Fire danger and pets

The awesome summer of the Okanagan that attracts so many tourists to our area also bears some disadvantages. We all know how the weather conditions of our lovely Okanagan predispose our forestland to fires. Being fairly new to the area I've learned that I have to be prepared for the option of being evacuated due to fire. Because we all have to live with the risk of facing fire, we have to have a planned strategy on how to react and what to take with us when we leave our house due to evacuation. Beside preparing your most valuable possessions by storing them in a handy place, be prepared to remove your pet from the scene ASAP. Similarly to humans, animals can be severely harmed by being exposed to smoke.

Smoke inhalation causes direct damage to the airways and lung tissue caused by exposure to heat, particulate matter in smoke and the gaseous by-products of fire. The toxic substances found in smoke cause severe inflammation of the respiratory system, leading to swelling, constriction of the airways, excessive production of mucous and fluids accumulation in the lungs. All of the above prevent normal breathing and much needed oxygen to the body’s organs. In advanced stages there is overgrowth of bacteria and development of pneumonia, that is often fatal.

The symptoms of smoke inhalation are quite obvious and related to the respiratory system as irritation, swelling and constriction as well as the animal’s efforts to breath. Therefore one should expect to observe: rapid breathing and increased depth of respiration postural adaptations to respiratory distress (extended neck and wide stance of the front legs), mucous membranes may be cherry red, pale, or cyanotic (blue), reddened of the eyes and hoarse cough. In severe cases the animal becomes unconscious, followed by coma and death.

Immediate medical care is crucial for stabilization of the respiratory system. The main treatment consists of oxygen supplementation. A set of tests is required in order to assess the secondary damage done to internal organs due to the lack of oxygen. Prophylactic antibiotics are recommended in order to prevent the pneumonia that is often associated with the lungs damage due to smoke.

The prognosis of smoke inhalation is guarded and depends on the duration of the exposure to the smoke, and the severity of the burns and damage done to the internal organs. Most patients require at least 24 to 48 hours after smoke exposure for initial stabilization. Severe burns or organ injury are associated with a poor prognosis.

Make sure your neighbours know you have pets in your home in case something happens when you are away. Apply a sticker to a front window or the front door to notify the fire department that there are pets inside.

If you are in your home when a fire occurs, or arrive to find your house burning, the first priority is to make sure all the people are out of the house. If you can easily remove your pet without any threat to your safety, take the pet with you as you leave. Do not enter a burning building. Call the fire department and wait for the trained and equipped firefighters to rescue any persons or pets left in the home.

If you were personally involved in a fire you must be devastated. The first few days after this event are so overwhelming and hectic that your pet’s condition may be overlooked. Remember that your pet may also been injured by the fire and make sure to take it to be checked by a vet. Early treatment is important and significant in determining the event’s outcome and the prognosis of your pet.

More Dr. Oz's Vet Advice articles

About the Author

Dr. Moshe Oz owns Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital, a small animal veterinary practice in West Kelowna.

Dr. Oz has deep love and affection for animals. It was his childhood dream to become a veterinarian, a dream that he has fulfilled when he graduated with honours from KUVM,on 2006. Dr. Oz's special interest is internal medicine and surgery.

In his free time Dr. Oz enjoys training and racing triathlons, including the legendary Penticton's Ironman.

Dr. Oz can be contacted through his website: www.KelownaVet.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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