Smoke from Canadian wildfires is currently blanketing the DC area, triggering air quality alerts and making it difficult to breathe. But it’s not just people who are affected by poor air quality, our pets are too! In fact, our pets may even be at greater risk than we are from wildfire smoke due to their smaller size. Here’s what you need to know to protect your pets and keep them happy while we wait for the air quality to improve.

How Wildfire Smoke Affects Pets

The biggest danger from wildfire smoke is particle pollution. These particles irritate the respiratory tract and can cause a variety of serious health effects in humans. And just like humans, pets can experience respiratory distress, inflammation, and poor immune function from exposure to particle pollution.

Certain Pets Are More Sensitive Than Others

All pets should be protected from breathing unhealthy air for any extended period of time, but you’ll want to be extra cautious if:

  • Your pet is elderly or very young.
  • Your pet has been diagnosed with heart or lung disease.
  • You have a brachycephalic (flat-faced) dog or cat, such as a boxer, bulldog, pug, or Persian cat.
  • You have a bird. (Birds are especially sensitive to smoke because of the construction of their respiratory systems.)

Regardless of your pet’s risk factors, watch signs of respiratory distress or eye irritation, and call your veterinarian immediately if your pet is showing symptoms.

Reduce Your Pet’s Exposure to Unhealthy Air

The best way to protect your pet from exposure to wildfire smoke is to limit their time outdoors as much as possible. Keep cats and small animals indoors while the air quality is poor, and take your dog out on only short walks just for potty breaks or let them out in the yard briefly to do their business. Keep the windows of your home closed and run an air purifier if you have one, or run your air conditioner on recirculate high-efficiency filter. Also try to limit or eliminate sources of indoor air pollution such as gas or wood-burning stoves, burning candles or incense, frying foods, spraying aerosol, vacuuming (unless you have a vacuum with a HEPA filter), and smoking.

Keeping Your Pet Happy Indoors

If your dog is used to getting a lot of walks and outdoor playtime, or you have a cat that goes outside, it can be very frustrating to them to be stuck indoors. But hopefully, since you’re not going out in this unhealthy air either, you’ll have some extra time to spend with them to focus on easing their stress. Here are a few ideas for ways to keep your pets occupied indoors:

Indoor Activities for Dogs

  • Hide and Seek – Have another family member hold your dog while you go hide in another room. When your dog finds you, reward them with treats and praise, and then hide again.

  • Obstacle Course – Get creative with items you have around your house and build an obstacle course for your dog. Then, use treats to encourage your dog to go over, under, and through the obstacles.

  • Hansel and Gretel Trails – Instead of feeding your dog their meal in a bowl, take their kibble and make a trail of it through the house. Put your dog in another room while you make the trail, then let them go follow it. Have the trail zigzag through rooms, weave around and under furniture, and up or down the stairs.

  • Training – Rewards based training is not only great fun and mental stimulation for your dog, but also teaches your dog useful skills for everyday life. If your dog doesn’t already know basic cues, like “sit”, “stay”, “down”, “come”, and “leave it”, start with those. Once your dog has mastered the basics, you could try some of these more advanced useful tricks.

  • Food Puzzles – Think outside the bowl! Food puzzles are a great way to keep your dog busy and exercise their problem-solving abilities. And there are so many food puzzle options to choose from. Visit your local pet store to check out their selection or search online for DIY food puzzle you can make from things you probably already have around your home.

Indoor Activities for Cats

  • Interactive Play – Letting your cat exercise their natural hunting instincts through regular play is essential for keeping your cat healthy and happy, so hopefully you’re already playing with your cat daily. But if you’re not, start now. Grab and fishing pole toy or feather wand and let the fun begin!

  • Training – Training is not just for dogs! Cats benefits just as much from regular rewards-based training sessions. Try teaching your cat to come when called, sit, or give a high-five.

  • Food Puzzles – Food puzzles are also great for keeping cats active and busy. And just like with dog food puzzles above, you can find a variety of cat food puzzle options at the pet store or instructions for how to make DIY cat food puzzles online.

  • Catnip – Not all cats go crazy for catnip, but many do. If your cat loves catnip, you can sprinkle some around for them to enjoy rolling in or get them some new catnip toys to play with.

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