Several people (not veterinarians!) have suggested that it isn’t safe to walk my 11-year-old Boston Terriers in Albuquerque this summer – or even keep them in New Mexico at all – because these brachycephalic dogs are so susceptible to breathing difficulties caused by ash and other particles in the air from the wildfires. They are healthy and haven’t had any respiratory problems other than occasional “reverse sneezing,” Our air quality seems pretty decent despite the fires and we’ve been lucky with the wind direction.
Nobody, regardless of species, should be inhaling smoke, first hand, second hand, legal or illegal but, sadly, air is never 100% pure. The level of risk for any creature is relative to the density of the smoke and the health status of the individual.
Brachycephalic is the impressive name for the skull structure of dogs with pushed-in faces like Boston terriers, pugs, and bulldogs. Their risk from smoke is actually no different than for dogs with normally shaped heads. While it is certainly true that brachycephalic dogs have more soft tissue in their pharynxes (throats) and smaller diameter tracheas (windpipes), causing restricted airflow, this is not where smoke causes harm. It’s when those irritating little particles find their way into the smaller airway branches of the lungs that secretions can accumulate leading to pneumonia, respiratory collapse and even death.
According to Dr. Phil Padrid, a veterinary pulmonologist with VCA Animal Hospitals, “Hot smoke from a current or recent fire can lead to a serious, life threatening condition. If your dog or cat has underlying problems with his heart or lungs (heart failure, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia) common sense tells us to avoid poor quality air, brachycephalic or not. I advise keeping an eye on the weather reports. When even healthy people are advised to stay indoors, our pets should do the same. The website airnow.gov is a good source of information on local air quality.”
Brachycephalic dogs do have unique summertime challenges. All dogs cool themselves by panting – rapidly moving air back and forth through their throats – but in dogs like yours the anatomy is seriously compromised. Hot cars, inadequate shade, and too much exertion in the direct sun can quickly spell heat stroke. Be extra careful with your cute Bostons.
Dr. Jeff Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). Questions on pet behavioral or physical concerns? For answers, Like my Facebook page at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.