Wildfire smoke has affected air quality across Canada for most of the summer, causing health problems for humans and animals alike. Dr. Shane Bateman, professor in the Department of Clinical Studies at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), says there are ways to protect pets from poor air quality and signs that pet owners should stay alert to.

Dr. Shane Bateman in a lab
Dr. Shane Bateman

Any animal that has a respiratory medical condition is at higher risk of falling ill, Bateman says. Animals that spend more time outdoors breathing unfiltered air, and animals with facial conformations that make breathing more difficult, including bulldogs, Shih Tzus or Persian cats, are also at higher risk, he adds.

Bateman teaches in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and graduate programs at OVC and is a clinician in the Emergency and Critical Care Service in OVC’s Health Sciences Centre. He routinely cares for a variety of lung-injured patients.

He says animals struggling with poor air quality can exhibit symptoms including coughing or an increased respiratory rate, lethargy or restlessness, difficulty in finding a comfortable sleeping position, discharge from the eyes or nose, or loss of appetite.

“If symptoms are persistent over 24 hours and causing discomfort or changes in breathing pattern or rate, then a veterinary assessment is recommended,” Bateman suggests.

“Any acute increase in difficulty breathing, changes in breathing noises, or paroxysmal coughing should prompt an urgent consultation or visit to the vet.”

Animals with chronic conditions like asthma or bronchitis may experience long-term effects of exposure to poor air quality, says Bateman. However, air quality problems are unlikely to cause any lingering ailments in previously healthy animals.

He recommends pet owners plan for shorter exercise periods, using the air quality health index as a guide. While indoors, keep windows closed and schedule routine maintenance of air handling equipment.

Adding high-quality air filtration in the home is also a good idea, Bateman suggests.

“Plan for alternative exercise or play indoors that helps to engage the brain and body while burning off those ‘cooped in’ challenges.”

Bateman is available for interviews.


Dr. Shane Bateman