Horse health in the smoke

Most importantly, avoid strenuous exercise in smoky conditions

“The best advice is don’t ride,” said Jen Gold, a WSU equine veterinarian. Dr. Gold said due to smoke inhalation, horses should not exercise in smoky conditions. “Physical activity, especially any strenuous exercise could be detrimental to the health of your horse,” Dr. Gold said.

Smoke contains a myriad of chemicals and acidic gases that can be harmful to animals of all sizes, as well as humans. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, those harmful air pollutants include carbon monoxide, benzene, and formaldehyde, to name a few. In addition, fine particulates in smoke can trigger asthma attacks, respiratory illness and infections in animals. The Air Quality Index established by the EPA to track the number of these particulates in the air can be helpful in protecting your horse. While the air quality rating is mostly geared for human health, Dr. Gold said when particulate levels exceed 150 it is unsafe for horses to exert themselves.

Dr. Gold said it is important for owners to watch for nasal discharge, coughing, sneezing, or difficulty breathing in your animals. In smoky conditions, these could be signs of inflammation or a respiratory infection, in which case it would be best to catch it early and consult a veterinarian.

Horse and large animal owners should also keep food and water free of the toxic particles in the air. Dr. Gold said changing water every few hours and before water appears unclear is priority. “If a horse drinks tainted water, they are likely not going to want to drink that water again, which is problematic in these conditions,” Dr. Gold said. “The same goes for their food.” By drinking water, horses keep their airways moist and free of the smoke’s particulates. Rinsing hay or other feed with water lightly will help clear the food of the smoke’s particles. Dr. Gold recommends changing water at the same time as water because horses tend to drink most within about two hours of eating.

“When you find yourself in these conditions just think about how you stay comfortable and try to do the same for your horse,” she said.