Blizzard Hazards and Carbon Monoxide Danger

Dog dressed with hat, scarf and sweater

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There’s a major disconnect for me today–while much of the East is dealing with the 2015 Blizzard, here in N. Texas our forecast is for a 70-degree sunny day. But that’s predicted to change very soon, and Magical-Dawg can’t wait. A few years ago, a similar blizzard shut down the whole area for more than a week. That’s what inspired the setting for my first mystery/suspense Lost And Found.


When cold weather descends, it impacts more than the shiver reflex. Last week the blog covered what constitutes old age in cats, and in fact our senior citizen dogs are most susceptible to cold temps. Don’t tell him, but at age 8, Magic is considered “mature.”

Old dogs get less cold tolerant as they age, because they lose muscle and fat mass that insulates, increases their metabolism, and keeps them warm. Aging skin and fur also tends to get thinner. Little dogs have less body mass to generate natural heat, too, and often benefit from a doggy sweater especially when they must do outdoor bathroom duty.

red Dog and white cat

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Pets stay warm by burning fuel—the food they eat. They need more calories to generate increased body warmth, too, especially if they’re outside pets and can’t rely on your warm lap. You can feed adult dogs a puppy food which increases the calories—or feed a “performance” diet. Just remember to switch back to a maintenance diet in the spring or you risk adding pounds and can end up with a fat Fido.


Image Copr. Amy Shojai, CABC

When the temperature drops overnight, people pull on sweaters. Dogs don’t have the benefit of pulling something out of the closet to wear. Magic-the-wooly-wonder would spend hours outside if he had his choice. Yes, that’s him in the picture during the last storm, but even cold-loving dogs can have too much of a good thing.


I hope y’all have taken safety steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning–yep, it affects pets, too. Last week, our alarm system gas detector went off–WOOOOP-WOOOOP-WOOOOOP! The pets hated that, and it scared the whey out of me, too. It turns out our detectors were outdated, there was no leak by the water heaters (whew!), and once they were replaced we felt safe again.

You can get detectors at local home products stores. But many years ago, my brother’s pet bird, Gumby, saved the family’s life when symptoms alerted them to the danger. When Gumby began falling off his perch, they knew birdy fainting spells were not normal and sought veterinary help. The diagnosis was carbon monoxide poisoning, traced to a malfunctioning heater that could have put the whole family to sleep—permanently.


Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas. It’s a natural by-product of fuel combustion present in car exhaust and improperly vented furnaces, space heaters, water heaters, fireplaces, and tobacco smoke. It can quickly kill people as well as their pets. Children and pets have died in as little as 15 minutes inside running cars while parents shoveled snow outside the vehicle, unaware the tailpipe was blocked.

The gas causes the same symptoms in dogs and cats as in their owners. However, carbon monoxide is lighter than air, so pets that live at human knee level may not show symptoms as quickly as their owners. Birds are particularly susceptible and like Gumby, may be the first to show signs.


Here’s what happens. Carbon monoxide is inhaled, absorbed from the lungs into the bloodstream. There it binds with hemoglobin, the oxygen-transporting component of blood. This blocks the hemoglobin from using or carrying oxygen at all, which affects all areas of the body including the brain. The gas creates a kind of chemical suffocation.

The most common symptom of human carbon monoxide poisoning (low doses) in otherwise healthy people is fatigue that clears up when you leave the house. In heart patients it can cause chest pains. Higher concentrations cause headache, confusion and disorientation, and flu-like symptoms with vomiting. Ultimately, the poison victim falls into a coma. When the victim is asleep during exposure to the poison, the dog, cat, bird or the person may never wake up.

We don’t know if poisoned pets suffer headaches because they can’t tell us about this early sign. But they do act confused, lethargic, and drunk in the same way as human victims. A distinctive sign common to both people and pets are bright cherry-red gums in the mouth.


The body can only get rid of the poison bound to the hemoglobin by breathing it out, or by replacing the poisoned hemoglobin with new. The liver and spleen replace hemoglobin about every ten to fifteen days. When only a small amount of the blood is affected, the victim recovers without treatment as long as no more poison is inhaled.

But high levels of blood saturation will kill the person or pet unless emergency treatment is given. Twenty-five percent saturation level is considered dangerous for people. Usually, though, both people and pets should be treated when the carbon monoxide saturation level is ten percent or higher. Smokers will be more susceptible because they already have an elevated level of carbon monoxide in their bloodstream. In other words, if one family member smokes, he or she may suffer symptoms sooner than other non-smoking family members.

Administering high concentrations of oxygen is the treatment of choice. That increases the amount of gas that is breathed out. Many hours of oxygen therapy may be required. In some cases, ventilation may be necessary.


To protect yourself and your pets from carbon monoxide poisoning, get your heating units inspected every year before you start using them. Carbon monoxide detectors are also available to be installed as a warning system.

If you notice any change in your pet’s behavior or your own health that coincides with cold weather or the furnace coming on, don’t automatically assume it’s the flu. Consult with medical specialists for both your pets and for yourself.

Refer to this roundup article with details about five important pet poison issues!

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12 thoughts on “Blizzard Hazards and Carbon Monoxide Danger

  1. CO poisoning is a scary thing! My sister-in-law had a couple of friends who died from CO poisoning. Good thing the bird alerted your family!!! I don’t think our house has a detector for this, so I’ll have to get one for sure!

    • Yikes, that’s awful about your SIL’s friends! I once wrote a profile/article for Woman’s World about a dog that alerted the family about the toddler not breathing–Mom woke up with headache and got everyone out but only because of the dog. And yep, it was CO2.

  2. With our old dog we used to add canned food in the winter then taper it off in the summer. My folks do the same with their “barn kitties” (which now live in the garage due to too many coyotes and such in the area that have figured out how to get into the barn).

    Though I always thought CO was heavier than air, not lighter? They used to tell you to put those detectors closer to the floor.

    It looks like that has changed. Now I’m looking up and finding it’s about the same weight as air but because it often comes from heaters, warm air is lighter so it will go up. Which is absolutely backwards from what I had been told for YEARS, which was that it was heavier than air and will always sink. …and now that I’m looking that up, it looks like people confuse carbon monoxide with carbon DIoxide, the latter being heavier. Which means the instructions on my CO detectors have been WRONG for years. Yikes! That’s kinda scary…

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