Answers to Questions Regarding Pets and Wildfire Smoke

smoky sunrise, Knoxville, Tennessee
Smoke from wildfires in East Tennessee obsures the sunrise in November 2016. The poor air quality can also have a negative effect on people and pets. Photo by S. Harbison, courtesy UTIA.

Is the smoky air from the region’s wildfires getting to you?  It may be affecting your pets, too, according to the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center. “While there are no documented studies evaluating this, animals are thought to be susceptible to the effects of wildlife smoke, just like people are,” reports Dr. Adesola Odunayo, a veterinary emergency and critical care specialist. “Dogs, cats, horses, birds and other pets can all be affected by wildfire smoke.” 

Odunayo took the time to record the answers to some common questions she’s been receiving since air quality has declined in much of the region due to the ongoing wildfires.

Why is wildfire smoke bad for pets? 

Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gasses and fine particles from trees and plants, which can be dangerous if inhaled. The smoke can irritate the eyes, nasal passageway and respiratory system. Inhalation of carbon monoxide can be especially dangerous and can cause death. However, inhalation of carbon monoxide is primarily limited to people (mainly firefighters) and pets immediately around the active fire. Burns can also occur in people and pets close to the fire.

What kind of signs can be seen as a result of wildfire smoke inhalation in pets?

Pet owners may notice red, swollen or runny eyes; coughing, wheezing, increased breathing rate or shortness of breath; purple gums or tongue, nasal discharge, reluctance to get comfortable, lethargy or reluctance to eat. Please see a veterinarian if any of those signs are seen. Note that signs may not be directly related to wildfire smoke, but an evaluation by a veterinarian is strongly recommended.

What kind of pets are susceptible to getting sick from wildfire smoke inhalation?

Young and old animals are especially susceptible. Animals with underlying heart and lung disease, as well as pregnant animals also have an increased risk of getting sick. Cats with asthma may be especially susceptible. ​

How can I protect my pets from getting sick?

The best way to protect pets is to keep them indoors as much as reasonably possible. For small animals, exposure to the outdoors should be limited and controlled. Exercise should also be limited as much as possible. Ideally, all outdoor pets should be brought indoors or kept in an indoor shelter. For large animals, it may be helpful to move them inside a barn or a shelter until the wildfires resolve.

What should I do if my pet gets sick?

Please see your veterinarian immediately if you notice any unusual signs or behavior in your pet(s). 

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Sandra Harbison, UT College of Veterinary Medicine Media Relations, 865-974-7377,