Western Washington remains under a blanket of smoke — and it's not just bad for us humans. “Even healthy pets, just like people, should not be outside and in the smoke," a veterinarian said.
The effects of the worsening air quality in the Seattle area aren’t limited to humans — the smoky haze can also hurt animals, from asthmatic pugs to Pete the gorilla at Woodland Park Zoo.
As Western Washington remains under a blanket of smoke, animal experts warn pet owners to keep Fido inside as much as possible, with the windows closed. Like humans, the air quality can affect animals in a variety of ways, so a pet in otherwise good health could still be in danger.
“It just is not good for their lungs,” said Dr. Raelynn Farnsworth, of Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “Even healthy pets, just like people, should not be outside and in the smoke.”
Meteorologists expect the smoky air from wildfires in Eastern Washington and British Columbia to hang around through Wednesday. The National Weather Service issued an Air Quality Alert for the region, effective until 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Monday afternoon, the air quality reached a level considered unhealthy for everyone, with sensitive groups like children and pregnant women at greater risk. All residents should reduce “prolonged or heavy exertion,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Same goes for animals, Seattle Humane Medical Director Dr. Jessica Reed said. At the animal shelter, dogs who have gone on walks with staff members in the past week have come back more tired than usual, which Reed attributed to poor air quality.
At Woodland Park Zoo, keepers are looking for any subtle changes in the behavior of the zoo’s more than 1,100 animals, including in demeanor and appetite. They’re keeping an especially close eye on the zoo’s geriatric animals, like its two oldest gorillas: Pete, 50, and Amanda, 48.
There haven’t been any issues so far, spokeswoman Farrah Paul said, but the keepers can bring most animals indoors if needed.
In Tacoma, the birds that normally fly during the animal show at Point Defiance Zoo are grounded until the air quality improves, General Curator Dr. Karen Goodrowe Beck said. Some animals that already have respiratory issues, like a snake and mole rat, are mostly staying indoors, and animals that go out for the zoo’s “close encounters” program aren’t staying outside as long as they normally do.
At Wolf Haven International, a wolf sanctuary in Tenino, Thurston County, staff members have already modified the wolves’ schedule this summer, mainly because of hot weather. Staff members feed them late at night, when there are fewer insects swarming around their food and the wolves are more active because of the cooler temperatures, according to sanctuary manager Erik Wilber. But he hasn’t noticed any changes in their behavior because of the air quality.
“They’ve probably been affected; it’s an irritant, just like with people, and it might affect some of them more than others, just like with people or any other species,” Wolf Haven spokeswoman Kim Young said. “It’s not fun, but it’s something that we’re all unfortunately learning to live with.”
For pet dogs and cats, owners should look for any signs of breathing trouble, coughing or pawing at the eyes and nose, veterinarians said. Particulates can irritate the skin, so a cold bath can help. But persistent breathing problems will probably require a vet visit.
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And while popular in China to protect dogs from smog, a bandanna or mask won’t help much unless they’re custom-made for the dog’s snout, Farnsworth said. A better option is inside, with an air purifier.
Reed recommended keeping time outside to a minimum until the smoke subsides.
“Resist the temptation to throw the ball around too much until things clear up,” she said.