Woodbine Wildfire Concerns 2023

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Pet owners in Southern Ontario are accustomed to extreme weather conditions in the summer. The sticky heat in the dog days of July and August makes it difficult for a simple walk to be safe. We adjust accordingly by sticking to a strict morning or evening walk regimen or figuring out other ways to keep our pets cool.

There’s another obstacle we now need to address on a seemingly regular basis – poor air quality. It’s not so much about the weather as it is about the circumstance. Canadian wildfires, both their frequency and intensity, have become a major issue in the warmer months. It was pretty obvious for pet owners when they stepped out the doors in June to take their dogs for a walk and the smoke was not only burning their airways but also creating an obvious haze that changed the sky’s colour.

If those conditions physically impact us, you can be sure it has the same effect on your dog. So as we do in the extreme heat, it’s time to take a few safety measures.


The risk

Dogs (and cats) respond to poor air quality in the same way as humans. The PM 2.5 particles found in that smoke can make their way into an animal’s lungs, just as they do ours. Ingesting these particles can take a toll on their health, leading to chronic coughs, bronchitis, asthma, and other respiratory diseases.

While we can make good choices, like wearing an N95 mask, they cannot.

Note: There are a couple of categories of dogs that face an increased risk in smoky conditions – those that are overweight and breeds with pushed-in noses, like pugs and bulldogs.


The response

Pet owners need to assess if it’s safe to take their dog for a walk or let their outdoor cat roam the neighbourhood. A smart way of doing that is by referring to the provincial Air Quality Health Index (AQHI). You can search by city in Ontario and see the number for the day, with 1 being the lowest possible risk and 10+ signifying the highest risk.

A good rule of thumb is that if the air quality is in the 7-8 range or above, simply stay inside. You are risking your pet’s health by taking them out in these conditions.

The alternatives

So on those occasions when the air quality is a 7 or above, pet owners need to come up with other ways to exercise their animals and keep them engaged. Activity is crucial to their well-being so if they can’t get it outside, you need to be creative.

  • At-home training: Working on obedience exercises and tricks is a fantastic way to keep your dog stimulated and active, as opposed to just lying around the house all day. A quick YouTube search will give you several ideas as to what you can work on at home.
  • Indoor agility courses: If you have the space, consider setting up courses around the house where your dog can get some beneficial exercise.
  • Indoor dog facilities: Search your area to see what services are available where dogs can get some good exercise without you worrying about the air quality outside.


When to see a vet

In the event your pet has been exposed to poor air quality and smoke, look for the following symptoms:

  • Coughing/gagging
  • Difficulty breathing or asthma-like symptoms
  • Rapid breathing
  • Eye irritation or watering
  • Throat and mouth inflammation
  • Discharge from the nose
  • Fatigue
  • Disoriented
  • Lack of appetite or thirst

If you notice any of these symptoms, call your veterinarian.

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