Equine Air Quality Index
Get real-time air quality updates for your location to monitor pollution risks and safeguard your horse’s health.
|Equine Air Quality Guidelines|
0 – 50
|Air quality is satisfactory. Enjoy normal activities.|
51 – 100
|Air quality is acceptable. Some equines may need modified activities.|
|Sensitive Population Risk||
101 – 150
|High-risk equines and those experiencing symptoms may need to modify activities.|
151 – 200
|Air quality is unhealthy for all horses. Activities should be modified or limited to a walk.|
|Very High Risk||
201 – 300
|Air quality is very unhealthy. All activities should be postponed.|
|Air quality is hazardous. All activities should be postponed, and relocation should be considered.|
EAQI calculations and interpretations are based on available scientific data and established guidelines. However, air quality can be influenced by numerous factors, which may not all be represented in the available index, and data is subject to errors and incompleteness.
Mad Barn makes no warranties or guarantees, either expressed or implied, regarding the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information provided. By using the EAQI, you acknowledge and agree that you assume full responsibility for any actions taken or decisions made based on the EAQI results.
Air Quality Guidelines for Horses
Respiratory Considerations for Equines Exposed to Wildfire Smoke
Wildfires have become an increasingly prevalent and devastating occurrence in many parts of the world. The impact of these fires extends beyond the destruction of vegetation and homes. Whether you live in close proximity to active fires or are exposed to smoke originating thousands of miles away, poor air quality due to wildfire particulates can result in respiratory complications for both humans and horses.
Keep reading to learn how smoke contributes to respiratory illness in horses, signs to watch for, and how to use the Air Quality Index (AQI) to determine which activities are safe for your horse.
What is in Wildfire Smoke?
Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of gases, particles, and chemicals generated during the combustion of vegetation and other organic materials. Smoke comprises small particles, known as particulate matter (PM), which can vary in size and composition. 
The most harmful components of wildfire smoke include particles less than 1 micron in diameter and toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds. 
Dangers of Smoke Inhalation for Horses
Because smoke particulates are very small, they can penetrate deep into the respiratory system. These particulates and toxic gases lead to inflammation and damage to the small airways, causing disruption in gas exchange at the cellular level. 
Smoke affects horses in the same way as humans, resulting in eye irritation, respiratory issues, exacerbation of pre-existing respiratory conditions, and a reduction in lung function. Owners might notice nasal discharge, coughing, wheezing, and increased respiratory effort in their horses. 
Horses exposed to unhealthy air and smoke for prolonged periods may exhibit signs of stress, decreased appetite, lethargy, and decreased performance. In severe cases, acute smoke inhalation can result in organ damage and failure. 
The effects of wildfire smoke are not limited to the respiratory system. The toxic compounds found in smoke can enter the bloodstream through the lungs and cause systemic inflammation, compromising overall health. 
When to Call Your Veterinarian?
Horses with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as heaves, have a higher risk of respiratory distress when air quality is unhealthy. However, all horses are at risk of respiratory compromise if smoky conditions are severe enough.
In horses, a typical respiratory rate ranges from 12 to 24 breaths per minute, and breathing should not appear to be strained or labored. If your horse has an increased respiratory rate and/or increased respiratory effort (i.e. nostril flaring or abdominal effort), you should contact your veterinarian. 
Air Quality Index
The Air Quality Index (AQI) was created by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to measure and communicate air quality conditions on a scale from 0-500. Higher values on the scale indicate poorer air quality and increased health risks. 
The AQI takes into account various pollutants such as ground-level ozone, particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) utilizes the Air Quality Index (AQI) to assess exercise and athletic event guidelines for human athletes. AQI guidelines are also reasonable to apply when determining recommendations for equine athletes. 
The NCAA recommends that schools remove sensitive athletes from outdoor activities when the AQI exceeds 100. Additionally, it recommends monitoring all athletes during outdoor activities when the AQI surpasses 150, and removing all athletes from outdoor activities when the AQI exceeds 200. 
Equine Air Quality Guidelines
0 – 50 (Good): Air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little to no risk. All activities are appropriate for healthy horses.
51 – 100 (Moderate): Health concerns rise for horses who are unusually sensitive to air pollution. Horses with acute heaves, or recovering from respiratory illness should be limited to walks.
101 – 150 (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups): When smoke is visible, and the AQI is over 100, outdoor physical activity should be minimized to help keep particles out of the deepest part of the lungs. Limit environmental dust if prolonged exposure is expected (wetting hay, supportive supplements, etc.). Horses with heart and lung diseases are at increased risk.
151 – 200 (Unhealthy): This AQI range indicates unhealthy air for all horses. Activity should be limited to a slow walk. Equine events should be cancelled if the AQI is over 150. If an AQI over 150 is expected for several days, halt activity altogether and remain indoors.
201 – 300 (Very Unhealthy): This AQI range indicates very unhealthy air for all horses. Any activity should be halted, and horses kept inside. If the AQI is above 200 and is projected for an extended length of time, consider using a nebulizer device.
301 – 500 (Hazardous): This AQI range indicates hazardous air for all horses. Any activity should be halted, and horses kept inside. If prolonged exposure to an AQI above 400 is expected, consider relocating yourself and your animals until air quality improves.
In regions with prolonged unhealthy AQI (150-500), horses should not return to work for a minimum of two weeks following atmosphere clearance of smoke to allow the respiratory tract time to recover. In cases of severe smoke-induced airway disease, an even longer recovery time is warranted.
Preventative Measures and Management Strategies
Minimizing exposure to wildfire smoke is crucial for your horse’s health and well-being. Here are some preventative measures and management strategies to keep your horse safe when dealing with poor air quality and smoke exposure: 
- Relocation: If wildfires are imminent or if smoke levels are hazardous, consider temporarily relocating horses to an area with cleaner air, such as an indoor arena or a well-ventilated barn.
- Limit Outdoor Activities: Reduce strenuous exercise and outdoor activities during periods of poor air quality. If possible, horses should be kept in a well-ventilated environment with minimal exposure to the smoke-filled atmosphere.
- Adequate Ventilation: Ensure proper ventilation in stables and barns to minimize the accumulation of smoke particles. Portable air purifiers or fans with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can be employed to improve air quality.
- Soaking Hay: Soaking your horse’s forage before feeding can help reduce airborne particles and minimize the inhalation of irritants.
- Provide Adequate Water: Encourage hydration by providing your horse with fresh, clean water. Drinking plenty of water helps keep the airways moist and aids in clearing inhaled particulate matter from the lungs.
- Veterinary Care: Regular veterinary check-ups and consultations are essential, especially for horses with pre-existing respiratory conditions. Your veterinarian can provide specific guidance and medications to manage any respiratory issues, such as equine asthma.
The Bottom Line
When the AQI surpasses 150, you should limit smoke exposure and postpone exercise for the health of both you and your horse
Checking the Air Quality Index (AQI) online for your specific area can help you decide when it is safe for you and your horse to return to activities outside. If you have concerns about your horse’s respiratory health during these times, do not hesitate to reach out to your veterinarian!
- Dr. Kent Pinkerton. Guidelines for Horse Exposed to Wildfire Smoke. UC Davis. 2017.
- Sport Science Institute. Air Quality. NCAA. 2018.
- Christine Barakat with Melinda Freckleton, DVM. What you need to know about the air quality index. Equus Magazine. 2018.
- Air Quality Index for Horses. Alta Equine Sports Medicine. 2020.