Canadian Fires Impact Air Quality in United States

The wildfires in Canada are now impacting the air quality far into the United States. Here’s what you need to know about the air quality and what it means for your horses.

The wildfires in Canada began in March 2023 leading to the most destructive wildfire season Canada has ever seen. Fires are blazing from coast to coast, sending large amounts of smoke particles and bands of soot into the atmosphere. Recently, this air pollution has made its way into the United States, producing hazy skies and air quality alerts across the country.

The air quality index (AQI) takes into effect particulate matter and heat and humidity. It goes on a scale from 0 – 500, and the higher the value, the greater the health concern.

But what does this mean for horse owners?

Here’s the scale and what it means for horse owners:

AQI 0 – 50 (Green): Air quality is satisfactory. Air pollution poses little to no risk. All horse-related activities are appropriate.

AQI 51 – 100 (Yellow): Air is of moderate quality. Health concerns are higher for horses with a history of respiratory issues. Horses with heaves or respiratory issues should only be worked at the walk.

AQI 101 – 150 (Orange): The air quality is unhealthy for horses with heaves or other respiratory issues even if they are not currently having a flair up. Horses with respiratory issues should have limited activity. Healthy horses should have modified and shortened work outs to reduce the risk of particles making their way into the deepest part of the lungs.

AQI 151 – 200 (Red): Air quality in this range is unhealthy for any horse. Activity for all horses should be limited to a walk. Equine events should be canceled if AQI is over 150. If AQI is over 150 for several days, activity should be discontinued.

AQI 201-300 (Light Purple): In this range, air quality is extremely unhealthy for all horses. Horses should be kept inside and all activities should be canceled. If the AQI is going to be above 200 for several days, consider using a nebulizer.

AQI 301 – 500 (Dark Purple): This air quality is hazardous for horses. Horses should not be performing any activities and should be kept inside. If air quality will be in this range for a prolonged period of time, consider relocating until air quality improves.

Chart by Equine Sports Medicine

Understanding the air quality index is important for knowing whether or not to work your horses — or thinking about how hard to work them. This is true not only while the United States is seeing the effects of the wildfires from Canada, but also during other times when the air quality is compromised due to other factors, such as smog or just plain heat and humidity.