The Effects of Air Pollution on Pets

Research has confirmed the dangers of air pollution for humans: People who are exposed to excessive air pollution have an increased risk of developing respiratory issues such as wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Cardiovascular disease is another potential health issue connected to exposure to air pollution. Those with pre-existing cardiovascular disease as well as elderly people and young children may even be at risk for premature death from pollution exposure. But people aren’t the only ones who can suffer ill effects from exposure to air pollution: Many pet owners have concerns about the effects of air pollution on their animals, and scientists are beginning to study the potential risks for pets that have exposure to air pollution.

Origin of Air Pollution

Air pollution originates from many different sources. Fumes from vehicle traffic as well as from power plants, construction, the burning of coal and gasoline, and livestock contribute to pollution. Homes can be filled with pollution from sources such as wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, tobacco smoke, and cooking. Pets living in urban areas have a higher exposure to and risk from smog and exhaust pollutants, while animals living in rural areas may be exposed to chemicals due to the spraying of herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides.

Scientific Studies

Studies have shown that pets living in homes with cigarette-smokers have increased health risks, perhaps even greater than those for humans living in the same homes. This is because pets spent more time near the floor, where smoke concentrations are higher. Cats exposed to secondhand smoke have been shown to have reduced lung function when compared to felines living in smoke-free homes, according to scientific research. Scientists are also exploring links between common indoor activities such as smoking and the use of cleaning products and certain cancers in dogs.

Pets are also at risk from outdoor air pollution. In a recent study of dogs in Mexico City, scientists examined the brains of local dogs to compare them with the brains of dogs in cities with less pollution. The brains of dogs living in Mexico City showed inflammation, amyloid plaques, and neurofibrillary tangles, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

Another study conducted by the University of Massachusetts and the Tufts University Cummings School of Medicine involved 700 dog owners and their use of pesticides. The results showed that about a third of the dogs had canine malignant lymphoma, a type of cancer. The study also showed that the dogs had a 70 percent higher chance of developing lymphoma if the owners used pesticides in their yards.

Cats have also been found to be more likely to develop asthma when exposed to indoor or outdoor pollutants. Felines living in homes where a wood-burning fireplace is in use or smoking occurs are often found to have a marked decrease in lung function.

Taking Steps to Reduce Pets’ Exposure to Air Pollution

Because many pets spend the majority of their time indoors or in their yard, it’s important for owners to take steps to minimize exposure to air pollution both inside and out.

  • Change air filters often.
  • Vacuum frequently to remove hair and other pollutants.
  • Avoid smoking indoors.
  • Choose chemical-free cleaning products when possible.
  • Reduce carbon emissions when possible by carpooling, taking a bus, or biking.
  • Choose areas for outdoor exercise of pets where the air is cleaner (away from highways).
  • Use chemical-free products in the yard whenever possible.

Essential Oils and Pets

Essential oils have become popular in homes, but they can be dangerous for pets. Using diffusers and warmers to release essential oils into the air can increase pets’ exposure to them, which can cause respiratory issues; birds can be especially sensitive to these oils. The risks of poisoning for pets can also come from exposure to essential oils on their skin and from ingesting them. Tea tree oil can be particularly dangerous, especially for cats and other small animals. A toxin present in tea tree oil is metabolized by the liver, and cats have lower levels of the necessary metabolic enzyme than dogs have. In fact, cats can get sick if they even come into contact with a dog that’s been groomed with tea tree oil; don’t use essential oils on a dog if you also have a cat in the home. Signs of poisoning include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, tremors, drooling, wobbliness, depression, and other strange behaviors. The smaller and younger the animal, the higher the risk of essential oil poisoning.

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