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Live Near Wildfires? Vet Advice on Keeping Your Dog Safe

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Historic wildfires have ravaged so much of the western U.S. in the last few years. Living in the country in central Texas, we are really aware of the wildfire risk and the danger it poses to our dogs and our cats.

Today we have a guest post with advice from California veterinarians who experienced firsthand the dangers of wildfire for their practices and their clients’ pets.

As wildfires continue to spread across western U.S. states, impacting air quality and causing wildlife to flee to safety, veterinarians at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital are warning owners of potential dangers for pets.

Jennifer Sergeeff, DVM, DACVIM, internist and medical director at BluePearl in Daly City, California, just a mile outside of San Francisco City limits, says while the fires were about 30 miles away from her practice, she and her team were in the smoke zone of these fires (from all directions) and Daly City was under unhealthy air quality alerts for nearly two weeks.

“We provided medical advice to owners regarding heat and air quality as it relates to their pet’s health,” remarked Dr. Sergeeff. “The advice we gave to owners is aimed mostly towards those with pets suffering from underlying respiratory conditions or allergies. We are also advising owners to avoid exposing pets to excessive heat—since high temperatures have been concurrent with fires—at peak times daily.”

Here are a few tips to help keep pets safe during the wildfires.

Limit exposure to smoke.

The wildfires are expected to continue to spew out large plumes of smoke in the coming days. This smoke can harm your pet in multiple ways, including causing irritation to eyes and respiratory system, as well as worsening chronic heart and lung diseases.

Whether your pet is healthy or has a heart or lung condition like asthma or bronchitis, it is important to limit their exposure to smoke.

If a wildfire occurs in your area, pay close attention to local air quality reports and the US Air Quality Index, and watch for official health warnings about smoke.

Take extra safety measures such as avoiding spending time outdoors. If your pet has lung or cardiovascular disease, follow your veterinarian’s advice regarding your pet’s disease management plan.

Look for Signs of smoke inhalation

  • Agitation
  • Uncoordinated gait
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Coughing
  • Facial swelling
  • Squinting of eyes
  • Skin burns
  • Slow reaction time

Even if your pet seems to be doing fine after smoke exposure, they should be seen by a veterinarian.

During the first 24 hours following smoke exposure, breathing difficulty may gradually get worse.

The treatment following smoke inhalation is oxygen therapy; however, some animals may require intubation—a procedure in which a tube is placed in the mouth, down the trachea, to keep the airway open.

Watch out for heat exhaustion.

BluePearl veterinarians commonly see dogs come in with heat exhaustion, or pet heatstroke.

Heatstroke occurs when a pet’s body absorbs more heat than it can dissipate, either through exercise or exposure.

If possible, walk your dog in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest hours of the day, and keep them inside on hot days. Even if your yard has shady areas, remember, temperatures can shift throughout the day. Always have water available and keep pets well groomed. If the coat is matted and tangled the fur may trap heat in.

If you do take them on a walk, keep walks at a slow pace, and if your pet seems tired, rest or stop the activity. If you suspect your dog is having a heatstroke, soak your pet’s body with towels and water, and put them in front of fan; then immediately bring to them to a veterinarian hospital.

Keep a look out for displaced wildlife.

Some Northern California areas are known to be Mountain Lion and Bobcat territory. As the fires spread, these big cats and other wildlife are being displaced. Predatory animals are pushed down hills, away from fires, but closer to residential areas.

Due to this, BluePearl veterinarians are advising owners to keep dogs and cats indoors around dawn and dusk, and to help local wildlife by leaving water out for them.

Pets that have been exposed to smoke and/or fire need immediate medical attention from a veterinarian.

If clinical symptoms of heatstroke or smoke inhalation develop and/or worsen, promptly contact your veterinarian for advice on next steps or bring your pet into a veterinary hospital for assessment. This prompt care can mean the difference between life and death for your pet.

Preparing for a Wildfire

Best Friends Animal Society has issued a list of packing list of items you can have for your dog “go bag” in case of a wildfire. They recommend your bag should include:

  • A seven to ten-day supply of wet and/or dry food (and water, if possible) 
  • Your pet’s toys and/or treats 
  • An extra supply of any necessary medications (as veterinary care may not be readily available in a crisis) 
  • A list of your pet’s medical needs, medicines taken (including dosing/frequency), as well as veterinary contact information 
  • Copies of current vaccination records 
  • A collar with a current ID tag or microchip that includes your cell phone number 
  • A crate labeled with your pet’s name and your contact information (use masking tape and a permanent marker). Consider placing your well-worn sweater or sweatshirt inside the crate so that your pet travels more comfortably inside surrounded by a familiar scent around them.  
  • Extra poop bags 
  • For cats, a small bag of litter and litter pan 
  • Blanket 
  • Towels 
  • Bowls 
  • Can opener and spoon 

Dr. Erin Katribe, Medical Director at Best Friends Animal Society, reminds pet parents that symptoms of smoke inhalation can start anytime in the first 72 hours. 

“The most common clinical signs of dogs and cats that have experienced smoke inhalation injury are coughing or difficulty breathing due to damage to the respiratory tract,” warns Dr. Katribe.

“Any respiratory distress is a true emergency and any pet experiencing labored breathing should be evaluated by a vet immediately. Other clinical signs related to smoke exposure include neurological signs (seizures, depression, stumbling) and cherry red gums and tongue. Clinical signs may be delayed, so monitor any pets exposed to wildfires or housefires closely following exposure.”   

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vet advice on how to keep your dog safe when wildfires are in area
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