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Smoke from California wildfires puts cats at risk of developing deadly blood clots

Sumeet Kulkarni, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Cats & Dogs News

Dr. Ronald Li, a critical care veterinarian at UC Davis, treated 23 cats that were rescued from the devastating Tubbs fire that scorched Northern California for more than three weeks in October 2017. They had the kinds of traumatic injuries he expected to see: first- to third-degree burns, exposed skin and scar tissue.

But there was something else about these feline patients that caught Li's attention: life-threatening blood clots.

"In heart scans, we noticed clots forming within their hearts," he said. "But at that time, we didn't know why."

Blood clots normally develop in response to an injury such as a cut or wound to prevent runaway blood loss. Those weren't the kinds of problems the cats were dealing with.

So a year later, when the Camp fire ravaged 240 square miles east of Chico, Li collected blood samples from rescued cats that were brought to his clinic.

The researchers found that compared with healthy cats, the cats affected by the wildfire were more likely to have blood clots, which have the potential to be life-threatening. The rescued animals also had more blood clots than a group of cats with a relatively common type of heart disease that increases their risk of clots.


The findings, published this month in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Medicine, mirror an earlier study by UC Davis researchers showing that cats that got close enough to wildfires to be burned or inhale dangerous amounts of smoke were more likely to develop cardiovascular problems, such as a thickening of the heart muscle that can lead to heart failure.

"The results are pretty compelling," said Bruce Kornreich, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, who was not involved in the research. "There's a lot of conserved biology across different species. This is something that could provide information to benefit not only animals but people."

The new analysis was based on blood samples from 29 cats that were injured in the Camp fire and brought to UC Davis with burns, lung damage and heart issues. They were compared with 11 cats that were perfectly healthy and 21 that were in generally good health but had a type of heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

The researchers found that the cats exposed to the Camp fire had highly activated platelets, but the two other groups did not.


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