourage cats to drink more water by using water fountains or adding water to their food. Cats are often less inclined to drink water, so these methods can help keep them hydrated.


Horses are particularly vulnerable due to their outdoor lifestyle and the need for large open spaces:

  • Stabling: Keep horses in a well-ventilated barn with doors and windows closed to minimize smoke exposure. Use fans and air purifiers to improve indoor air quality.

  • Limit Exercise: Avoid riding or exercising horses during poor air quality periods. If exercise is necessary, do it during times when the air quality is relatively better.

  • Monitor Health: Watch for signs of respiratory distress such as coughing, nasal discharge, or changes in breathing patterns. Consult your veterinarian if any symptoms are observed.


Birds are extremely sensitive to airborne pollutants, and smoke can be particularly harmful:

  • Indoor Safety: Keep birds indoors with all windows and doors closed. Ensure the indoor environment is well-ventilated using air purifiers.

  • Avoid Smoke Exposure: Do not take birds outside until air quality improves significantly. Even brief exposure can be harmful.

  • Regular Check-ups: Schedule regular check-ups with an avian veterinarian to monitor the bird’s health, especially during prolonged periods of poor air quality.

Long-Term Strategies for Pet Safety

While immediate actions are crucial, adopting long-term strategies can further ensure your pets' safety during wildfire seasons:

  1. Air Purification Systems: Invest in high-quality air purifiers for your home, especially in areas where pets spend most of their time. HEPA filters can help remove fine particles from the air, improving overall air quality.

  2. Emergency Preparedness Kits: Prepare comprehensive emergency kits for your pets that include food, water, medications, first-aid supplies, and important documents like vaccination records.

  3. Behavioral Training: Train your pets to stay calm and comfortable indoors. This can be particularly beneficial during emergency situations when outdoor activities are restricted.

  4. Regular Health Check-ups: Schedule regular veterinary check-ups to monitor your pets' health and address any issues early. Preventive care can make a significant difference in managing health problems exacerbated by poor air quality.

  5. Community Awareness: Engage with your community to raise awareness about the impact of wildfire smoke on pets. Collaborative efforts can lead to better preparedness and support systems for pet owners.


The increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires have made it imperative to understand the effects of smoke on pets and to take proactive measures to protect them. By recognizing the signs of smoke exposure and implementing the recommended protective strategies, pet owners can help ensure the health and safety of their beloved animals during wildfire seasons.

For more detailed information and ongoing updates on air quality and its impact on pets, stay connected with resources like the American Veterinary Medical Association and air quality monitoring websites such as Proactive measures and informed decision-making are key to navigating these challenging times and keeping your pets safe and healthy.


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