When tragedy strikes: Carbon monoxide poisoning in pets

When tragedy strikes: Carbon monoxide poisoning in pets

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Jan 27, 2011

"Mazz, we have a disaster situation and are calling in everyone. There was a kennel fire, and there are at least 20 dogs coming over."

These are the words Dr. Elisa Mazzaferro, director of emergency services at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital in Wheat Ridge, Colo., awoke to on Jan. 1, 2007.

It was 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day when Dr. Mazzaferro, received the call. A fire had started in the laundry area of a local kennel sometime in the wee hours. When the boarding kennel assistant manager opened Best Friends Pet Care, she found the kennel full of smoke. (Click here to hear her story.) She and the other staff members, who arrived shortly after her, immediately went into action, first calling the fire department and transporting animals outdoors away from the toxic gases, then calling Wheat Ridge and other veterinary hospitals for help.

“We sent four doctors over in three SUVs,” Dr. Mazzaferro says. “When they arrived, the firefighters were hovering over the worst dogs, administering oxygen to them. Unfortunately, at least three animals had already succumbed to smoke inhalation by then.” One by one, the doctors triaged the scene, putting the most severely affected in the SUVs. Over the next six to eight hours, 22 dogs with varying degrees of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning were transported to Wheat Ridge.

“Initially, the staff was shocked,” Dr. Mazzaferro says. “I was extremely proud of how our team pulled it together and so rapidly went into action. Receptionists were restraining animals for examinations and procedures. Board-certified veterinary surgeons were taking radiographs of each animal's chest. Technicians were bathing animals to remove soot and debris from their fur.”

Aside from shock, space was another challenge for the emergency hospital to overcome. “We didn't have enough oxygen cages, so we placed dogs from the same household in one cage and we split oxygen drop-down lines like MacGyver, using syringe cases and cotton balls. Suddenly we were able to deliver oxygen to an entire room of cages,” she says.

It took days, with three cases requiring one-on-one intensive nursing care, but all except one of the patients survived. One dog, Lady Bug, never regained consciousness after the fire and was humanely euthanized. But Lady Bug didn't die in vain. From that tragedy, the kennel installed smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. And Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital donated money to local fire departments so they could purchase oxygen masks designed specifically for animal use in situations of smoke inhalation or carbon monoxide poisoning. Best Friends Pet Care had already donated several oxygen masks designed for dogs to the Arvada Fire District, some of which were used during the kennel's rescue.

What would your practice do?

While the likelihood of your veterinary practice experiencing a tragedy of this scale is low, it doesn’t diminish the fact that when a carbon monoxide poisoning case comes through your clinic’s doors, your team needs to be prepared.

Click here to get answers to the five most important questions to help educate your team and your clients about carbon monoxide poisonings.