Beasts can’t breathe, either

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LOREN BENOIT/PressDeer meander through Cherry Hill Park Wednesday afternoon in Coeur d'Alene.

Air quality remains "very unhealthy"

The air quality in the Coeur d'Alene area remained "very unhealthy" Wednesday. An Air Quality Index value of 255 was recorded at 3 p.m. by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality's monitoring station on Lancaster Road in Hayden. An Air Quality Alert, issued by several agencies including the DEQ in Coeur d'Alene, is in effect until Friday: "Air quality degraded across North Idaho with most sensors currently reading very unhealthy to hazardous conditions. Northeast to east winds brought thick smoke in from Montana and BC wildfires. The easterly flow pattern will remain in place through Thursday night then a switch back to westerly winds is expected Friday," said the alert, released by the National Weather Service. "Children, the elderly, and individuals with respiratory illnesses are most at risk of serious health effects. If you experience respiratory distress, you should speak with your physician." For current air quality levels in Idaho, visit airquality.deq.idaho.gov or airnow.gov.

We know humans are supposed to be staying inside during this time of very unhealthy air quality.

But what about our pets and wildlife?

"Any animal with pre-existing heart problems, lung problems or asthma are at risk just like people," Dr. Elisa Parker said Wednesday. "We do have quite a few cats with asthma, and dogs, too."

Parker, a veterinarian and owner of Prairie Animal Hospital, said it’s best to keep animals inside as much as possible until the dangerous smoke levels clear the air.

"Keep them indoors, preferably if you have some kind of air purifier or air filtration," she said. "Young, healthy animals would not be any more susceptible than us."

Parker said her clinic has not seen many smoke-related cases, but she has heard reports of dogs having anxiety because of the degraded air quality.

"They're worried, or don't quite know what to do," she said.

As for outdoor porch kitties, horses and other animals that won't easily come inside, Parker said it’s best to "make sure they have cool and clean water and food and monitor them for a problem."

"Limit their outside activity and watch for respiratory signs, labored breathing," she said. "I know there are a lot of dogs that live their whole lives outside, too. They're going to have to survive the best outside that they can."

Animals may exhibit the same symptoms as people: coughing, red eyes, lung pain, sneezing.

"You want to take the same precautions as you would for yourself," Parker said.

Woodland creatures such as deer also experience problems when smoke rolls in.

"I'm sure there's going to be short-term implications," said Idaho Department of Fish and game wildlife biologist Laura Wolf. "Just like humans, I would expect that as the smoke lifts they'll begin to recover."

Wolf said Fish and Game doesn't expect any widespread, long-term issues for the wildlife arising from the wildfire smoke, but the animals may find spots that are cooler and less smoky during the day.

She said things will actually be pretty good for big game and many birds once the fires are gone because of the nutritious forage that will grow where the fires have burned.

"Fire can open it back up to historical conditions to what the forest once looked like," she said. "In the longer term, having wildfires is good for wildlife habitat."

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