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    Air Pollution Dog Blog — wildfire smoke

    Long Term Health After the California Wildfire Smoke

    Long Term Health After the California Wildfire Smoke

    Air pollution masks. Liquid eye drops. Don't go outdoors. This is how Californians are trying to cope with wildfires choking the state, but experts say an increase in serious health problems may be almost inevitable for vulnerable residents as the disasters become more commonplace. Research suggests children, the elderly and those with existing health problems are most at risk.

    Short-term exposure to wildfire smoke can worsen existing asthma and lung disease, leading to emergency room treatment or hospitalization, studies have shown. Increases in doctor visits or hospital treatment for respiratory infections, bronchitis and pneumonia in otherwise healthy people also have been found during and after wildfires.

    Some studies also have found increases in ER visits for heart attacks and strokes in people with existing heart disease on heavy smoke days during previous California wildfires, echoing research on potential risks from urban air pollution. For most healthy people, exposure to wildfire smoke is just an annoyance, causing burning eyes, scratchy throats or chest discomfort that all disappear when the smoke clears.

    California fires in malibu 2018

    But doctors, scientists and public health officials are concerned that the changing face of wildfires will pose a much broader health hazard. “Wildfire season used to be June to late September. Now it seems to be happening all year round. We need to be adapting to that,” Dr. Wayne Cascio, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cardiologist, said this week.

    In an overview published earlier this year, Cascio wrote that the increasing frequency of large wildland fires, urban expansion into wooded areas and an aging population are all increasing the number of people at risk for health problems from fires. Wood smoke contains some of the same toxic chemicals as urban air pollution, along with tiny particles of vapor and soot 30 times thinner than a human hair.

    These can infiltrate the bloodstream, potentially causing inflammation and blood vessel damage even in healthy people, research on urban air pollution has shown. Studies have linked heart attacks and cancer with long-term exposure to air pollution. Whether exposure to wildfire smoke carries the same risks is uncertain, and determining harm from smog versus wildfire smoke can be tricky, especially with wind-swept California wildfires spreading thick smoke hundreds of miles away into smoggy big cities.

    California Camp Fires

    “That is the big question,” said Dr. John Balmes, a University of California, San Francisco, professor of medicine who studies air pollution. “Very little is known about the long-term effects of wildfire smoke because it’s hard to study populations years after a wildfire,” Balmes said. Decreased lung function has been found in healthy firefighters during fire season.

    They tend to recover but federal legislation signed this year will establish a U.S. registry tracking firefighters and potential risks for various cancers, including lung cancer. Some previous studies suggested a risk. Balmes noted that increased lung cancer rates have been found in women in developing countries who spend every day cooking over wood fires. That kind of extreme exposure doesn’t typically happen with wildfires, but experts worry about the kinds of health damage that may emerge for firefighters and residents with these blazes occurring so often.

    Whether that includes more cancer is unknown. “We’re concerned about that,” Balmes said. Regular folks breathing in all that smoke worry about the risks too. Smoke from the fire that decimated the Northern California city of Paradise darkened skies this week in San Francisco, nearly 200 miles southwest, and the air smelled “like you were camping,” said Michael Northover, a contractor.

    He and his 14-year-old son have first-time sinus infections that Northover blames on the smoke. “We’re all kind of feeling it,” Northover said. At Chico State University, 11 miles from Paradise, ash was falling this week and classes were canceled until after Thanksgiving. “It’s kind of freaky to see your whole town wearing air masks and trying to get out of smoke,” said freshman Mason West, 18. “You can see the particles. Obviously it’s probably not good to be breathing that stuff in.”

    West returned home this week to Santa Rosa, hard hit by last year’s wine country fire, only to find it shrouded in smoke from the Paradise fire 100 miles away. West’s family had to evacuate last year for a week but their home was spared. “It’s as bad here as it was in Chico,” West said. “It almost feels like you just can’t get away from it.”

    Smoke has been so thick in Santa Rosa that researchers postponed a door-to-door survey there for a study of health effects of last year’s fire. “We didn’t feel we could justify our volunteer interns going knocking on doors when all the air quality alerts were saying stay indoors,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a public health researcher at the University of California, Davis.

    The study includes an online survey of households affected by last year’s fire, with responses from about 6,000 people so far. Preliminary data show widespread respiratory problems, eye irritations, anxiety, depression and sleep problems around the time of the fire and months later. “Conventional thinking is that these effects related to fires are transient. It’s not entirely clear that’s the case,” Hertz-Picciotto said.

    Researchers also will be analyzing cord blood and placentas collected from a few dozen women who were pregnant during the fire, seeking evidence of stress markers or exposure to smoke chemicals. They hope to continue the study for years, seeking evidence of long-term physical and emotional harms to fire evacuees and their children.

    Other studies have linked emotional stress in pregnant women to developmental problems in their children and “this was quite a stress,” Hertz-Picciotto said. It’s a kind of stress that many people need to prepare for as the climate warms and wildfires proliferate, she said. “Any of us could wake up tomorrow and lose everything we own,” she said. “It’s pretty scary.”

