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Carbon Monoxide Danger for You and Your Pets

by | Feb 8, 2024 | Cat Behavior & Care, Dog Training & Care | 8 comments

Cat and Dog together holding blank cardboard sign to enter your message onto

There’s a major disconnect for me today. While much of the country deals with unusually bad weather, today in N. Texas boasted 60s or even 70-degree sunny days. But that’s predicted to change of course. Deja vu, because this time a couple of years ago, a similar cold front shut down the whole area for more than a week. But what does that have to do with carbon monoxide danger? It affects you, and your pets, especially during cold weather when we try to keep pets warm.

red Dog and white cat carbon monoxide

CARBON MONOXIDE, THE INVISIBLE POISON!

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 It turns out our detectors were outdated, there was no leak by the water heaters (whew!), and once they were replaced we felt safe again.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 carbon monoxide detectors at local home products stores, like this First Alert detector with over 25,000 reviews. 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.

WHAT IS CARBON MONOXIDE

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 of the blocked tailpipe.

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.

carbon monoxide magic karma fireplace
An improperly vented fireplace can cause carbon monoxide poisoning affecting you, and your best friends. Magic and Karma loved hanging out together!

HOW CARBON MONOXIDE POISONS

Here’s what happens. When inhaled, the lungs absorb carbon monoxide, and it spills 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.

HOW TO CURE CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING

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.

PREVENTING CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING!

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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Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!  Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!

8 Comments

  1. Karyl

    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…

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      It may be that some detectors alarm for either CO or CO2. Ours also are located near the floor and right beside our gas water heaters.

      Reply
  2. Carol Bryant

    TY for these tips – will be sharing – and send some of that pawsome weather here okay?

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Today it’s a bit cooler, and supposed to turn cold and rain over the weekend. Yuck!

      Reply
  3. Kitty Cat Chronicles

    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!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      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.

      Reply
  4. Brenda

    Thanks for that reminder! Wow! Glad your brother’s bird saved the day for everybody & he was okay!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Yes, it was a lucky thing for all.

      Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pet Poisons 101: Keep Cats & Dogs Safe from Pet ToxinsAMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] Blizzard Hazards and Carbon Monoxide Danger […]
  2. Pet Poison: 7 Common Pet Poisons & First Aid to Save Pets LivesAMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] Invisible poisons also threaten pets. Learn about carbon monoxide poisoning in this post. […]
  3. What to Do for Fire Hazards & Pet Smoke Inhalation - […] it’s the invisible gasses that often kill. Gasses like acrolein, benzene, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide danger, even after the…
  4. 5 Blizzard Tips to Save Cat & Dog Lives - […] week I posted about cold weather dangers for pets and since that time, N. Texas has enjoyed some sunny,…

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