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Ask the Vet: After Home Fire, Bathe Pet and Visit Veterinarian

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: When our house caught fire, the firefighters rescued our cat, Jinx, so all of us were safe. They gave her oxygen using a child's face mask and she recovered. They recommended we bathe her and take her to her veterinarian. She seems fine now, and the fire has given us a lot to do, so we're wondering if it's really necessary to follow their recommendations?

A: The firefighters gave you good advice. I assume you bathed Jinx immediately to remove toxic particulate matter from her fur so she doesn't ingest it when she grooms.

After her bath, Jinx needs to see her veterinarian. The effects of smoke exposure may not appear until up to six days after the fire, and immediate veterinary care can prevent these problems.

A pet exposed to smoke in a burning home or other enclosed space often develops problems with the skin, eyes, respiratory tract and nervous system. Eye problems include corneal ulcers and decreased tear production that may not be obvious without diagnostic testing.

Jinx also may have suffered thermal burns of her airways, and she may have inhaled particulate matter, carbon monoxide, cyanide gas and other toxic gases.

If any of these occurred, her airways will swell, reducing the oxygen to all her organs and possibly causing lung collapse.


In addition, carbon monoxide decreases oxygen levels in the blood by binding to hemoglobin, displacing oxygen. The neurologic effects of carbon monoxide may not appear until days after smoke exposure.

Cyanide gas, a toxin produced when rubber, wool, plastic and other synthetic materials burn, interferes with energy production within cells.

Fortunately, with immediate care, the outlook is good for pets like Jinx.

If you wish to thank your firefighters and help others in your community, consider donating a set of pet oxygen masks to your fire department. To learn more, visit


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