How Does Air Pollution Affect Animals: The Irreparable Damage to Wildlife

Air pollution doesn’t just affect humans—animals also experience its damaging effects. But, how does air pollution affect animals? Respiratory issues, cancer, and changes in migration patterns are only some of the consequences.

As the global population continues to grow, it’s more important than ever to be aware of the effects of air pollution on humans and animals. Let’s dig in.

Learn in This Article

  • Natural Causes of Air Pollution
  • Man-Made Causes of Air Pollution
  • How Does Air Pollution Affect Animals?
  • Effects of Air Pollution on Animals
  • What Can You Do to Help?
  • Key Takeaways

Natural Causes of Air Pollution

Contrary to popular belief, air pollution isn’t always caused by human activity. Some natural disasters can contribute to releasing pollutants into the air.


Wildfires contribute to air pollution and damage the environment. The most impacted US states are California, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, and Montana. 

Smoke from wildfires can travel thousands of miles, causing poor air quality even in the regions that aren’t directly affected. 

Volcano Eruptions

When a volcano erupts, it sends huge ash plumes, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide into the air. This can cause respiratory problems in all living things, including animals. Not to mention, volcano eruptions can lead to vegetation, surface water, and groundwater contamination.

Decay of Rocks and Soil

As rocks and soil enter the decaying state, they release pollutants into the air. These pollutants can include dust, chemicals, and other harmful particles. In this case, pollution harms animals living in caves or other underground habitats, as they constantly breathe in polluted air.

Man-Made Causes of Air Pollution

Although natural causes can highly damage the environment and pollute the air, the damage caused by human activities is far more dangerous.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a gas produced when fossil fuels have either too little or too much oxygen. Especially in crowded cities, carbon monoxide can lead to smog, the greenhouse effect, and acid rain.

Carbon Dioxide

While carbon dioxide isn’t precisely a pollutant, a high concentration of this gas leads to climate change and global warming.

Sulfur Dioxide

Sulfur dioxide is a gas that is produced when coal and oil are burned. Besides causing respiratory problems in animals, sulfur dioxide is the primary contributor to acid rain.


Also known as trioxygen, ozone is a gas produced when other pollutants react in the presence of sunlight. Unfortunately, this gas produces high levels of smog and acidification that affect the climate.


Simply put, lead is a heavy metal found in car exhaust and some industrial emissions. Lead is among the types of pollutants that are extremely toxic to the environment.

Nitrogen Oxides

Nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide both come from vehicle engines. So, it’s safe to say these gasses are indirect greenhouse gasses.

How Does Air Pollution Affect Animals?

Altered Behavior

Air pollution can cause animals to change their behavior in a variety of ways. For example, it can make birds sing less or force bees to abandon their hives. Additionally, air pollution can alter the migration patterns of some animals.

Loss of Biodiversity

Due to the damaging effects of air pollution, biodiversity is at high risk. Many plants and animals have recently been wiped off. Not to mention, animals affected by pollution are less likely to procreate. As far as plants go, pollution can stunt their growth. 

Higher Mortality Risk

Animals exposed to air pollution have a higher mortality rate. This is because air pollution can cause various health problems, including respiratory problems, heart problems, and cancer. Additionally, this type of pollution can weaken the immune system, making animals more susceptible to diseases.

Overpopulation of Certain Species

In some cases, air pollution can actually lead to an increase in the population of certain species. Some animals can tolerate higher levels of pollution than others.

Effects of Air Pollution on Animals


Although they spend their time indoors with humans, pets can still be susceptible to air pollution. According to some studies, pets that live in the city are more exposed to pollutants than those who live in rural areas.


Because cattle spend the majority of their time outdoors, they often end up consuming contaminated water and plants. Additionally, cattle produce methane gas, which highly contributes to climate change.


Due to their sensitive respiratory system, birds are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. Not to mention, many birds build their nests in areas polluted with industrial emissions.

Wild Animals

Wildlife is especially affected by pollution because all animals interact with their environment. If the environment is polluted, that can lead to serious consequences, including the extinction of some species.


Even insects are affected by air pollution. This is because they often eat contaminated plants. Additionally, insects are often exposed to pollutants when they fly through polluted areas.

What Can You Do to Help?

While air pollution damage is irreparable, not all hope is lost. There are still ways to reduce its effects on humans, plants, and even animals. They include:

  • limiting the use of fossil fuels;
  • recycling instead of burning trash;
  • not using products that contain chemicals that can pollute the air;
  • supporting companies that are looking to reduce air pollution.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can animals get sick from air pollution?

Just like humans, animals can suffer from various health problems when exposed to polluted air. Respiratory problems, such as asthma and bronchitis, are common in humans and animals living in areas with high levels of air pollution.
In severe cases, it can lead to organ damage or even death. Animals that live in areas with heavy air pollution are at a higher risk of developing these health problems. That’s why it’s important to take steps to reduce air pollution and protect human and animal health.

How many animals die from air pollution each year?

It’s estimated that air pollution causes millions of animal deaths each year. More specifically, air pollution is responsible for killing 1 million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals every year.

Which animals are most affected by air pollution?

The most common victims are birds, which can be killed by inhaling soot particles in the air.
Insects are also at risk, as they can be killed by pesticide spray drift or smog. Even large mammals can be affected by air pollution, as they may suffer from respiratory problems or skin irritation.

How Does Air Pollution Affect Animals: Key Takeaways

  • Wildfires and volcano eruptions are the most common natural air pollution causes.
  • The vast majority of air pollution is man-made; emissions of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone are major contributors.
  • Insects are often affected by air pollution because they can be killed by pesticide spray drift or smog.
  • Birds are also at risk, as emissions from factories and power plants can settle on their feathers and reduce the insulating properties of their plumage.
  • Ultimately, air pollution poses a serious threat to a wide range of animal species, especially wildlife.