Bushfire smoke and respiratory health

With another Australian Summer fast approaching as important as it is to have an active bush fire plan with your property and horses, you should also be aware of the risks involved with smoke and your horses respiratory systems in the unfortunate event you are faced with a bush fire.    


As with people, smoke can cause serious health problems for horses. Smoke is a bad combination of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, soot, hydrocarbons and organic matter. Smoke particles can irritate horses eyes and respiratory tracts and affect their breathing. When smoke is visible, the air quality reduces so you should limit their activity. If the smoke bothers your eyes it is best to assume it is bothering your horses eyes too. Limit your horses smoke exposure when possible, rest them from exercise and monitor your horse for signs of increased respiratory rate or a cough are all important things you can do to help in the situation of a bush fire or affecting smoke.

If you have a horse who is having difficulty breathing contact your veterinarian straight away to make sure the horse has not developed a reactive airway disease, bacterial infection or bronchitis or pneumonia. Just like humans, horses can suffer from airway constriction, in cases of heavy smoke inhalation it can take between 4-6 weeks for the damage smoke has on your horse to heal. During this time your horse should not be heavily exercised. Exercising your horse too soon could aggravate the condition, slow down the healing process and affect your horse’s performance for weeks or even months after. Your veterinarian may prescribe respiratory medications and treatments if the horse has further smoke related problems such as a persistent cough, nasal discharge, increased heart rate and respiratory rate or a fever. These will hydrate the airways and reduce the inflammation.                                               

Most importantly, stay safe and have your bush fire action plan well practiced before bush fire season is upon us. If your horse is affected by smoke, please work closely with your veterinarian to ensure the best care for your horse and the best outcome possible.