With the recent wildfires in our hometown of Napa, California we wanted to put together an informational guide about your pet’s health risk during and after a wildfire and what the important things are to know.
DURING A WILDFIRE
The most important thing that we can stress is to please TAKE ALL OF YOUR PETS WITH YOU DURING AN EVACUATION. If you need to leave your home then so does your pet!
Wildfires are extremely stressful and frightening, not only for us but for our pets. Sometimes we have time to prepare for evacuation and sometimes we are forced to leave in a moment’s notice. If you are prepared ahead of time it can help immensely so it is always a good idea to have an emergency bag prepared for your animals. Here is an example of what you can include:
Emergency Animal Kit:
- A week’s worth of food for each pet
- Any important medications
- Leashes for your dogs
- A portable water bowl with small bottle of water for travel.
- Portable food bowls
- Some form of pet ID (collar with tags, implanted microchip)
- Favorite blanket/bed
- Carriers for your cats and a towel to cover each carrier (also put a blanket/bed inside)
- If you have cats you may also want to consider having a disposable litter box such as this PetSafe Disposable Litter Box
Dr. Kim’s other tip for your emergency kit is to include some holistic options to help with your pet’s anxiety. Leaving their home environment and relocating somewhere new can be extremely stressful. We recommend Stress Away Soft Chews by Vet Classics, Rescue Remedy for Pets, Lavender Essential Oil (our favorite brands are Young Living and DoTerra), and Adaptil pheromone spray for dogs or Feliway pheromone spray for cats.
If your pet gets extremely anxious with travel you may want to ask your veterinarian for a sedative to have on hand so that you and your pet can both get some needed rest. Also, if you have a dog-aggressive dog you may want to consider having a basket muzzle in case you come into contact with unfamiliar dogs.
AFTER A WILDFIRE
Please make sure all evacuation orders have lifted from your home before you consider returning. You may want to make sure that your home has power and clean water before re-populating. At the very least please follow any boil water notices for your area so that you are providing your pets with safe drinking water.
Just as important as the status of your home is the status of the air quality. Please refer to the Air Quality Index which can be accessed for your zip code at this website. The chart below provides a detailed explanation of what the AQI means. If the AQI is above 151 (unhealthy, very unhealthy or hazardous) then we would recommend keeping your pets out of the area if possible. If people need to be outside during these conditions we can wear a protective N95 mask, but the human masks that exist cannot be manipulated to fit over the snout of a dog properly. So if our pets are outside using the bathroom or taking a walk during these conditions we are putting their health at risk.
If you absolutely need to bring your pet back to your home when air quality is poor then hopefully we can offer some helpful tips to keep them as safe as possible.
If you are returning to an area that has been badly burned consider leaving your pets with a friend, neighbor or boarding facility during cleanup as there are numerous hazards that they could be exposed to including sharp objects and toxic chemicals.
Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant material. The gases and fine particles can be dangerous if inhaled. The particulate matter (also called “PM”) in wildfire smoke poses the biggest risk to the public’s health. The potential health effects vary based on the type of plants burning, atmospheric conditions and, most importantly, the size of the particles. Particles larger than 10 micrometers usually irritate only the eyes, nose and throat. Fine particles 2.5 micrometers or smaller (PM2.5) can be inhaled into the deepest part of the lungs, and may cause greatest health concern.
If you have a very young pet, elderly pet, or a pet with a heart or lung condition (congestive heart failure, chronic bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia) then your pet will be particularly at risk to the effects of smoke exposure. Birds are also extremely sensitive to the effects of wildfire smoke and should be kept indoors at all times. What you need to know is that what affects you affects your pet and the measures you take to protect yourself are the same measures you should take to protect your pet. Dogs and cats lungs are very similar to our own.
Here are the main things you can do for your pets to reduce the risk of exposure to wildfire smoke once you return home if the air quality is poor:
- Keep your pets indoors as much as possible (limit dog walks to potty breaks only and if you have outdoor cats keep them inside).
- Keep windows and doors closed.
- Use a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to reduce indoor air pollution.
- Replace the filters on your central air conditioning unit and run your air conditioner to reduce indoor air pollution
- Provide plenty of fresh water (boil water if instructed to do so).
- Avoid smoking tobacco, using wood-burning stoves or fireplaces, burning candles, incenses or vacuuming which can all further contribute to indoor air pollution after a wildfire event.
- After being outdoors, wipe down your pet’s coat and paws with a fresh water cloth in order to remove particulate matter and prevent them from ingesting it while grooming.
- Run a humidifier to help moisten the air and loosen respiratory secretions.
- Make sure to wear your N95 mask when taking your pets out to use the restroom!
Dogs and cats are most at risk for developing eye and lung problems after exposure to wildfire smoke. Mild eye irritation, mild clear nasal discharge and mild sneezing are common with wildfire exposure. You can help lessen these signs by following the recommendations above. Also, to help with eye irritation you can purchase over the counter eye lubricants such as Genteal Lubricant Eye Gel or Artificial Tears Lubricant Eye Drops and use them on your pet frequently throughout the day (every 2-4 hours).
If you notice any of the following signs please contact your family veterinarian as it could indicate a more serious eye or respiratory issue that may require additional treatment.
- Unusual coughing, sneezing or gagging
- Difficulty breathing, including open mouth breathing
- Eye irritation (redness, squinting, pawing at the face) and excessive watering
- Yellow or green nasal discharge
- Asthma-like symptoms
- Increased breathing rate
- Weakness and lethargy
- Lack of appetite
Keeping the indoor air clean and limiting outdoor exposure during poor air quality conditions is of utmost importance for your animal’s health. In addition there are other holistic options to help with wildfire smoke exposure including herbs, supplements, antioxidant and immune support. Marshmallow and licorice are two common herbs that can help to soothe the respiratory tract. Some other products we recommend for our patients from the Standard Process line include Emphaplex and Pneumotrophin PMG. Thorne Mycoimmune and Stamets7 Daily Immune Support are two mushroom blends that Dr. Kim uses with her patients for general immune support. For antioxidant support we recommend Cell Advance 880 or Vet Classics Canine Antioxidant Support. All herbs and supplements for respiratory support should only be used under the direct supervision of your holistic veterinarian.
For more information or to schedule a consultation with Dr. Kim for a specific respiratory support plan for your pet please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 707-535-9979. Dr. Kim is currently still under mandatory evacuation but will update her Facebook page and voicemail box when she is back in Napa.