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This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Pets are sometimes exposed to smoke inhalation which can be fatal - or lead to other complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis

When there is a house fire hot smoke and soot can be inhaled into the airways and lungs where they cause acute damage to the lung tissue. In addition toxins such as acrolein or even cyanide may also be inhaled. Particles in the air form a film over the lining of the lungs preventing normal gas exchange between the inhaled air and the blood, so the blood can not take up oxygen properly. 

Once the acute stage of smoke inhalation is over secondary bacterial infection can occur resulting in bronchopneumonia and long term chronic bronchitis may result.

A pet that has been exposed to smoke inhalation and escaped from the fire may present with sudden onset breathing difficulty:

  • Increased breathing rate
  • Laboured breathing
  • Blue-coloured (cyanotic) lips, tongue and mucous membranes
  • Coughing

and there may be only a few external tell-tale signs to suggest the cause such as:

  • A strong smell of smoke on the coat
  • Singed whiskers or other hair coat
  • Soot in the coat or on the face 

Treatment for smoke inhalation includes :

  • Oxygen therapy
  • Antibiotics
  • Rest
  • Sometimes - anti-inflammatory drugs

The outcome of treatment depends upon how much damage has been caused by the hot ash and what toxic fumes have been inhaled. Pets that die in house fires often die as a consequence of smoke inhalation, and not necessarily from burns. Birds are particularly susceptible to the inhalation of smoke, and they may die when exposed to quite small amounts of fumes. That is why canaries were used by miners to detect the presence of pockets of gas underground - the birds would die when exposed to the slightest amount of gas and long before the miners themselves would notice it.

Fires can cause the release of many potentially lethal toxins including :

  • Acrolein - a toxin released by the oxidation of glycerine which occurs in  chip-pan fires. Dogs can die by simply being confined to a room in which there is a chip-pan fire.
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Cyanide - released when certain types of foam filled furniture burns

If a pet survives the initial exposure to fire smoke and any toxins the fire produces, it may develop pneumonia, and long term may suffer from chronic bronchitis and have an associated cough and reduced exercise performance.

Prompt veterinary attention should be sought if your pet is exposed to a house fire or chip-pan fire.


Updated October 2013