Monday, July 20, 2015

Fire Safety for Cats - After the Fire

You and your cat just had a traumatic experience - you lost your house in a fire and fire-fighters pulled your cat from the flames and gave him oxygen to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. The fire is out and everyone steps back for a moment to breathe - what next?

Even if your cat looks fine, you should probably take your cat to your veterinarian for an exam, as the negative effects of smoke inhalation may not show up for some time after the fire. Ensure that the attending firefighters or medical personnel at the scene administer at least 10-15 minutes of oxygen before you transport your cat, to help stabilize them for travel. If you are unable to transport your pet to the veterinarian quickly, placing your cat in a steamy room, near a humidifier or offering a nebulizer will help moisturize their heat-damaged lungs.

Your vet will check your cat for burns from the flames, caustic chemicals burns, and check your cat's mouth and lungs for signs of inhaled toxins. Smoke inhalation injury is caused heat injury to the upper airway, including the nasal passages, inhalation of particulates that settle in the lungs and airway, and oxygen deprivation (suffocation), since fires consume the oxygen in the immediate area. Additionally, traumatized lungs can develop fluid accumulation (pulmonary edema) that leads to pneumonia, and can spasm and constrict (bronchispasm and bronchoconstriction) which can cause asthma-like symptoms.

Some of the toxic chemicals that your cat may inhale in a fire are carbon monoxide, excessive levels of carbon dioxide and cyanide, acrolein, hydrogen chloride and aldehydes released as gases by the fire. Inhaling toxic fumes can cause trauma to the lungs, burns to the cat's airway, and death in extreme cases.  Signs to watch for after a fire are:
  • Inflamed, red eyes
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Coughing
  • Weakness/lethargy
  • Depression
  • Discolored mucous membranes (bright red, blue or pale pink/gray)
  • Singed or burnt hair
  • Respiratory distress and/or difficulty breathing (rapid breathing, increased effort to breathe)
  • Gagging and/or vomiting
  • Breathing with mouth open or panting, tongue hanging out
  • Raspy respiratory sounds when breathing or a change in voice
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Seizures
  • Collapse
  • Squinting
  • Skin and/or burns on or around the eye
  • Respiratory or cardiac distress or arrest

Diagnosis of Smoke Inhalation in Cats

Once your veterinarian has examined your cat, he or she may recommend chest x-rays, to look for signs of lung injury or fluid buildup. Depending on the severity of lung injury, x-rays may need to be repeated over several days.


Blood gas measurements may be recommended to determine whether your cat needs additional oxygen support or determine the level of carbon monoxide toxicity.

A complete blood count (CBC) may be recommended to evaluate the level of inflammation or rule out infection, and blood chemistries may be recommended to check for other organ damage from heat injury or toxins, or evaluate your cat for shock.

A fluorescein stain may be recommended to check the surface of the eye (cornea) for damage from smoke exposure, heat damage or particulate injuries.

Treatment of Smoke Inhalation in Cats

 If your cat has inhaled smoke, treament options may include:

  • Oxygen therapy
  • IV fluids 
  • Bronchodilators to help relax the lungs and ease difficult breathing
  • Nebulization therapy
  • Pain medication for thermal injuries (burns)
  • Assisted respiration in cases of acute collapse and respiratory or cardiac arrest 
  • Physical therapy for the chest - coupage and positional changes to help prevent lung collapse and help prevent the buildup of fluids
  • Eye medications to treat damage to the cornea


 For more information, please read our other blog article on Fire Safety.