- If safe to do so, immediately remove your animal from the source of smoke/fire to a well-ventilated site.
- If the animal is not breathing, commence CPR.
- If the animal is breathing, basic dermal decontamination with tepid tap water should be undertaken. Flush the eyes copiously with tap water.
- Seek veterinary attention immediately, whether or not your pet is showing signs.
WHAT IS IT?
Smoke contains a mixture of potentially harmful substances including carbon monoxide. Smoke inhalation is the leading fire-related cause of death.
Clinical signs vary greatly depending on intensity of the fire, temperature, duration of exposure and composition of smoke. Smoke inhalation can cause respiratory or breathing dysfunction, systemic toxicity or both.
- Coughing, hacking
- Salivation or drooling
- Difficulty breathing (dyspnoea); Open-mouth breathing in cats
- Panting, increased breathing rate (tachypnoea)
- Blue-tinged mucus membranes (cyanosis)
- Excess tear production
- Conjunctivitis (reddened eyes)
- Ulcers on the eyes
- Redness and swelling of the mouth, nose, throat and airways
- Ulcers in the mouth, nose and airways
- Altered mentation – confused, depressed, dull, stuporous
- Uncoordinated gait, abnormal posture
- Loss of consciousness, collapse, fainting
- Dizziness, weakness, lethargy due to low blood pressure
- Irregular heart rhythm
Building fires or bush fires are the most common causes of fire and smoke inhalation. The toxicity of smoke depends on the composition of the substances burning, amount of oxygen, temperature, duration of exposure and the health of the individual animal. Smoke leads to carbon monoxide toxicity, cyanide toxicity, swelling (oedema) of the airways and respiratory arrest.
Your vet will conduct a thorough physical examination and request for blood tests as part of assessment for lactic acidosis and monitoring if carbon monoxide poisoning is severe and also chest radiographs, which will altogether be useful to assess the severity of your pet’s condition. Your pet’s oxygenation levels, ventilation ability and mentation should be closely monitored. Cardiac monitoring (eg. ECG) is also recommended to identify and treat any arrhythmias if present.
Treatment and stabilisation depend on the severity of signs but the cornerstones for smoke inhalation therapy are maintenance of airway, adequate ventilation and oxygenation, and intravenous fluids.
Animals affected by smoke often suffer from burn injuries too, which will be treated accordingly by your vet.
Hyperbaric oxygen may be of benefit in treatment of fluid accumulation in lungs (pulmonary oedema), carbon monoxide poisoning, cyanide poisoning, brain swelling and thermal burns associated with fires and smoke inhalation but this is not widely available.
Martin LG (2001) Smoke Inhalation and burn injuries, In: Veterinary Emergency Medicine Secrets. 2nd ed. Wingfield WE (Ed.). Philadelphia, USA: Hanley &Belfus Inc.
Fitzgerald KT & Flood AA (2006) Smoke Inhalation. Clinical Techniques in Small Animal Practice 21(4):205-214