We often see it; domestic cats dramatically rescued from a house fire and a firefighter administering oxygen through a mask to save her life and it frequently does. American firefighters seem to be very good at this. The same can be said of Russian firefighters. In an online story with an accompanying video we see Russian firefighters administering oxygen to a cat who lies prone on the floor apparently dying until firefighters hold an oxygen mask over her face for a few minutes. She gradually comes around.
It interests me as to how administering oxygen helps a cat who has been caught in a house fire. It’s quite hard to find a clean and clear answer. There is no single page containing all the information.
Smoke inhalation is the big health risk for person and cat alike. Smoke inhalation injuries are probably the main reason why people and animals die in house fires. The hot smoke injures the respiratory system because it contains various poisons including carbon monoxide. In addition there is of course the damage caused to the lungs by the heat.
Carbon monoxide interferes with the body’s oxygen use at a cellular level. It interferes with how each cell in the body uses oxygen. The delivery of oxygen to the body is inhibited. If this is allowed to continue cells die causing the cat’s death. To counteract this, oxygen gas is delivered to the cat so that the cells can take up oxygen in the usual way and in sufficient quantities.
Smoke inhalation damages the body of the cat by simple asphyxiation meaning a lack of oxygen. Clearly to counteract that oxygen is required. Smoke contains substances which do not cause direct harm to the cat but which take up the space normally occupied by oxygen. One such substance would be carbon dioxide. Once again, the cat will suffer from a lack of oxygen and therefore the remedy is to provide a high level of oxygen through an oxygen mask.
Also, although I’ve not read this, it would seem to me that smoke contains carbon particles which would be inhaled and which would prevent the lungs functioning in the normal way to an extent where the cat fails to receive enough oxygen to function normally. Dramatically increasing the amount of oxygen that the cat breathes in through an oxygen mask counteracts this until a veterinarian can assess the cat’s lungs and any damage done to them and whether there are any particles inside the lungs.
It is obviously possible that a cat’s lungs would be damaged in a fire. This is probably permanent damage and therefore although an oxygen mask may have saved the life of a cat the long term prognosis may not be good.