Welcome! This is part two of our articles on Pets and Air Quality will focus on the effects of poor air quality, either indoor or outdoor, on your pets. Obviously, your pets are living creatures too and so they’re affected by the same maladies as you. The big difference is that because they are much smaller they can much more sensitive to negative environments. For this reason, miners have used canaries or mice as a low tech and deadly methane detection system for decades. The miners would know there was trouble ahead when the canary or mouse…well…died. Their much smaller and more sensitive respiratory systems had a much lower threshold for distress and death than their larger human companions.
Remember this as we go over air quality and pets. While your cat or dog is much larger than a canary or mouse, the idea still applies.
We would also like to give a shout out to Dr. B at Parkside Animal Health Center in Aurora. She is my regular veterinarian but was willing to chime in and provide some guidance for this article while I took my little buddy Slapshot in for his exam. We spend a lot of time in Dr. B’s clinic since Slapshot suffers from frequent allergies and she was patient enough to examine my dog all while answering my questions!
The Outdoor Danger To Your Pet’s Respiratory Health
The abundant sources of outdoor pollution that affect you also affect your pet. We’re talking pollution from factories, vehicles and various other industries. However, your pet can be at a greater risk due to their willingness to ingest or investigate pollutants that you know are bad for you. You’ve seen what your dog is willing to roll in, now realize what they are willing to smell. Paints, motor oil and other chemicals used in day to day life can be interesting to your pet. Also consider, that your pet is closer to the ground and thus more directly exposed to harmful vapors emitted from vehicles. And with the traffic in Aurora and Denver on the rise, most of these problems are only getting worse!
This type of respiratory exposure can mean you have to spend time extra time with your veterinarian. While diseases like kennel cough are typically viral (or at least start that way) pollution can make your pets more vulnerable to the virus or allow for related bacterial complications. While is still rare, especially if you keep your dog vaccinated and away from sick animals, it is still a risk.
More commonly, we see something called reverse sneezing. You may have seen your dog do something like this before. Our veterinarian describes it like this, “A reverse sneeze is actually a normal occurrence. The animal will stretch the head and neck out and sort of snort air in a desperate way. Which many pet owners find concerning. Eventually, the dog will calm down and the dog is still able to get air.” There are a lot of things that can cause a reverse sneeze but one major factor is air pollution. Dogs will perform this action in an effort to clear their airway of allergens, debris or other pollutants.
You can check out this video to see exactly what Dr. B is talking about:
What You Can Do About It
Just like with your own health, focus on spending more time in green space like parks or similar areas. Find a route for your daily walks that don’t involve walking through busy or high traffic areas. While this often means you may have more company (i.e. other dogs and owners looking for the same) it is still worth the extra hassle. The solution is simple- you can’t control the pollution that is around but you can often control what exposure you have to it. Always remember that your pet is much closer to the ground so try to avoid areas with trash or other debris. Take extra precautions to avoid lower ground where chemicals and other pollutants can often accumulate.
The Indoor Danger To Your Pet’s Respiratory Health
When it comes to pet health, most people only consider the outdoors factors. But as local veterinarian Dr. B points out, “Just as you can be allergic to your cat’s pet dander, your dog can also be allergic! In fact, rather than starting with the full allergy workup when we have a dog come in with allergies, we like to start but asking about other pets and other indoor allergy factors.” Additionally, common household chemical can greatly affect a pet’s health considering that the indoor space is so much smaller and enclosed. When it comes to cats, it is particularly challenging as Dr. B says they rarely show signs of distress- “While a cat will show respiratory distress if it’s unavoidable, they will otherwise remain silent even if they are severely ill. That’s why its so important for owners to bring their cats to our animal clinic for regular checks ups- but that’s a different article!”
What You Can Do About It
As we have discussed previously, using an indoor air filter is a great first step and a largely passive one at that. However, you will want to also make a big effort to keep your home clean. When it comes to dander, the degree of exposure is critical. Leaving large areas of your home undusted or untouched can allow harmful debris to accumulate. While you may be tempted to keep the windows closed in an effort to prevent pollution, you may be making things worse! Don’t forget to open the windows now and again and get some airflow through your home. Even if the air is not as clean you would want, the air filter is there to pick up the slack! Fresh air is still best!
A big thank you to Dr. B and Parkside in Aurora for their patience with my questions and their continued kindness to my friend Slapshot!