Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Dogs

Dogs are susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning just as humans are.  In fact, because carbon monoxide accumulates near the floor first, your dog may show symptoms that the deadly gas is present before you do.  Most cases of carbon monoxide poisoning are due to human error, such as leaving the dog in the garage with a running car or other combustible engine.  Dogs trapped in a burning house can also get carbon monoxide poisoning.  There have even been cases of carbon monoxide poisoning in dogs riding in a dog trailer being pulled by a pickup.

Carbon monoxide kills by bonding with the hemoglobin, or oxygen carrying molecule, in the blood.  This becomes the molecule carboxyhemoglobin.  Carboxyhemoglobin prevents hemoglobin from carrying oxygen to the dog’s cells.  The dog’s cells die from lack of oxygen.  In effect, the cells suffocate in carbon monoxide poisoning.

Acute exposure to carbon monoxide leads to these symptoms:  sleepiness, cherry red skin and mucous membranes (difficult to detect in most dogs due to their fur), weakness, lethargy, difficulty in breathing, seizures, abortion in pregnant animals (especially late in term), depression, deafness, uncoordinated movements, coma, and death.  Animals showing these symptoms are like the canary in the coal mine.  They signal that the area is contaminated with carbon monoxide and you and the animal should evacuate immediately.

Chronic low level exposure to carbon monoxide causes nausea, acidosis, vomiting, coughing, flu like symptoms, loss of exercise stamina, and disturbances in gait.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is an emergency requiring veterinary care.  The first thing the veterinarian will do is put the dog on oxygen to start eliminating the carboxyhemoglobin from the blood and bring the oxygen level up.  The veterinarian will also do blood work and a urinalysis to see how bad the damage is.  This information will allow him to formulate a treatment plan.

In addition to putting your dog on one hundred percent oxygen, the veterinarian will start IV fluids to dilute the acidosis and help the oxygen reach the blood cells, especially those in the brain.  Brain damage can occur with carbon monoxide poisoning.

For six weeks after carbon monoxide poisoning, it will be necessary to limit your dog’s activity level.  Take several small walks instead of one long walk.  Slow down the playtime and exercise until your dog has recovered.  Your dog will need extra affection during this time as well.  High levels of anxiety have been reported as long as weeks after the poisoning.

Do whatever you can to keep your dog calm and relaxed.  Take the dog back to the veterinarian immediately if any of the symptoms return.  Keep your dog aware from any sources of carbon monoxide as well.

Prevention of carbon monoxide poisoning requires never leaving a dog near a combustible engine in an enclosed place.  Placing carbon monoxide detectors in the house will also warn you of any accumulation in the living area, saving you and your dog from carbon monoxide poisoning.