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Health & Wellness

6 Ways To Protect Your Pup During Air Quality Alerts

Fetch asked veterinarian Dr. Aliya McCullough, DVM, MS the top questions on every pet parent's mind about how bad air quality affects dogs, so you and your best friend can breathe easier.

On June 7th, Nick Cocchiaro knew something was wrong when his 2-year-old cockapoo Enzo didn’t want to play outside. “Our relief walks became extremely quick,” the Fetch member says. “He wanted to get back inside, tugging me back toward the door, which is totally out of the ordinary for him.”

Enzo’s snout was onto something.

This June, as more than 400 Canadian wildfires raged in its worst wildfire season on record – forcing the evacuation of more than 100,000 Canadians – over 123 million people in the U.S., like Nick, were facing unprecedented air quality alerts.

From tasting smog in the air to seeing burnt yellow skies, dog parents everywhere wondered: Is my pup at risk? Fetch talked to veterinarian Dr. Aliya McCullough, DVM, MS to get the lowdown on how bad air quality can affect your dog and what you can do to keep them safe for the next poor air quality alert.

1. Treat your dog like any human during air quality alerts.

According to CBS and NBC, smoke particles are dangerous because their carbon monoxide chemicals are so small (about 30 times smaller than a strand of hair) that they can get deep into your lungs and bloodstream, causing serious health problems.

And yes, poor air quality can lead to health issues for dogs too. “Pets exposed to harmful air pollutants, like wildfire smoke, can become sick or injured, just like their human counterparts,” says Dr. McCullough. When exposed to bad air, your dog could develop health conditions like irritation and inflammation of the respiratory tract while exacerbating other conditions like allergies, asthma, bronchitis and heart disease.

2. But don’t reach for a doggie mask... just yet.

Unlike humans, however, masks aren’t recommended for dogs at this time. “There’s not enough research on dog masks,” says Dr. McCullough. “Pet parents should consult their vet before masking their dogs.”

Some dogs may find it stressful to wear a mask, while others may not be able to pant efficiently with it on, causing them to overheat which is especially concerning for Brachycephalic breeds  (i.e., bulldogs, pugs), geriatric pets and dogs with heart or respiratory issues.

3. Avoid trips outside, except quick pee & poop breaks.

Monitor the air quality index (AQI) in your area – we love a weather app with notifications or  checking AirNow.gov throughout the day. When the range is >150, keep pets indoors with windows closed.

You can take your dog outside for short relief trips, but avoid strenuous exercise to keep your dog safe from bad air. Help your pets release their energy by planning indoor activities to keep their bodies and minds active. And don’t sleep on a purifier. “I have two air purifiers, so I put one on in the living room and one in the bedroom, the two most common spots for Enzo so that he was safe indoors,” said Cocchiaro.

4. Watch for these signs if your dog has been exposed to bad air.

When dogs breathe in bad air, like smoke from wildfires, you might see symptoms like coughing, gagging, difficulty breathing, increased breathing rate, weakness, decreased eating and drinking, nasal discharge and eye discharge. “Consult with your veterinarian if your dog shows any of these clinical signs,” says Dr. McCullough.

Keep an extra close eye on at-risk pets like brachycephalic breeds, puppies, senior dogs and dogs with respiratory and cardiovascular disease like congestive heart failure, allergic bronchitis and Brachycephalic airway syndrome.

5. Keep dogs entertained indoors with fun games.

Some fun, vet-approved ways to keep your dog engaged while staying inside include classics like fetch, tug of war and hide and seek. You can also play with a teaser pole and set up an obstacle course with makeshift tents, cushions and boxes. Dealing with a small space? Try practicing obedience commands, using food puzzle toys or playing the shell game with a toy or treat.

“We ordered Enzo new bones that kept him occupied basically all day,” says Cocchiaro, who lives in a one-bedroom in Queens, New York. “We also have this dollar-store puzzle that we loaded with peanut butter and froze so that it kept him busy.”

6. Be on the lookout for anxiety symptoms.

Dogs that are unable to go outside for long periods of time may become bored and stressed, especially those with a history of anxiety. In some cases, dogs may start getting into things they shouldn’t, vocalize more or become destructive.

Keeping their minds and bodies busy can help, but if your dogs are still showing anxiety behaviors, reach out to your vet or a veterinary behaviorist. Whether it’s behavioral therapy or  anxiety medications, like Xanax, the experts will recommend the best treatment to help your pup stay calm. (Psst, eligible behavioral therapy, name-brand prescription medications and sick-visit exam fees are covered with Fetch Pet insurance, saving you up to $50 - $250 per sick visit).

Finally, remember the bright side of being stuck indoors: More time to spend with your pup!

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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