As animal lovers the world over continue to watch and worry over the massive brush fires in Australia, experts say it's important to consider the impact not just of the flames, but of smoke. Smoke from wildfires takes its toll on the respiratory systems of everything in its path, including horses. Drs. Stephanie Laura Bond, Laura Osborne and Renaud Leguillette, with the University of Calgary, offer insight on how fires affect companion animals and what can be done to ease its effects.
When smoke is inhaled, a combination of toxic gasses and particles enter the nose, throat and lungs. Smoke inhalation can damage and irritate the respiratory tract; very small particles can be inhaled and damage lower airways.
A horse can move more than 2,000 liters of air through its lungs when exercising. When exposed to prolonged smoke like that from wildfires, the horse's physical capabilities decrease, and many cough even during rest. Researchers who studied polo ponies during the Calgary wildfires have found that it takes about 2.5 weeks of exposure to “clean” air for the horses to show increased stamina and air intake.
Australia uses an Air Quality Index of 0 to 500, with 500 being the most hazardous air pollution. In December of 2019, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported several areas where the AQI surpassed 500.
The best recommendation to keep animals safe from smoke inhalation is for them to remain indoors when the AQI is over 150 for multiple days in a row. While horses cannot come inside, keeping them in a stable will at least help.
Outdoor physical activity should be minimized when smoke is visible and the AQI is over 100. This will help keep particles out of the deepest part of the lungs. Equine events should be cancelled if the AQI is over 150.
Read more at HorseTalk.
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