Pets rescued from house fires or evacuated during wildfires are at risk of lung damage associated with smoke inhalation. Direct heat damage being done to the upper airways during exposure is only one of the injuries that can occur when a pet is exposed to fire and/or smoke. Airway irritation can impair a pet’s ability to breathe while tissue and organ damage can result from toxins and particulate matter being inhaled, diminishing the body’s ability to circulate oxygen. Severity of damage will vary depending on how long the pet was exposed and the type of substance that was burning. Pets may or may not also have evidence of burns to the exterior of their body. Progression of lung dysfunction may continue for the first few days after exposure and should be carefully monitored and evaluated in order to determine the extent of damage and potential complications. Although a majority of pets must be physically rescued from these situations and, therefore have a known exposure, animals that escape on their own and are found later may exhibit symptoms that include: evidence of burned particulate matter in airways, smoky odor, changes in breathing (labored or rapid), discolored mucus membranes (bright red, pale, or blue coloration), shock, vomiting, disorientation, and/or loss of consciousness.
Immediate care and treatment are necessary when managing smoke inhalation. The most important factor is to establish a stable and effective airway in which to deliver oxygen. This can be accomplished in several ways depending on the condition of the pet and may include mask, oxygen cage, and nasal line or, in severe cases, intubation or an emergency surgical procedure to make an opening in the trachea. Aside from oxygen, a pet suffering from smoke inhalation may need supportive care to treat shock, such as fluid therapy. This must be evaluated and monitored by your pet’s veterinarian due to the potential for fluid to begin to collect in the chest. Blood transfusions may also be necessary in order to boost the level of oxygen carrying red blood cells and immune supporting white blood cells. Airway damage can lead to infection and may necessitate the use of antibiotics. Each case and pet is different and your veterinarian will be able to determine the best course of action in an individual case. Blood work, urinalysis, radiographs and/or ultrasounds are commonly utilized to determine the overall health status of the patient. In addition, use of a bronchoscope may be helpful in determining the severity of damage within an airway. Prognosis varies on a case by case basis, although severe burns or organ injury are more commonly associated with poor prognosis.
Ask us at Animal Central for more information on pets and smoke inhalation or visit: http://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/respiratory/c_dg_smoke_inhalation
Dr. George Stroberg, DVM and Staff