    How to Protect Your Dog from Wildfire Smoke

    How to Protect Your Dog from Wildfire Smoke

    Residents across the West are experiencing poor air quality due to wildfire smoke, from the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia to southern California and Utah. Air quality is worse than it’s ever been in many locations and has reached unhealthy levels in major metropolitan areas like Seattle and Portland.

    As dog people, we immediately turned to experts to find out what this means for our pets. Poor air quality and wildfire smoke are a concern for animals, too! While wind patterns and fire behavior can change rapidly, it’s important to keep these tips in mind throughout the fire season.

    Poor air quality is a concern for our dogs just as it is for us. Luckily, the same precautions you’d take for yourself apply to our furry family members as well. If you (and your dog) live in an area affected by wildfire smoke we suggest the following.

    Safety-Dogs-Wildfire-Smoke-Protect-Air-Quality

    Safety tips for dogs when the air quality is poor

    The biggest danger to your dogs when breathing wildfire smoke comes from fine particles, which can reach deep into the lungs and cause a variety of health issues from burning eyes to chronic congestion. To keep your dog safe from the smoke-laden air, the best thing to do is keep them inside! But that’s not all.

    • Keep pets indoors with windows closed
    • Use air conditioning, if possible, to filter the air
    • Keep potty breaks short
    • Avoid long walks and other prolonged outdoor exercises
    • Keep pets well hydrated
    • Watch for signs of respiratory stress and eye inflammation. If your pet shows symptoms, see a veterinarian immediately

    Dogs susceptible to respiratory distress Just as young children and senior citizens are more at risk for harm from breathing wildfire smoke, so too are certain dogs more likely to suffer from poor quality. This includes:

    • Any dog with asthma or bronchitis
    • Brachycephalic dogs like bulldogs, Boston terriers, and pugs
    • Puppies and senior dogs

    Signs of respiratory distress in pets

    Any of these symptoms warrant an immediate trip to the vet. Don’t hesitate to take your dog in if you’re concerned.

    • Difficulty breathing
    • Unusual or excessive coughing, sneezing, vomiting or loss of appetite
    • Swelling or inflammation of the mouth, eyes, skin or upper airway Open-mouthed breathing (especially in cats)
    • Weakness/lethargy Uncoordinated walking/unable to stand Increased salivation

    More severe side effects of smoke inhalation in dogs

    While rare, these symptoms are particularly alarming. These are more likely to show up if your dog is inhaling vast quantities of smoke or is in very close proximity to a fire.

    • Disorientation/confusion
    • Fainting Sleepiness
    • Seizures

    If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, especially breathing troubles, see your veterinarian or visit an emergency vet right away.

    K9mask-dog-pollution-muzzle-air-mask

    What About air Masks for Dogs?

    In China, many dog owners have turned to air masks or “pollution masks” for their dogs to protect them from routinely heavy smog. Keep in mind that with any face mask, effectiveness is directly related to fit. One of the world’s most renowned air mask manufacturers, K9mask, is working on a “muzzle mask” specifically for dogs. Of course, whether your dog tolerates a face mask is another story altogether…

    Indoor Activities to Keep Your Dog Busy 

    If you live in an area affected by wildfire smoke, it’s a great time to brush up your dog’s training, try enrichment games, and get help from a local pet sitter or in-home daycare to keep your dog busy in the absence of outdoor walks.

    Indoor "Exercise" for your Dog Can Include 

    • Hide-and-seek
    • Puzzle toys like the classic KONG or an IQ puzzle
    • Fetch and tug
    • Teaching tricks
    • Brushing up on basic training

    If you’re feeling ambitious, or your dog is of the herding variety (hello, cattle dogs, shepherds, and collies), these activities take indoor games to the next level:

    • Flirt pole sessions
    • Nosework
    • Obstacle courses
    • Indoor agility
    • Indoor doggy exercise equipment
    • Flirt pole toy for dogs

    Stay safe out there! When the air quality is poor, keep your dog indoors as much as possible. Extra couch snuggles with your pet are never a bad idea, either. 

    Safety Plan for Your Dog During Wildfire Smoke

    Safety Plan for Your Dog During Wildfire Smoke

    With all the recent wildfires in California, Washington, Oregon, and Montana we would like to remind you of proper fire safety and prevention for families with pets. Statistics show that half a million pets are affected and 40,000 pets are killed by fires annually. So before a fire starts, here are some preventative measures to take:

    1. Create a fire escape plan.
    2. Set up a meeting place and multiple routes in order to exit your house safely and quickly.
    3. Put a Pet Rescue Fire Safety Sticker on your window. This will indicate what species of pets you have, and how many, so that firefighters will know who to look for. You can pick up these stickers (normally free of charge) at any humane society or veterinary office.
    4. Free your home (and spaces surrounding where your outdoor pets live) of brushy areas. This will help deplete the fire sources around your home.
    5. Know your pets hiding places. The smell of smoke and sound of burning substances are scary for pets. Most often they will become frightened and hide in a place where they feel secure. Knowing your pets hiding places will help you find them quickly so that everyone can exit the home.
    6. Create a pet emergency kit. This kit should supply your pet with an adequate amount of food, any prescriptions your pet needs and his/her vaccine history in case they need to be boarded.
    7. Be aware when lighting candles. Puppy tails and pouncing kittens can make a harmless candle an extreme fire hazard. Be aware of your pets’ location when candles are lit and place them out of harms’ way.
    8. Change the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors twice a year.

