A few ways to protect your livestock and cottage pets from wildfire smoke

Photo by Tom Reichner/Shutterstock

Lately, wildfires have been tearing through rural land and cottage country across Canada. It’s possessing unique challenges for livestock owners immediately near fires and in surrounding areas exposed to smoke.

Huge plumes of smoke, some even visible from space, are barreling through the country side reducing air quality. This has been especially impactful on local farmers and horse stables, whose livelihood is directly tied to the wellness of their livestock.

According to the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, smoke can fill a large barn in a matter of 3 to 4 minutes. Respiratory damage or death can occur in areas with high smoke concentration in a matter of minutes. Even in area’s with low smoke concentration can cause respiratory damage in a matter of hours.

In an article from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, an area with intimate experience with wildfires, the authors have advice on how to keep your animals safe:

Limit exercise when smoke is visible

Don’t force livestock to perform activities or increase exercise that increase the airflow in and out of the lungs. This can trigger bronchoconstriction (narrowing of the small airways in the lungs).

Provide plenty of fresh water located near feeding areas

The consumption of easily accessible water keeps the airways moist and facilitates clearance of inhaled particulate matter.  Dry airways make particulate matter remain in the lung and air passages.

Limit dust exposure by feeding low or dust-free feeds and sprinkling or misting the livestock holding area

This reduces the particles in dust such as mold, fungi, pollens and bacteria that may have difficulty being cleared from the lung.

If livestock is coughing or having difficulty breathing, contact a livestock veterinarian

A veterinarian can help determine the difference between a reactive airway from smoke and dust versus a bacterial infection and bronchitis or pneumonia. If livestock has experienced coughing over a long period of time, there is a greater risk of secondary problems such as bacterial pneumonia.

If you have no other choice but to begin relocating your animals, keep in mind that they are sensitive creatures and are easily agitated by disasters and relocations. A document released by BC government advises that “to enhance the animal’s comfort level, find another place with similar characteristics. Move the livestock there until you can remedy the damage. A calm and quiet shelter serves both physical and emotional needs for livestock.”

A lot of this information is directly geared for caring for livestock, but is also applicable for any cottage pet you may have with you.  It is important to keep a keen eye on your animals for the first signs of respiratory distress. Be prepared to provide them with aid or get them to a vet if possible.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has provided a post-fire checklist to help organize livestock owners who have experienced large fires on their properties which you can find here.

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