Our team at Ambleside Animal Hospital rallied our staff and clients to donate pet oxygen masks to every firehouse from Deep Cove to Horseshoe Bay, ensuring that every firetruck in North and West Vancouver has a supply. During a fire, pets instinctively find a place to hide, raising their risk for smoke inhalation while precious time is taken searching for them. Once your pet is rescued, first responders cannot appropriately treat your pet if they do not have the proper equipment. Pet oxygen masks are specifically designed to provide oxygen for the smallest cat to the largest dog.
How smoke inhalation affects pets
Smoke inhalation can significantly damage your pet’s airways and brain in several ways.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning — Normally, oxygen binds to hemoglobin, to be carried from the lungs to the body tissues, but during a fire, carbon monoxide concentration in the air is high, and carbon monoxide binds more strongly to hemoglobin, preventing oxygen delivery to the tissues. Brain damage or death can occur in severe cases. Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of death for pets exposed to fire and smoke. Signs include increased respiratory rate, cherry red mucous membranes, and neurologic signs. Oxygen is an antidote for carbon monoxide poisoning, and also enhances elimination of the deadly gas.
- Thermal injury — If your pet is exposed to a fire or smokey conditions, ash, chemicals, and heat can irritate and injure their airways from their nasal passages to their lungs. Thermal injuries can occur without your pet exhibiting signs initially—ulcers and erosions can take 48 to 72 hours to appear, for example—so ensure you monitor your pet closely for several days after exposure. Damage to these airway linings can make protection of the lungs against bacterial invasion impossible, increasing your pet’s pneumonia risk. Treatment includes oxygen supplementation, and intravenous fluid therapy.
- Hydrogen cyanide poisoning — During a house fire, common household materials, such as plastics, paint, laminates, varnishes, and other building materials, release toxic gases that can result in hydrogen cyanide poisoning. This toxic gas, which has a bitter almond odor, interferes with the body’s normal use of oxygen. Signs include rapid breathing, respiratory distress, lethargy, and drowsiness, and treatment includes oxygen therapy and specific medications that eliminate hydrogen cyanide from the body.
Smoke inhalation signs in pets
The most common signs exhibited by pets exposed to fire and smoke are coughing and respiratory distress. Other signs include:
- Inflammation, swelling, or burns around the eyes, mouth, and nose
- Redness, squinting, or tearing of the eyes
- Soot covered coat that smells like smoke
- Cherry red mucous membranes
- Difficulty walking (i.e., ataxia)
Smoke inhalation treatment for pets
Pets exposed to smoke should receive supplemental oxygen—the sooner the oxygen therapy is started, the better the pet’s prognosis. The oxygen therapy allows the body tissues to receive adequate oxygenation, and reduces carbon monoxide binding to hemoglobin. Injury to the pet’s airways can cause laryngeal swelling and secretions to obstruct airflow. Suctioning the pet’s mouth can be helpful, and in severe cases, intubation may be necessary. If the pet’s respiratory signs improve, oxygen therapy should still be continued for at least six hours.
Bronchodilators may be administered to counteract bronchospasms caused by airway irritation. Intravenous fluid therapy is often needed, but large volumes should not be given rapidly, to prevent fluid build-up in the lungs. Corneal ulcerations are commonly seen after smoke exposure, and a thorough ocular exam should be performed to check for any eye injuries. These lesions should be treated promptly.
Prophylactic antibiotic treatment is not recommended. A secondary infection following thermal injury will likely occur five to seven days post exposure, and if prophylactic antibiotics have already been administered, more resistant organisms will colonize the pet’s lung tissue. Steroids are contraindicated in pets suffering from smoke inhalation.
How to avoid smoke inhalation in pets
House fires are unpredictable, but you can take a few precautions to protect your pet from smoke inhalation.
- Keep pets indoors if smoke is in the air.
- Turn off your air conditioning and heating if smoke is in the environment, to prevent the smoke from being drawn into your home.
- Affix a “Rescue Alert” sticker to your front door to alert first-responders that you have a pet inside your home.
- Designate a neighbor who is home during the day to be responsible for your pet if a fire encroaches on your home.
- Practice evacuation procedures with your pet so they will not be panicked if an emergency forces you to leave quickly.
What to do if your pet is affected by smoke inhalation
If your pet has been exposed to smoke and fire, move them to an area with fresh air, and keep them warm and dry. Alert first responders that your pet needs supplemental oxygen with a pet oxygen mask, and transport your pet to an emergency veterinary hospital as soon as possible.
Ambleside Animal Hospital’s generous contribution of pet oxygen masks to every fire truck in North and West Vancouver will save numerous pets’ lives by providing first responders with the equipment they need to help your precious pet. If your pet is affected by smoke inhalation, do not hesitate to contact our team at Ambleside Animal Hospital.