    Prepare-For-Wildfire-Smoke-Dog-Pollution-KitIn the event of a fire in or near your home always remember to secure your pets on a leash or in a carrier to prevent them from running away in fright. Don’t forget to bring your pet emergency kit, enough food for one week, their favorite toy and/or blanket, a food and water bowl and their ID tags.

    Unfortunately, many families do not have enough time to get to a safe place before the fire is upon them. For this reason, Aspen Grove would like to teach you how to properly care for your pet if they are suffering from smoke inhalation. Smoke inhalation is a serious medical condition and should not be taken lightly. Chemicals released from burned materials such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and cyanide are dangerous and poisonous for your pet. Inhalation of these chemicals can result in severe lung injury, burnt airways and death. The signs of smoke inhalation can include but are not limited to:

    • Severe coughing Red,
    • inflamed eyes
    • Weakness/lethargy
    • Depression
    • Bright Red, blue or pale mucous membranes
    • Singed or burnt hair
    • Respiratory distress and/or difficulty breathing
    • Gagging/vomiting
    • Open-mouth breathing
    • Foaming at the mouth
    • Seizures Squinting Skin and/or ocular burns

    Assessing the situation is important, but taking your pet to clean, oxygenated air is your priority. If your pet is still inside the building, loosely drape a wet towel over his/her eyes and nose to prevent further smoke inhalation. Once out of the burning area, ask the fire personnel for an oxygen mask for your pet; this will reduce your pets’ risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you are not able to take your pet to a veterinarian right away, than place your pet in a steamy room or near a humidifier in order to increase the amount of moisture in their lungs. The amount of damage to your pet may not be apparent for several hours, so take your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible for assessment and stabilization.

    Hopefully you will never have to deal with the trauma of a fire taking your home. However, certain preventative measures should be taken if you and your pet are near a wildfire even if you think you are not in harms’ way. First, decrease the amount of exercise time your pet gets outside. Avoid dog parks and long walks.

    As we all know, pets have a keen sense of smell. They will be able to smell the smoke from far away and may become irritable or frightened. Depending on the distance between you and the fire, your pets’ respiratory system may become stressed and gagging/coughing or other symptoms may occur. Always offer your pet ample amounts of fresh water and of course, give them lots of love!

    Dog's Suffering from Intense Smoke with Respiratory Problems

    Dog's Suffering from Intense Smoke with Respiratory Problems

    All residents in major urban areas where this summer's wildfires hit, including all their furry pet friends, are facing the brunt of the dense blanket of smog and smoke that has engulfed many Northwest cities.

    Pet owners, especially those of dogs, complained that the animals are having difficulty in breathing and have turned lethargic. Animal lovers said that their pets have developed wheezing and coughing.

    “My 5-year-old Pitbull, Pluto, has just been lying in a corner and not responding to anyone since Diwali. He does not respond even when my mother or I try to play with him. We have reduced his walk time and are hoping he gets better soon. We urge people to stop bursting crackers; it has been days that the festival is over,” Priyanka, a 22-year-old student, said.


    air-pollution-effects-on-dogsResidents said that their pets’ appetite has also reduced due to the loud noises and smoke from the crackers. They said that the moment a cracker is burst, their pets get scared, go to a corner and stop eating. Some are force-feeding their pets so that they do not become weak. Also, the eyes of some dogs have turned red, discharging water due to irritation from the pollutants.

    Neha, a 29-year-old executive, said, “The eyes of my American Cocker Spaniel, Zoro, have turned red and tear-like substance flows from them. We have been washing his eyes with cold water and putting eye drops but it is not helping.”

    Doctors said that the increasing wildfire smoke pollution is having adverse effects on animals. They said that the owners should try and keep their pets indoors, under air-conditioners, to reduce their contact with the unclean air.

    “Air pollution has increased the risk of pets developing cardiovascular diseases or respiratory symptoms such as a persistent cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness of chest. Owners should reduce the time of the morning and evening walks as pollutants are closer to the ground in these hours,” Dr Ashok Kumar, veterinary doctor, said.

    Doctors also said that the pets should be comforted by owners. Dr Vinod Sharma, a city-based veterinary doctor, said, “It is important to that the pet owners ensure that the dogs are not scared as they risk of going into depression due to noise and air pollution.”

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