As he happily trotted around the dog-friendly area of Hawthorne Park Wednesday afternoon, Porter, a 9-month-old German shepherd, stopped after each lap to take a long drink of water.
“He loves the water each time we come to it on our walk,” said owner Anna Lang. “And I’m glad. It’s important he stays hydrated in this smoke.”
As wildfires raging throughout the region continue producing unhealthy and even hazardous smoky air, residents have been urged to take caution by wearing smoke-protective masks, staying hydrated and limiting outdoor activities.
But what about our furry friends?
“Basically, the smoke affects our pets the same way it affects us,” said Dr. Diana Schropp, a veterinarian at the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center. “It’s a chronic, irritating thing that requires attention.”
Schropp said that, just as with humans, very young or very old animals are more susceptible to the negative effects of smoke, as are pets with certain medical conditions, such as lung or heart problems.
“The rule of thumb is to think about how you’d treat a small child or elderly person who maybe can’t make those decisions themselves, and give that same amount of care to pets,” she said. “They can be affected more suddenly and severely.”
Dog owner Julie Alves spent Thursday morning at Hawthorne Park with her 5-year-old, flat-coated retriever mix, Breezy. Alves said the two join a group of “regulars” at the park most mornings so Breezy can get some exercise, but they are enjoying less time outside than usual due to the smoke.
“She needs a place to run because she doesn’t have a yard right now, so we come down here a couple times a day,” Alves said.
Schropp said that if animals spend significant time in the smoke, owners may notice difficult, labored breathing, unusual open-mouth breathing — while panting is normal for dogs, it isn’t for cats — or a cough that wasn’t there before.
The American Veterinary Medical Foundation says symptoms of smoke irritation in animals include disorientation or stumbling, reduced appetite or thirst, fatigue and nasal discharge.
So, Schropp said, the best way to care for pets is to limit their time outside.
“We need to remember that pets will try to participate in any activity that they usually do, or that we ask them to do, whether taking a casual outdoor walk, jogging with their owner or running with a bicycle, but we need to be careful to not ask them to do any of these things out in the smoke,” she said. “Limit outdoor time, and really try to keep pets mainly indoors.”
Unfortunately, this can be a challenge for high-energy pets that are used to the exercise, such as Breezy and Porter.
“He’s young, loves to be outside and needs the exercise, but it’s been bad out here, so we’re making sure not to take him out any more than he needs to be, but it’s a bummer,” Lang said. “We’re not playing as hard, and we’re being much more mellow.”
Readers on Facebook Wednesday shared similar methods of caring for their pets in the smoke, such as taking shorter walks, staying indoors with the air-conditioning on and enjoying indoor games, toys and “puppy ice pops.”
Lang said she’s taking Porter to the park only when it’s “coolest, most tolerable outside and seems the least smoky.” She said she stopped taking him on hikes and is taking frequent trips to the coast.
Some residents have discussed seeking indoor options to provide dogs daily exercise, but even many “doggy day care” facilities have little inside room, focusing instead on an expansive area to play outdoors, Schropp said.
Other options for smoke relief and indoor exercise exist for humans, but leave animals behind. The Rogue Valley Mall is open for walkers at around 6 a.m., but only service animals are allowed. Likewise, Southern Oregon University has opened a variety of facilities and the student recreation center to the community — but again, only service animals are permitted.
Schropp said the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center has not seen many cases of pets coming in needing treatment due to the poor air quality. She estimated there have been half a dozen such cases.
If your pet is showing symptoms regarding the poor air quality, she said to take it seriously.
“If you are concerned, have your vet take a look,” Schropp said. “If symptoms are mild, pets should recover quickly indoors and with water, but if they don’t, check with a vet.”
Alves said “it has been a little bit challenging” going outside because Breezy’s eyes have been getting bothered by the smoke, but she said been giving Breezy eyedrops to help alleviate the irritation.
Lang said she’s recently noticed infrequent redness and dryness in Porter’s eyes, so she’s been paying close attention to her well-being during their time outdoors.
“Overall, we recommend giving the same level of care and attention to your pets that you do to the rest of your family,” Schropp said. “Smoke is really hazardous for our animals, so it’s important to change your routine to recognize that.”
Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Morgan Theophil at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4485. Follow her on Twitter @morgan_theophil.