Health Warning For Pets As Sydney Chokes On Smoke

Sydney is choking on unprecedented level of smoke, and while there has been a strong focus on the impact air quality is having on humans, there's a reminder to remember our pets.

Dr Anne Fawcett, lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science, said the smoke is affecting animals in the same ways as humans.

"The smoke is really an irritant to the eyes and airways in particular," she told 10 daily.

"It depends on their species and lifestyle, but it can have really variable impacts... animals that spend a lot of time outdoors probably are going to be more impacted than those that spend time indoors."

Dr Anne Fawcett with her dog, Yuuki. Image: Supplied

Fawcett, a Sydney-based locum vet, said it's not just dogs and cats that need looking after, but birds in aviaries and hutch-dwelling animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs as well.



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"Because of their enclosure, they can't really move away from it, so they are getting covered in smoke as well as breathing it in," she said.

Very young animals, older animals and those with respiratory and heart problems are particularly vulnerable with the smoky conditions.

Signs Your Pet Is In Distress

Fawcett said animals react in similar ways to humans when exposed to smoke.

Coughing, nasal discharge and increased heart rare are among the symptoms, she said.

"If that (respiratory rate) is going up without exertion, that would be a concern, especially if that animal has a pre-existing airway condition or heart disease," Fawcett said.

Animals react similar to humans when exposed to smoke. Image: Getty

For an animal with heart disease, for example, the expected respiratory rate is under 30 breaths a minute -- so anything higher is a concern.

Smoke can also cause eye irritation in animals, so owners should look out if their pets are rubbing at their eyes, not blinking, or have eye redness.

How You Can Help Your Pet

Fawcett advises to avoid over-exerting animals, which is a problem for those with dogs, which need to be exercised outside.

"They still need to be walked for their mental simulation, and it's often the time they socialise as well," she said.

"Because this smoke has been going on for weeks we can't just say 'don't walk them', but they should be walked at the least smoky time."



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The obvious solution is to keep animals indoors as much as possible, but if that is not possible, Fawcett advises to have "clean air breaks".

For animals in aviaries and hutches, it is important they are kept well ventilated so pets are not overcome by smoke.

Try and keep animals indoors as much as possible. Image: Getty

Falling ash and dirt in the air can contaminate water and food supplies, so it's important to cover and frequently change your pet's bowls so they aren't ingesting toxic particles.

The ash also clings to animals' fur, hair or feathers, so Fawcett advises animals should be washed more regularly than usual.

She said caring for pets in these smokey conditions is about being "sensible".

If your pet appears to be in distress or struggling with smoke, the advice is to take them to the vet to be checked out.

Image: Supplied

Fawcett also points out the current bushfire emergency is not an isolated event, and that it is likely to be an ongoing problem through summer and in to the future.

"We know with climate change the fire season is hotter, it's more severe, it's going for longer, and there is going to be an ongoing animal welfare issue," she said.

"We are going to have to rethink how we look after animals if the air quality remains like this."