by Jacob Hammon, DVM
We have been getting many questions about the smoke and its effect on horses and livestock. In animals, the fine particulate in smoke works its way down to the very deepest part of the airways and can also irritate the eyes. Any preexisting conditions, like heaves, will be exacerbated by the smoke. The fine particulate decreases clearance of other common allergens like pollen and dust, further increasing the amount of irritation to the lungs. During times when smoke is visible in the air, exercise should be limited. Activities that increase the airflow in and out of lungs should be avoided. Horses should not be returned to full work for two weeks after atmospheric clearing. For most of our equine patients in Whatcom county, this means limited exercise until two weeks after the smoke has cleared. Horses that have had exposure to smoke within the active fire zones, like in Eastern Washington or in many parts of Oregon, should be rested for four to six weeks after atmospheric clearing to allow their respiratory tract to heal. Working and transporting livestock is also better postponed to a time when improved air quality has improved
The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a measurement that many people may now be familiar with. If the AQI is above 100, sensitive animals, like those with preexisting respiratory issues, should not be exercised. At an AQI of 150, close monitoring of animals in work is crucial to avoid complications, and above an AQI of 200, animals should not be exercised in a way that increases the volume of air moving into and out of the lungs.
Some actions you can take to help your farm cope with the smoke:
- Reducing the exposure to dust filled hay feeders and dusty pellets should be avoided. Soaking/wetting down hay at the manger will help reduce airborne contaminants.
- Keeping a full water trough clean and available all day will help keep the airways lubricated – dried out sinus membranes get irritated easily during the fire season.
- Make sure barns have opportunity to vent in early morning when damp air keeps the particulates down.
- Monitor your animals for breathing difficulties or coughing, the oldest and the smallest farm animals are important to check up on.
If you are concerned about your animal’s breathing or any eye issues, please feel free to call. Thanks to our colleagues at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine for sharing their knowledge on this subject.