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caption: Mishka the asthmatic otter is doing fine despite the wildfire smoke, the Seattle Aquarium tweeted last week.
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Mishka the asthmatic otter is doing fine despite the wildfire smoke, the Seattle Aquarium tweeted last week.

This smoke is not for the birds — but Mishka the asthmatic otter is doing fine

Call it "canary in the smoke-choked city."

While people are struggling with the unhealthy air quality in Seattle, the animals are having similar issues.

Veterinarian Tracy Bennett, an avian specialist at Bird & Exotic Veterinary Clinic of Seattle, said she is very worried about the smoke's effect on birds, which have a more sophisticated respiratory system than mammals.

She said there has been an uptick in people bringing in their pet birds to her clinic with respiratory issues. Symptoms to look for: wheezing, open mouth breathing, and a tail bob when exhaling.

Like people, the advice is to keep birds inside or in their coop until the air clears up.

Veterinarian Megan Davis of Seattle Veterinary Specialists said her office hasn't noticed more pets coming into their emergency department, but they have received more calls from concerned owners.

The advice she gives is similar to what officials tell humans: “As we like to say, mammals are mammals. If a person could have a problem, very likely their animal would have a problem,” Davis said.

She recommended keeping outdoor exercise to a minimum while the smoke is bad and going out in cooler parts of the day or when there is less smoke. Monitor pets for increased coughing or difficulty breathing.

Keepers at Woodland Park Zoo are also monitoring the animals. Farrah Paul, a spokesperson, said by email that the keepers are watching for subtle changes in animal activities, behavior or appetite – especially in their geriatric residents.

“While the smoke can be hazardous to humans, animals are typically much more flexible and resilient to changes in air quality or weather patterns,” Paul wrote. “We are fortunate that there are no issues so far and will continue to be diligent and treat each animal’s needs as they arise.”

Over at the Seattle Aquarium, Mishka the asthmatic otter is doing fine, according to Traci Belting, curator of birds and mammals.

"Our animal care staff and veterinarian continue to monitor her respiratory health and thankfully she has not a respiratory event during these smoke filled days," Belting said in an email to KUOW. 

Cats and horses can also get asthma.

In the wild, our native animals are pretty well adapted to fire season, according to Madonna Luers, public information officer for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. They stay near water and don’t move around as much to limit the impacts of smoke.

"They just hunker down, they're smarter than us, I have seen a few people as we've been talking, jogging by. Animals wouldn't be out in this, they'd be tucked in somewhere waiting for thing to clear up,” Luers said.

But if they need to flee fires, they could be seen in lower elevations or places not in their normal habitat. That can mean more interactions with deer and landowners – or cougars who follow the deer.

Paige Browning contributed to this report.