Here in California, wildfires are all too commonplace. It’s no exaggeration to say our state has experienced dozens of significant fire events over the last few decades, sometimes simultaneously.
When wildfires hit, pets are often some of the most vulnerable. In some particularly dire circumstances, owners have been forced to choose between their own safety and that of their beloved animals. To avoid situations like these, always heed the most up-to-date warnings in your local area, and when threatened, evacuate before it becomes physically necessary.
If a Wildfire is Burning Nearby…
Be sure to keep an identifying collar on your pet at all times; this will be useful for leashing him in a hurry and/or for returning him to you should you be separated.
Smoke is, by far and away, the biggest killer of animals in a fire event. When pets sense fire, they try to hide from it; this can trap them in hard-to-find places where they eventually perish from smoke inhalation. If you live in an area with active fires, it’s a good idea to keep your pet in the room with you at night. Not only will they alert you of any pressing threats, this also makes it easier to grab your animal and go should you need to get out of the house in a hurry. If you have a pet that’s prone to running or hiding, you may want to have them sleep in a carrier if they’ll tolerate it. It’s also a good idea to pack two bags – one for you and one for your pet – that contain all your animal’s most important items should you need to flee. Don’t forget medications, a few days’ worth of food, and some fresh water.
In your car, keep an extra “go-bag” for everyone in the family, including your pet. Also keep a well-stocked first aid kit complete with smoke inhibiting masks and burn gauze. If you should need to leave quickly in the middle of the night like our neighbors in northern California were recently were forced to do, these could be indispensable. Always be sure your car has plenty of gas.
If you have an outdoor dog or cat, bring them in if wildfires are burning anywhere in the vicinity. Fires can shift and change in an instant, and it’s easy for animals to get confused when their sense of smell is hindered. Poor air quality can also affect your pet’s overall health.
Immediately After Evacuating a Wildfire…
Monitor your pet’s health closely to ensure he isn’t behaving oddly…this could be a sign of serious smoke inhalation. If you suspect he may have come in contact with fire or fire-related materials, carefully inspect his paw pads, skin, and fur to check for burns or blisters. Be sure your pet drinks plenty of water, and do your best to keep him calm. Call a local veterinarian and have your animal seen as soon as it is possible.
If you’ve escaped from a fire, your pet is likely disoriented. Be sure his collar contains your contact information and keep him on a leash at all times, even when he’s in your care.
If You Live Near Where a Wildfire is Burning…
It’s smart to be concerned about air quality and your pets. Smoke from fires burning up to 100 miles away can still carry CO2, fine particulates, and other toxic chemicals to your location. Use AirNow, the government’s air quality website to check the status in your immediate area (conditions can change in just minutes!) and keep your pet indoors as much as possible. Breathing and heavy exertion can become labored when air quality is poor. If you suspect your pet is having trouble breathing, contact your vet about a nebulizer.