What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
It is no secret that cats enjoy snuggling near the fireplace or heater on a cold day, but these spots may be the source of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, poisonous gas that is toxic to all species, including cats. It prevents the blood from carrying oxygen through the body and results in hypoxia. The lack of oxygen in the cells can lead to coma or death. The level of toxicity is usually moderate to severe, but carbon monoxide is life-threatening regardless of how much is inhaled.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Cats
A cat suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning will display the following symptoms:
- Weakness or Incoordination
- Changes in Walk
- Disturbances of Reflexes
- Difficulty Breathing
- Bright Red Skin and Gums
It is important to take your cat to the veterinarian as soon as you notice the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Causes of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Cats
Sources of carbon monoxide poisoning in cats and other species include:
- Gas fireplaces
- Gas water heaters
- Propane heaters
- Kerosene space heaters
- Automobile exhaust
- Barbecue grills
- Kerosene lanterns
- Airplane cargo space
A slow gas leak or smoke in rooms with poor ventilation can also cause high levels of carbon monoxide.
Diagnosis of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Cats
Your cat should be taken to the veterinarian the minute you notice any signs or symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Your veterinarian will give your cat a physical exam to rule out other possibilities. They are also going to ask questions about where your cat has been throughout the day. Remember, even the usual nap next to the fireplace can become a source of carbon monoxide poisoning. Your veterinarian may also ask if any other pets or family members are experiencing similar symptoms. This could be a sign of a carbon monoxide leak in your home.
Your veterinarian will also perform baseline blood tests to check the complete blood count. The laboratory tests also include a urinalysis and biochemical profile. A blood gas analysis is usually done to check for low blood pH and increased creatine kinase levels, which can cause poor oxygenation of the tissues. A regular hospital can check the blood samples for carboxyhemoglobin if this test is not available in your veterinary clinic.
Treatment of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Cats
You can start treating your cat for carbon monoxide exposure by moving them to an open space with fresh air, but it is still important to take your cat to the veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment. Your veterinarian will look at the following treatment options:
- Oxygen Supplementation: The goal of the treatment is to supply the blood with oxygen as quickly as possible. Your veterinarian will use a breathing mask or oxygen chamber to perform oxygen therapy on your cat. A mechanical ventilator may be used to keep your cat stable and deliver respiratory support if your cat has a high level of toxicity. Medical staff will use a pulse oximeter to monitor their oxygen levels.
- Intravenous Fluid Therapy: Your cat may receive intravenous fluid therapy to help bring their blood pH back to normal. Your veterinarian may also prescribe nutritional and electrolyte therapy to help improve their breathing.
- Cardiac Monitoring: The medical staff will use electrocardiograms and serial neurologic exams to monitor cardiac and neurologic status. This is done to ensure the heart, brain and nervous system are working properly.
There is a chance your cat will need to be hospitalized until blood oxygen levels are normal. It is important to take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as you notice the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Early detection and treatment can lead to a full recovery for your furry friend.
Recovery of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Cats
The road to recovery starts with limiting physical activity for several weeks. You should also schedule a follow up appointment with the veterinarian. You need to make sure your cat is recovering from the poisoning, and you need to find out if your cat is still restricted from physical activity.
It is important to make sure your home is not still affected by carbon monoxide. Start by having your heater and gas appliances checked regularly. Create a cozy spot for your cat away from the fireplace, heater and gas appliances. You should also keep your cat out of poorly ventilated spaces. You can prevent future problems by installing carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home.
Your cat should recover from cases that are mild and treated early. A cat with severe carbon monoxide poisoning may suffer long-term side effects of the brain.