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Canadian wildfires

Poor air quality can be dangerous for pets too. Pixabay photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

The Canadian Forest fires are still burning and there are recommendations to stay inside. The good news is that the smoke associated with forest fires do not contain harmful gases and compounds in high concentrations as compared to a housefire. This does not mean that the smoke is not harmful, just less harmful. How does smoke and poor air quality affect our pets? Let’s use this article to explore this.

Fine particulates associated with forest fires can damage the airway starting at the larynx (voicebox) all the way down to the lungs. These particles (especially if they contained chemicals like plastics, etc) can cause inflammation that will decrease clearance, cause tissue sloughing, promote small clot formation, and lead to edema. Edema is a diffuse accumulation of fluid within the tissue itself. This edema can narrow the diameter of trachea, or windpipe, as well as cause fluid to settle in the lung tissue itself. 

A secondary complication to this tissue damage and edema is the risk of secondary infections. Bacteria will take advantage of this temporary breakdown in the immune system and cause bacterial bronchitis and pneumonia.

 The first gas to consider in any fire is carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is in higher concentration in any fire. Carbon monoxide is such a dangerous compound because it competes with oxygen to bind with hemoglobin on red blood cells. As a matter of fact, hemoglobin has an affinity of 200-300 times more for carbon monoxide than oxygen. This means red blood cells can carry less oxygen and, when red blood cells can carry less oxygen, less oxygen gets to vital tissues. At the cellular level low oxygen levels leads to cell death and the release of all sorts of cytokines, or inflammatory chemicals. This leads to more cell death and entire organ systems shut down. This happens very, very quickly.

The treatment of choice with any airway injury secondary to smoke inhalation is to move our pets out of contact with the smoke. If breathing is labored then oxygen is either just as important, or a close second. Other treatments are what are called symptomatic, or based on symptoms if they present themselves. If there is coughing, cough suppressants are used. If there is wheezing, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics are used.

Once again, the good news is the poor air quality secondary to these fires presents less dangerous symptoms. However, try to keep your pets inside during these poor air quality days and bring your pet immediately to your veterinarian if any symptoms of respiratory distress occur.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. 

Photo by Terry Ballard from Wikimedia Commons
By Carolyn Sackstein

People across Long Island and New York City experienced the worst air quality in decades. On Wednesday, June 7, the local air quality was deemed the worst in the world. 

Canadian forest fires and the resulting atmospheric pollution have been the subject of social conversations over the past week. 

After the smoke cleared, TBR News Media took to the streets of downtown Port Jefferson, asking residents and visitors how they dealt with the smoky haze and whether they had any health issues resulting from their exposure.

— Photos by Carolyn Sackstein



Connie Linzer, Port Jefferson Station

Linzer “stayed in and used eye drops and nose spray,” adding that her eyes and nose were irritated by the pollution.







Sheila Garafola, with dog Pinto, Port Jefferson 

“I’d take him out for shorter walks than I used to. Sometimes, I will even use a mask. I have many masks from the pandemic. I sometimes feel a little scratchy. It doesn’t affect me that negatively. I am aware that I am breathing in a few extra morsels. The dog is OK. He is just happy to be out there,” Garafola shared.





Victoria D’Angelo, with daughter Aidlee Zachary, and Diego Sanchez, Pensacola, Florida

“We flew into LaGuardia last Wednesday when they were having issues,” D’Angelo said. “Our flight was delayed about 45 minutes because of it. When we flew in, it was a little smoky, but it cleared out on Thursday.” Sanchez nodded in agreement. 

Zachary said, “I was coughing because of it the next day.”




John Suozzi, Mattituck

“Had to deal with it by virtue of traveling to work. It meant paper masks when I was outside and exposed for any period of time. Recirculation of air in the cabin of my car.” Suozzi added that he coped with the conditions by “staying indoors during the peak times of difficulty … when you could just spoon it up!”





Jacqueline Poten, Port Jefferson

“We just stayed inside.” When asked if anyone in her family had health issues from exposure to the pollution, Poten replied, “No, not us, but I heard stories about people having asthma, having trouble breathing.”

Allison McComiskey, chair of the Environmental & Climate Sciences Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

The wildfires last week in Quebec, Canada, that brought an orange haze, smoke and record pollution to New York were not only disconcerting, but also were something of a reality check.

These raging fires occurred earlier than normal and, with a so-called cut-off low in Maine acting like a bumper in a pinball game driving the smoke down along the eastern seaboard, created hazardous air quality conditions from New York through Virginia.

“There’s a real concern about this intensity, the size of the fire, happening this early in the season,” said Allison McComiskey, chair of the Environmental & Climate Sciences Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory. “Typically, wildfire season starts later in the summer and extends through the fall. If we’re going to be having wildfires of this size this early in the season and it continues, [there will be] much more of an impact on people in terms of air quality, health, and well being.”

Dry conditions caused by climate change intensified the severity of these fires, making them more difficult to extinguish and increasing the amount of particulates that can cause lung and other health problems thrown into the air.

“Wildfire season is getting longer,” said Dr. Mahdieh Danesh Yazdi, an air pollution expert and environmental epidemiologist from Stony Brook’s University’s program in Public Health. These fires are “spread because we have drier conditions, the vegetation is dry, we have droughts. Those require long-term solutions of trying to tackle climate change on a fundamental level.”

The intensity of the smoke and the cancelation of events like the Yankees and Phillies games has raised awareness of the downwind dangers from wildfires.

“This is like our Hurricane Sandy from an air quality perspective,” said Brian Colle, division head in Atmospheric Sciences at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. 

Scientists urged a multi-level approach to tackle a wildfire problem that they believe will become increasingly dangerous for human health.

Forest management, including controlled burns, would reduce the available fuel for fires started by natural causes such as lightning.

“Forest management may be one approach,” said Dr. Danesh Yazdi. That alone, however, won’t solve the threat from wildfires amid higher temperatures and more frequent droughts, she added.

McComiskey added that researchers are “certain” that wildfires are going to increase in the future due to climate change and suggested that these events ratchet up the need for getting better predictive models about what these fires will mean for human health and the climate.

The heavy smoke that descended on New York, which some health officials described as creating conditions for those who spent hours outdoors that are akin to smoking several cigarettes, is “a wake up call that we need policies” to deal with the conditions that create these fires, McComiskey said.

The increase by a “fraction of a degree in temperature is really not the point,” McComiskey added. “We need to decarbonize our economy and we need to move toward addressing the bigger causes of climate change.”

A wildfire occurring earlier in the year with smoke filled with particulates could raise awareness and attention to the dangers from such events.

“Having this kind of thing happen in the East Coast through New York and [Washington] DC, as opposed to where we typically think of bad wildfire happening out west, in Washington State and the Rocky Mountains, might help in terms of the awareness and urgency to take some action,” McComiskey added.