Smoke Inhalation in Cats

4 min read

Lung Damage Due to Smoke Inhalation in Cats


In smoke inhalation, the extent of damage depends on the degree and duration of exposure to smoke and the material that was burning. Injury to the tissue is seen after inhalation of carbon monoxide, which decreases tissue oxygen delivery by binding to red blood cells; inhalation of other toxins that directly irritate the airway (e.g., oxidants and aldehydes); and inhalation of particulate matter that adheres to the airways and small air sacs in the lungs.


Cats may have serious lung injury with little evidence of burning on the skin. Lung reaction is initially symptomized by constriction of the lungs, airway swelling, and mucus production, followed by an inflammatory response in the trachea and bronchial area, and fluid accumulation in the lungs. Most patients show progression of lung dysfunction in the initial two to three days after exposure. Follow-up bacterial infections are a common cause of death late in the disease due to the wounded tissue being an advantageous receptor for bacteria.


Symptoms and Types


  • Smoky odor
  • Soot in the nasal or throat passages
  • Rapid breathing and increased depth of respiration
  • Breathing effort that suggests upper airway obstruction by swelling
  • Postural adaptations to respiratory distress (i.e., positioning the body to make breathing easier)
  • Mucous membranes may be cherry red, pale, or cyanotic (blue)
  • Reddened eyes
  • Hoarse cough
  • Confusion, fainting
  • Vomiting
  • Shock




Exposure to smoke/carbon monoxide, usually the result of being trapped in a burning building.




You will need to give a thorough history of your cat’s health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have preceded this condition, such as exposure to burning material. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. The blood count will show the level of red blood cells that are capable of carrying oxygen, and white cells that are capable of fighting infection. The blood profile will also show whether the arterial blood gases are at normal levels and will show the degree of oxygen shortage in the blood. The urinalysis will show how the kidney is functioning. Visual diagnostics, such as X-ray and ultrasound, may also be used to determine if there is fluid buildup in the lungs. A bronchoscopy, which uses a flexible tube with a camera attached and which can be inserted into the airway, may allow your doctor to determine the severity of airway damage.


Samples will be taken of the cells inside your cat’s mouth and airways and cultured to determine whether there are bacteria present. If there is tissue damage to the airways, your veterinarian may prescribe a prophylactic antibiotic to prevent infection.


Related Posts

5 Dangers of Smoke Inhalation for Pets

Megan Sullivan
Dec 07, 2017

Poisons (Inhaled)

Vladimir Negron
Jun 21, 2012

Risks of Second Hand Smoke for Dogs and Cats

Jennifer Coates, DVM
Jun 16, 2014

Can Pets Get Cancer from Owners’ Smoking?

Victoria Heuer
Nov 16, 2016