Horses and Smoke
Northern winds have pushed wildfire smoke from Canada down into North Dakota, Minnesota, and eastern South Dakota, where we are located. Several people have asked about how smoke affects horses and any precautions to take. Here's what we've found.
Affect on Horses
Smoke can cause various reactions in horses, from burning eyes, running noses, coughs, and lung irritation. Horses with underlying conditions like heaves, asthma, and other heart or lung conditions can be aggravated as well. The first step is to know your horse and watch your horse. If you see anything that indicates your horse may be irritated by the smoke or having breathing troubles, it's time to take the next step.
So what are you looking for? In general, you should contact your veterinarian if you notice flared nostrils and rapid breathing (more than 30 breaths per second), heavy abdominal breathing, coughing or a runny nose.
For the most part, the smoke in our area will be temporary and is not as extreme as if the fires were raging next door. But there are things you can do to help protect your horse and yourself.
- Take a break. Exercise, riding, training, hard work should be avoided if at all possible to keep respiration rates normal. Increasing airflow to the lungs increases the amount of irritants that can get into the lungs, causing problems.
- A fly mask may help with eye irritation.
- Monitor your horses and ensure they have water. Avoid dust if possible - with the same areas getting the smoke also affected by drought that makes it doubly difficult, but do your best.
- If you can move your horses to an area that has less visible smoke, perhaps protected by trees or windbreaks, make every effort to do so. Obviously smoke is air borne so it's hard to avoid completely. Humans have filters on our air systems that should block a bunch (though change the filters often) but most horse barns do not.
- If your horse has an underlying condition such as heaves, talk to your veterinarian if you feel that increasing their meds or starting a round of meds would help. If your horse isn't showing increased symptoms it's probably not likely, but you should be prepared to use them if necessary. Assume your veterinarian is getting a lot of calls and try to call during business hours unless it's a true emergency. Discussing in advance and having an action plan you can implement without an emergency call will help not only your stress level but your vet's as well!
For the most part, just using common sense, avoiding exercise, and monitoring your horse should be enough, and thankfully the smoke will dissipate soon. If you'd like more info, we found UC Davis to be a great resource, feel free to check it out!