Wed. Sep 27th, 2023

Canadian wildfires have been sending dangerous waves of air pollution down into Southeast Michigan this summer — drastically reducing the region’s air quality at times.

Health professionals have urged people to stay inside to avoid long-term effects from record poor air quality.

But humans are not the only ones who may have their health endangered from the wildfires. Animals may also be experiencing the dangerous impacts of smoke that can harm their respiratory health. 

“It’s important to recognize that animals actually can be even more sensitive, particularly dogs and cats,” says Dr. Rena Carlson, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “When it comes to smoke and air quality, their respiratory system is a lot more sensitive than ours.”

Read: Navigating through the Canadian wildfires’ effect on Michigan air quality

Animals that are at higher risk of air pollution effects include older pets, animals that have lung or heart problems, and dogs and cats that have shorter noses.

“If they’re getting bad, you will notice coughing, maybe some sneezing…they may not be as active as they used to,” Carlson explains.

Calrson says the best way to protect pets from air pollution is by keeping them inside and limiting their activity. If pets cannot be kept indoors, provide them with some sort of shelter.

However, there are some animals that don’t have the opportunity to remain indoors.

Olivia Sanderfoot is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles at the La Kretz Center for California Science. Sanderfoot claims there’s evidence within her research that shows animals experience some of the same health effects that people do when exposed to wildfire smoke.

“In order to keep our ecosystem intact, we need to keep animals safe.” – Olivia Sanderfoot, University of California fellow

However, since there is very limited research involving wildfire’s impacts on wildlife, no specifics can be recognized.

“I don’t think we have enough information on wildfire smoke impacts on wildlife to know which species are most vulnerable,” says Sanderfoot. “My hypothesis is that smaller birds with higher metabolic rates…or wildlife species that experience smoke exposure more regularly are more likely to be impacted.”

Sanderfoot explains fire regimes, or historic patterns of fires in ecosystems, across the United States. There are places like California where smoke occurs yearly — and places like Michigan where heavy smoke pollution is less frequent.

“I think understanding how species respond to smoke, but also how those responses vary in place and time depending on the history of a place, is going to be really important in order to determine if vulnerability is different depending on experience and exposure and place,” Sanderfoot predicts.

According to Sanderfoot, the best way to fully understand the impacts wildfires have on wildlife is by conducting more research and building collaboration between ecologists and atmospheric scientists. There are only about 40 relevant studies on the impacts of wildfire smoke on wildlife.

“We don’t know much about how animals are impacted. In order to keep our ecosystem intact, we need to keep animals safe,” Sanderfoot says. “If we can’t do anything about the smoke — but we can better understand how smoke is impacting the health and behavior of animals — we could prioritize other actions to give them the best shot.”

Sanderfoot is currently conducting multiple wildfire smoke related studies.  Her work can be found on her website.

Find more information on pet health during poor air quality days at

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By admin