Smoke Inhalation in Dogs

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Overview of Smoke Inhalation in Dogs

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.  This is a common problem in dogs that are exposed to house fires. 

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

    Signs of smoke Inhalation in dogs may include: 

  • 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
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    Diagnosis of Smoke Inhalation in Dogs

    In addition to a thorough medical history and physical examination your veterinarian may recommend the following diagnostic procedures and/or diagnostic tests:

  • 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.
  • Arterial blood gas measurements are taken to determine how well the pet is oxygenating and to determine the need for supplemental oxygen administration.
  • Carboxyhemoglobin levels. This blood test is done to measure the level of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • 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.
  • Tracheal wash for cytology and culture. This test is performed to look for evidence of pneumonia and to culture the particular bacteria causing the pneumonia. Based on this information, a specific antibiotic can be chosen to fight the infection.
  • A fluorescein stain of the surface of the cornea (surface of the eye) is performed to document ulcers or erosions caused by smoke.
  • Treatment of Smoke Inhalation in Dogs

    Treatments in dogs may include:

  • Administration of supplemental oxygen to aid dogs with difficulty breathing
  • Placement of an intravenous catheter for administration of medications and intravenous fluids
  • Bronchodilators such as terbutalline, albuterol, aminophylline or theophylline
  • Nebulization (humidification of the air the patient breathes)
  • Pain medication for associated burns
  • Mechanical ventilation if the patient is unconscious or shows signs of impending respiratory or cardiac arrest
  • Physical therapy for the chest (frequent position changes and coupage)
  • Eye medication for eye irritation or ulceration
  • 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.

    In-depth Information on Smoke Inhalation in Dogs

    Smoke inhalation causes direct damage to the upper airways, which include: the nose, sinuses, oropharynx (back of the mouth), trachea (the windpipe), bronchi, and bronchioles (lower airways) and the lung tissue. Additional damage caused by smoke inhalation include the following:

  • Heat from the fire (thermal injury) can burn the airways so that they become dry, irritated and lose their ability to remove particles away from the lower airways. Burns to the airways predispose the patient to infection with bacteria.
  • Particulate matter within smoke is deposited in both the upper and lower airways and increases irritation and the risk of infection.
  • Gases within fires can cause chemical burns in the upper and lower airways, constriction and spasm of the airways, and poisoning, such as cyanide or carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a main component of smoke inhalation injury.
  • The combined effects of smoke, heat and gases lead to difficulty breathing, respiratory distress and sometimes death of the patient. Respiratory symptoms may develop immediately after exposure to heat and smoke or may take up to 48 hours before they appear. Pulmonary edema (accumulation of fluid within the lungs) can take 6 to 72 hours to develop. If the patient survives the initial injury, pneumonia can follow (2 to 3 days after initial injury) before complete recovery.

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