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Smoke Inhalation in Dogs

By: Dr. Anne Marie Manning

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Treatment In-depth

Because many of these patients are experiencing breathing difficulties, the majority of smoke inhalation patients will be placed in an oxygen cage immediately upon presentation to the hospital and prior to a complete physical examination. While your pet is allowed to rest in oxygen, your veterinarian will gather the medical history and then complete the physical examination.

If your pet is in a state of unconsciousness, it may be necessary to place an endotracheal tube (through the mouth into the trachea) and assist the pet to breathe to prevent respiratory or cardiac arrest. If your pet remains unconscious and unable to breathe on his own, mechanical ventilation may be offered, in which a ventilator breathes for the patient. In most instances, however, treatment proceeds at a less frantic pace as follows:

  • Administration of supplemental oxygen is an essential part of treatment for smoke inhalation injury because difficulty breathing is the main problem associated with this type of injury. Oxygen may be provided by a tube inserted in the nostril and attached to an oxygen line (nasal oxygen), via a facemask or by placing the pet in an oxygen cage. Oxygen therapy may only be required for a few hours or may be necessary for many days depending on the extent of injury and whether the pet develops pneumonia as a secondary problem.

  • Intravenous fluids are administered to correct dehydration and to treat shock if present. The intravenous line can also be used for administration of medications such as bronchodilators or antibiotics.

  • Bronchodilators such as terbutaline, albuterol, aminophylline or theophylline are used to dilate the airways, which can be constricted due to irritation from the heat and smoke. Dilation of the airways makes it easier for the pet to breathe.

  • Nebulization (humidification of the air breathed by the pet) is provided to help the pet mobilize secretions and particulate matter deposited in the airways toward the mouth to be eliminated when the patient coughs.

  • Pain medication is administered to pets with burns on their body.

  • Mechanical ventilation may be provided for those patients who breathe with great difficulty despite administration of supplemental oxygen and medications. The patient must be placed under general anesthesia for the duration of time they are on the ventilator. An endotracheal tube is placed and the patient is attached to the ventilator, which breathes for the patient.

  • Physical therapy is done to help mobilize secretions and particulate matter in the patient's lungs and airways. Changing the patient's position helps with drainage and prevents airways from collapsing. Coupage, or percussion of the chest wall by gently hitting the chest wall with cupped hands, helps loosen secretions and particles that can then be removed by drainage or coughing. Encouraging patients to stand and walk if they are capable is as effective as coupage and frequent position changes.

  • Eye medications containing antibiotics are used to provide lubrication for irritated eyes and to treat corneal ulcers.

  • Antibiotics are not administered to smoke inhalation patients unless pneumonia is documented. Administration of antibiotics when pneumonia is not present can cause patients to develop resistant infections.

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