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Integrative Pet Vet column: Wildfire smoke affects your pet companion

Dr. Ron Carsten
Integrative Pet Vet
Ron Carsten

What a tremendous relief when the Grizzly Creek fire was finally under control and the wildfire smoke was reduced to a light haze of smoke from the Pine Gulch and California fires. Our area experienced intense concentrations of wildfire smoke. Fortunately there were periods when the smoke lessened to a more tolerable level. Of course this depended on where you were located in the valley. Many are still concerned about the high level of fire danger and the potential for future fires. Be aware of the potential health effects of wildfire smoke and be prepared.

Wildfire smoke continues to impact air quality in our area. Not only is wildfire smoke a potential problem for humans, it is also a health challenge for our pet companions. Pets with heart and respiratory diseases are at higher risk from exposure to smoke, just like their human companions. Even a healthy pet can be adversely affected by smoke exposure.

Wildfire smoke contains thousands of compounds. It is a complex mixture of particulates, allergens, carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon and organic chemicals. The small particulates are considered the major health concern. These small particulates can be inhaled into the lungs and cause damage to the lungs, heart and blood vessels. Damage can start with irritation or direct injury to the cells lining the respiratory passages. This can lead to inflammation and further damage. Expanding inflammatory responses and neurological signaling can impact the function of the heart and blood vessels. With prolonged wildfire smoke contact, the health impact can worsen, especially in sensitive individuals. Larger particulates are often responsible for eye, throat and nose irritation.

Some of these effects of wildfire smoke occur with short exposure to the smoke while other effects happen with longer smoke exposure. These impacts depend on the concentration of the smoke and the sensitivity of the individual. The closer to the wildfire that you are located the more likely your exposure to higher levels of small particulates, carbon monoxide and other chemicals. In other words, the Grizzly Creek Fire smoke has more potential health impacts than the Pine Gulch Fire and even more than the California fires.

Indications that the smoke is causing a problem include coughing or gagging, difficulty breathing with increased noise and open mouth breathing, increased rate of breathing, nasal discharge, eye irritation or excess watering, fatigue or weakness, disorientation and reduced appetite.

Keep in mind that even a healthy individual can have problems with excess or prolonged wildfire smoke exposure. Pet companions with pre-existing respiratory conditions are more susceptible to health problems from the wildfire smoke. This includes cats with feline asthma and dogs with reactive airway disease. Individuals with heart conditions are also at increased risk for complications from smoke exposure.

The best way to prevent problems from wildfire smoke is to avoid it. Avoidance is not always easy or possible with the fluctuating conditions affecting our area. Pets should not be outdoors for long periods when smoke is visible, especially if the level of smoke is bothering you. Limit outdoor activity until the air clears. Strive to keep the indoor environment as smoke free as possible. Keep windows closed to reduce smoke entering the home. Use an indoor air filter. Recirculate the air and filter when using air conditioning if possible to avoid bringing contaminated air inside. These steps are important because pets will be exposed to this indoor environment for extended periods. If the smoke is severe and cannot be maintained at reasonable levels, the pets should be moved to another location. This is especially important if they have health problems that can be aggravated by exposure to smoke.

Supportive care for pet companions exposed to wildfire smoke should be based on a complete evaluation of the pet so that specific supplements, herbs and other remedies can be properly selected. Support may include nutritional supplements that support the cells lining the respiratory passages; herbs that have anti-inflammatory effects, like turmeric and licorice root; and herbs that supports the mucous membranes, like marshmallow root. Heart and adrenal support can be important for some pets. Homeopathic medicines like Bryonia may be helpful if properly selected. Bach flower remedies and essential oils may be valuable for reducing anxiety in stressed pet companions.

Contact your veterinarian if your pet companion is in a crises or if you have questions.

Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.


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