Breathe easy

Published Sep 2, 2013 at 7:46 am (Updated Sep 11, 2013 at 10:58 am)

Before the invention of animal-friendly oxygen masks, the only way a first responder could help pets rescued from fires and suffering from smoke inhalation was to use oxygen masks designed for humans, which don’t fit properly over an animal’s snout.

First responders in Washington and Allegheny counties are now better equipped to save the lives of area pets thanks to Invisible Fence Brand’s Project Breathe program. Benefitting from the life-saving program were Canonsburg General Hospital Ambulance Service and first responders affiliated with Allegheny Health Network. Canonsburg received a donation of one pet oxygen mask from Invisible Fence of Western Pennsylvania while Allegheny Health Network received a donation of nine pet oxygen masks for its Pre-Hospital Care Services from Invisible Fence of Western Pennsylvania and Invisible Fence of Pittsburgh.

“These masks truly are a blessing for Canonsburg,” said William R. Blair, EMT manager for Canonsburg General Hospital Ambulance Service. “We’ve seen residents run back into burning homes to save a pet. It’s understandable, but extremely dangerous. These masks will give residents comfort in knowing that we can save their pets if they are suffering from smoke inhalation.”

The program began with a goal of equipping every fire station in America and Canada with pet oxygen masks. While designed specifically for dogs and cats, they have also been used on snakes, gerbils and birds. Since the program’s inception, more than 10,000 pet oxygen masks have been donated and more than 90 pets have been saved.

“When a family suffers the tragedy of a fire, lives are turned upside down,” said Albert Lee, director of Invisible Fence Brand. “Pets are valued family members, so we want families to know that their pet can be cared for if tragedy strikes.”

Although the number of pets that die in fires is not an official statistic kept by the U.S. Fire Administration, it is estimated that at least 40,000 pets die each year. Most succumb to smoke inhalation.

Smoke inhalation affects dogs and cats in much the same way that it impacts people, according to Dr. Volz, DVM, of Brush Run Veterinary Clinic in McMurray. “The sooner the patient gets oxygen the better,” he said. He added that the problems that arise from smoke inhalation are primarily carbon monoxide-related, as CO does not let oxygen onto hemoglobin and the low oxygen level can cause permanent neurologic issues. “If in a fire, they should get oxygen ASAP, which is why it’s really great that the fire departments are starting to carry the masks on their trucks.”

However, Dr. Volz said that after being treated on the scene, an animal needs to be seen by a veterinarian to assess any serious breathing or lung issues that might require immediate treatment. He added that some issues, such as pneumonia, may not come up for a few days.

It’s been 20 years since Dr. Volz was involved in a smoke inhalation case. That dog, he said, did well and had no long-term issues. “If they make it through the initial problems, most dogs will live a normal life afterwards. Being lower to the ground actually helps our patients avoid some damage from smoke.”

Each kit contains three masks to fit small, medium and large dogs.

Visit for more information or to help support this effort.

comments powered by Disqus