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Smoke Inhalation in Small Mammals

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Smoke inhalation injury is direct damage to the airways and lung tissue caused by exposure to heat, particulate matter in smoke and the gaseous by-products of fire.

Smoke inhalation injury can be caused by:

  • Thermal (heat induced) injury to the upper airways

  • Inhalation of particulate matter that settles in upper airways and the lungs

  • Asphyxia (suffocation) since the fire reduces the oxygen content in the air that is breathed

  • Chemical injury, due to chemicals such as carbon monoxide, cyanide, acrolein, hydrogen chloride and aldehydes that are released as gases within the fire

    Smoke inhalation injury can lead to bronchospasm and bronchoconstriction (spasming and constriction of the airways), carbon monoxide poisoning, pulmonary edema (accumulation of fluid in the lungs), acute respiratory distress (inability to breathe) and pneumonia. Smoke inhalation can be fatal.

    What to Watch For

  • Bright red mucous membranes (inside of lip and gums)
  • Dry, unproductive cough
  • Raspy breathing sounds
  • Wheezing
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Increased effort of breathing
  • Irritation of the eyes
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Collapse
  • Unconsciousness
  • Respiratory distress
  • Respiratory or cardiac arrest

    Diagnosis

    In addition to a thorough medical history and physical examination your veterinarian may recommend the following diagnostic procedures and/or diagnostic tests, specific for your pet. In larger small mammals, such as ferrets and rabbits, more aggressive tests and treatments are possible. For the rodents, many of these tests are not possible or cost prohibitive.

  • Thoracic radiographs (chest X-rays) are done to look for evidence of injury or pneumonia. Multiple X-rays may be required to document changes in the lungs over a several day period.

  • A complete blood count (CBC) measures the white blood cell count to assess for evidence of infection and/or inflammation.

  • A biochemistry profile is a blood test that is performed to assess for internal organ damage secondary to smoke inhalation injury or secondary to shock.

  • A fluorescein stain of the surface of the cornea (surface of the eye) is performed to document ulcers or erosions caused by smoke.

    Treatment

    Treatments will vary depending on the severity of the smoke inhalation, the size of the pet and cost concerns. Typical treatment includes:

  • Administration of supplemental oxygen to aid pets with difficulty breathing

  • Bronchodilators such as terbutalline, albuterol, aminophylline or theophylline

  • Eye medication for eye irritation or ulceration

    Additional treatments may include:

  • Placement of an intravenous catheter for administration of medications and intravenous fluids

  • Nebulization (humidification of the air the patient breathes)

  • Pain medication for associated burns

    Home Care

    Remove pets from burning buildings and transport to a veterinary hospital as quickly as possible. Do not place your own life at risk by attempting to rescue a pet from a burning building.

    If possible, have firefighters or medical personnel at the site of the fire administer oxygen to pets suffering from smoke inhalation injury for 10 to 15 minutes prior to transport. Administering oxygen as soon as possible reduces the amount of carbon monoxide poisoning and may stabilize pets that are at risk of dying prior to reaching the hospital.

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