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Pets and House Fires

By Dr. Jacqueline Brister

Pets and House Fires

House fires can be deadly to both people and pets alike. The same medical issues that can be life-threatening to humans can also apply to pets. Pets can experience burns, smoke inhalation, and carbon monoxide toxicity just like we can. This article will discuss the medical concerns associated with the aftermath of a house fire, what you can do to help your pet, what to expect once your pet is evaluated by a veterinarian, and ways to keep your pet safe in the future.

Smoke Inhalation

Once your pet has been rescued from a fire, he or she may appear pretty normal. Unfortunately, initial appearances can be deceiving. Even if your pet didn’t come into contact with fire and get burned, he or she may have severe internal issues that need to be addressed. The most common cause of fire-related deaths in pets after a house fire is not skin damage from burns, but organ damage from carbon monoxide toxicity. During a fire, carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen in the air. When a pet breathes carbon monoxide instead of oxygen, his organs will not be able to function correctly. The first organs to be affected will be the lungs, heart, and brain. Symptoms of carbon monoxide toxicity include red gums, rapid breathing, passing out, or throwing up.

Smoke itself is hot and can burn the airways when your pet breathes. The smoke particles can also damage the lining of the airways and limit how much air your pet can breathe. This damage can cause swelling within the airway which may not be obvious immediately. Over time, the swelling may actually become so significant that your pet’s airway may become blocked, preventing him or her from breathing at all. The smoke can also trigger the body to release chemicals and inflammatory cells that may worsen the swelling and further damage the airways. This release can be so severe that it may negatively affect all organs within the body and send your pet into shock. Watch your pet closely for trouble breathing, coughing, dizziness, or collapse.


If your pet came into contact with the fire or any hot surfaces in your home, he or she may suffer from burn damage as well. Some burns are minor and may look like a sunburn. Other burns can be so severe that the skin is burned away and the underlying tissue or muscle is present. Burns will cause the pet to lose moisture quickly and decrease the pet’s ability to stay warm. Because burns are extremely painful, your pet may pant or breathe heavily, which may further increase his or her risk of dehydration. Corneal ulcers, or burns on the eyes are also common after a house fire. Watch your pet closely for signs of squinting, eye swelling, or eye redness. Monitor any skin burns for oozing, skin discoloration, or changes in skin thickness.

Heat Stroke

Because your pet was in a hot environment, he or she may also be at risk for heat stroke. Becoming overheated can lead to the same release of chemicals and inflammatory cells by the body as smoke inhalation. While heat stroke may appear mild at first, some pets can go into shock if their temperature gets high enough.

First- Aid

Once your pet has been rescued, it will be important to get him or her cool as quickly as possible. This can also help minimize the damage of smoke inhalation and may help with mild burns. Do not use ice because this can cool a pet down too quickly and may actually worsen some of the damage associated with the fire and smoke. Rinse your pet with tepid or cool water. If there are any burns on his or her body, keep these burns under running, tepid water for at least ten minutes to help stop the burning process. You can also offer your pet cool or tepid water to drink, but don’t force them if they are not interested. If oxygen is available, such as oxygen masks offered by fire fighters or EMT personnel, allow your pet to breathe from the mask as much as he or she is comfortable with. Some pets panic when a mask is placed on their face, so you may only be able to give him or her a little. Try to get the mask close to his or her nose or mouth without stressing your pet out too much. Keep your pet as calm as you can.

Once your pet has cooled down, you may need to gently wrap him or her in a loose blanket, especially if there are any burns present. Because burns can prevent pets from regulating body heat, all the work you did to get your pet cool may lead to him or her becoming too cold. This will result in your pet diverting excess energy to staying warm instead of healing from the house fire effects.

Veterinary Care

Take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Some of the effects of a house fire can take several hours to become lethal, and providing your pet with veterinary care immediately may prevent these effects from occurring. Your veterinarian will assess your pet’s heart, lungs, eyes, and skin. The veterinarian will look inside the mouth for signs of swelling, and may want to take x-rays of the lungs to ensure the smoke damage is not severe. Lab work is often necessary to monitor for signs of shock. Your vet will likely need to keep your pet in an oxygen cage or on some other form of oxygen supplementation. The veterinarian will also probably place an IV and give your pet IV fluids to keep him or her hydrated and to prevent shock from progressing.

If your pet has extensive burns, multiple surgeries may be necessary over time to treat the burns and allow the skin to heal fully. Infection and dehydration are extremely common with severe burns, and your pet may need to be hospitalized or rechecked regularly to monitor for these issues. Once your pet is sent home, be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions and give all medications exactly as prescribed so that your pet is comfortable and heals well.


While there is no way to fully protect your pet in the event of a house fire, some prevention can go a long way towards protection. Remember to include your pet in your fire safety plan. Someone will need to be in charge of getting your pet out of the house if there is reasonable time to do so. If you are unable to find your pet during a fire, do not allow you or your family members to try to retrieve your pet, but be sure to let the fire department personnel know that he or she is still inside the home. Have your pet microchipped so that in the event your pet is able to escape, you can find him or her after the fire. Place a sticker or identification in the window of your home so that fire department personnel know there is a pet in the home if a fire breaks out when you aren’t there.

Surviving a house fire can be emotionally and physically traumatic. Keeping these tips in mind may help save your pet’s life and minimize the toll that a fire can take on your family. If you are unsure if your pet needs medical attention, it never hurts to call your veterinarian’s office and discuss your pet’s symptoms. This may give you peace of mind to get you and your family through the trials of rebuilding and getting back to your normal routine.

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Pet health insurance is administered by Embrace Pet Insurance Agency, LLC and underwritten by one of the licensed insurers of American Modern Insurance Group, Inc., including American Modern Home Insurance Company d/b/a in CA as American Modern Insurance Company (Lic. No 2222-8), and American Southern Home Insurance Company. Coverage is subject to policy terms, conditions, limitations, exclusions, underwriting review, and approval, and may not be available for all risks or in all states. Rates and discounts vary, are determined by many factors, and are subject to change. Wellness Rewards is offered as a supplementary, non-insurance benefit administered by Embrace Pet Insurance Agency in the United States. © 2020 American Modern Insurance Group, Inc.  Wellness Rewards not available in Rhode Island.