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Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, non-irritating gas produced by the incomplete combustion of different carbon fuels. It is potentially toxic to dogs as well as humans. Common sources of carbon monoxide are non-kerosene or propane heaters, gasoline engines, car exhaust, or smoke from carbon-based fuel heating systems.
When inhaled, this gas is easily absorbed into the blood, combining with hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin, reducing oxygen intake to the body and therefore resulting in decreased use of oxygen in the brain and heart.
Most cases of carbon monoxide toxicity in dogs occur as a result of human error, such as when a dog has been left in a closed area where carbon monoxide is released. A dog left in a closed garage with a working car can be exposed to toxic levels of carbon monoxide in about 10 minutes. Animals are also exposed to toxic levels of carbon monoxide when trapped in a burning building. Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide will lead to hypoxemia and eventually death.
Symptoms and types
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Depending on the concentration and duration of exposure to carbon monoxide, symptoms can be acute or chronic.
The most common symptom of low levels of carbon monoxide poisoning in healthy animals and dogs is fatigue. This symptom should decrease once they start breathing fresh air.
Higher concentrations of carbon monoxide can cause headaches, dizziness, weakness, confusion, flu-like symptoms with nausea and vomiting, and sudden death.
In addition, a common symptom in both humans and pets is the gums that take on a bright cherry-red color. The victim of the poisoning could go into a coma. In some cases, when the victim sleeps during exposure to carbon monoxide, they may never wake up.
Experts don’t know for sure whether pets experience all of these symptoms when exposed to carbon monoxide. For example, an animal cannot tell us when it has a headache. However, many animals act confused and lethargic in the same way as human victims of carbon monoxide poisoning.
So, if your energetic dog doesn’t want to play inside your home but acts “rejuvenated” once it’s out for a while, this could indicate a possible leakage of carbon monoxide into your home.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of chronic levels of carbon monoxide poisoning in dogs:
- Skin and red-cherry mucous membranes (for example, nostrils, lips, ears, genitals), but this side effect is usually not visible in most animals
- Difficulty breathing
- Abortion in pregnant animals, especially those at the end of gestation
- Uncoordinated movements
Symptoms of low exposure to carbon monoxide include:
- Abnormally high levels of acids in the blood (acidosis)
- Flu-like symptoms
- Loss of resistance to effort
- Disturbances of walking
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs as a result of exposure to any source of carbon monoxide, such as:
- Incomplete combustion of carbon fuels
- Accidental closing of the dog in the garage with the car engine running
- Poorly ventilated areas with any source of carbon monoxide (e.g., fireplace, oven, grill)
- Unventilated furnaces
- Gas water heaters
- Gas or kerosene heaters
The most important thing in the case of carbon monoxide poisoning is to remove your dog from the source of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate veterinary intervention.
Your veterinarian will immediately begin oxygen therapy to remove carbon monoxide from his blood and return your dog’s oxygen levels to normal. While your dog is receiving oxygen, your doctor will take blood samples for diagnostic tests.
A complete blood count, a biochemical profile, and urine tests will be performed. Your veterinarian will also collect samples to determine the levels of carboxyhemoglobin in his blood. Determining the levels of carbon monoxide in the blood is the most useful test for determining the initial treatment plan.
Levels of carboxyhemoglobin rise in acute cases and fall within hours after exposure to the source of carbon monoxide has been removed. Blood acid levels will also be determined during blood tests, as acid concentrations tend to rise in response to the condition, and their values will determine the appropriate diagnosis and medical response.
Other diagnostic tests your veterinarian may use include an electrocardiogram (ECG) to determine if your dog’s heart has also been affected.
If you suspect your dog has been exposed to excessive amounts of carbon monoxide, seek veterinary help immediately. Meanwhile, take your dog to a place where he can breathe fresh air. Your veterinarian will begin emergency treatment to restore adequate oxygen levels in his vital organs. Supplementing with 100% pure oxygen is the best way to initiate a quick recovery. Fluids will also be given to improve blood infusion in vital organs such as the brain, as well as to normalize increased concentrations of acids in the blood.
Recovery and lifestyle
During recovery, limit your dog’s activity for at least 6 weeks. Replace long walks with shorter walks. Slow play and exercise, or even stop it temporarily, until your dog is ready, and he will recover completely. In this case, your dog will need more affection. Do everything you can to keep your dog calm and relaxed. Watch your dog for symptoms that may reappear and ask for help if you notice unexpected symptoms in your dog.
Symptoms of nervous system damage can be seen in some dogs even a few weeks after initial recovery. If you notice any abnormalities in your dog’s nervous system, talk to your veterinarian about the problem.
To protect yourself and your pet from carbon monoxide poisoning, install carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home, including your garage, and regularly test their function.
Every year, you should call a professional to inspect the furnace, the water heater, and everything else that works on gas, oil, or coal.
Also, make sure that no debris is blocking the vents or combustion. Never drive a vehicle or anything that is fueled with gasoline in an enclosed space.
Finally, if you notice symptoms in yourself or your dog that you think may be related to carbon monoxide, go immediately to clean air and seek emergency care.