Will Carbon Monoxide Affect Pets First? What You Should Know

Carbon monoxide has been referred to as the silent killer. We cannot smell, see, or taste carbon monoxide, so it can sneak up when we least expect it. Will carbon monoxide affect pets first?

Increasing levels of carbon monoxide will affect pets first and likely more severely than humans. Small cats, dogs, and other small pets can get sick from the same kinds of toxic poisoning that people can, and the pet may suffer from prolonged health effects and even death.

Boy Kissing Dog

If you suspect that you or your pet has been exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning, get outside right away and contact 911 or emergency medical assistance. 

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning could be any of the following:

  • Vertigo (a dizzy feeling)
  • Weakness
  • Impaired breathing (like being out of breath)
  • Nausea
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Headache

Any combination of the above symptoms alongside the suspicion of carbon monoxide exposure should be addressed immediately. Many times, a vet hospital will put the pet in an oxygen chamber to provide oxygen therapy.

Will Carbon Monoxide Affect Pets First?

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is the main reason for accidental poisoning deaths in the United States, yet can easily be avoided.

According to estimates, unintentional, non-fire-related carbon monoxide poisoning accounts for 15,000 visits to emergency rooms and close to 500 fatalities per year in the United States.

Statistics are not available for how many pets are affected each year by carbon monoxide. However, approximately a third of homes in the United States have either a cat or a dog.

It’s a safe assumption then, that pets are included in the unfortunate toxic poisoning and fatalities brought on by carbon monoxide.

When inhaled, carbon monoxide causes the brain and heart to use less oxygen. Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen to pets when people do things like leave them in an enclosed space where carbon monoxide is being produced.

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) interrupts the function of the body’s red blood cells and their ability to carry oxygen to the organs in the body. Organs cannot function without high levels of oxygen. When the brain and the heart are deprived of the oxygen they need, the body can start to shut down.

Also known as the silent killer, CO is tasteless, colorless, and odorless.

What Causes Carbon Monoxide in a Home

Carbon monoxide in a home is caused by the burning of fuel from home appliances or a vehicle running in a closed garage, which causes high levels of carbon monoxide to enter the home. If an appliance has a carbon monoxide leak, the CO will enter the home.

There are several things that can cause a home to be exposed to carbon monoxide, as listed below:

  • Furnace or boiler leak
  • Clothes dryer leak
  • Fireplaces (wood or gas)
  • Water heater leak
  • Wood stoves
  • Tobacco smoke
  • A running motor vehicle running in an unventilated garage
  • Grills, gas stoves, and ovens
  • Power tools
  • Lawn equipment

The above are examples of how carbon monoxide may be introduced into a home and is only a small list of the many ways one may be exposed to CO poisoning.

Causes of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Cats & Dogs

Dogs and cats may be exposed to carbon monoxide in the same way that people are. Sadly, CO poisoning of a beloved pet could happen due to human negligence, such as locking a cat or dog in a furnace room. Since furnaces are known to leak at times, this move could be detrimental to your pet.

Imagine you are getting ready to head out to run some errands and your dog is more than happy to tag along. You grab your keys, the dog follows, and you start the car in your garage. Your dog jumps into the car and is so excited to go bye-bye.

Suddenly, you realize you forgot to grab your phone, so you climb out of the running car to go get it.

As you grab your phone, you see that you have a couple of text messages and proceed to respond to them quickly. After all, it won’t take you long, and you’ll be right back to the running vehicle.

When you get back into the garage, you realize you failed to open the overhead garage door for the necessary ventilation so as not to trap all the built-up carbon monoxide in the garage that eventually makes its way into the house.

You can see by this example that human negligence can not only put our pets in harm’s way but also ourselves and our entire family.

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The best way to keep yourself and your pets from getting sick from carbon monoxide is to learn about the hidden dangers of CO and follow the tips below.

For a full list of tips and advice, visit the CDC’s Prevention Guide.

  • Having a working carbon monoxide detector in all rooms of the home that have an appliance that may omit CO will help keep your family safe.
  • Schedule a yearly checkup of your heating system.
  • Never use a generator indoors, ever.
  • Never use a fireplace with the vent closed.

Seek emergency medical treatment if you suspect carbon monoxide exposure.

Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Pets

Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning in pets can vary from pet to pet, yet all pets will suffer in some way. The signs of CO poisoning in pets could include the following:

  • Seizures
  • Passing out
  • Labored breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness or balance issues

Seek emergency medical treatment for your pet if you suspect your pet has been exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning and is showing signs of concern.

Pet Exposed to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – What to Do

If you think carbon monoxide may have poisoned your pet, you should call an emergency vet right away. Although CO poisoning can be life-threatening, it doesn’t always have to be if the pet is removed from the toxic area right away and medical treatment is provided promptly.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Dogs

Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen to dogs if they are in a room with an appliance that has a CO leak or is putting out carbon monoxide without enough ventilation.

Can Dogs Detect Carbon Monoxide?

Dogs cannot detect carbon monoxide just like humans cannot detect it. Carbon monoxide has no smell, no color, and no taste, so neither people nor animals can tell when it’s around.

Dogs have keen senses, but they are unable to sense what isn’t there.

What Are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Dogs?

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning in dogs may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Sleepy and lethargic
  • Vomiting
  • Unsteady gate
  • Behavior changes
  • Labored breathing
  • Seizures or muscle spasms
  • The gums may turn bright red in color
  • Become unconscious due to slipping into a coma

Keep a close eye on your dog after CO exposure. Visible signs of toxic carbon dioxide poisoning may take a few days or up to a week to notice. Many times, there may be recurring neurological symptoms in pets when their bodies are fighting to overcome a CO illness.

Keep a close eye on your dog for up to a week after CO exposure for any abrupt worsening or recurrence of neurological symptoms.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Cats

Cats are susceptible to the dangers of carbon monoxide just like people are and can suffer both short-term and long-term side effects.

Can Cats Sense Carbon Monoxide?

Cats cannot sense carbon monoxide, just like it can’t be detected by humans. This silent killer has earned its name, as neither people nor animals can detect the presence of CO. This odorless, colorless, tasteless gas can creep its way into any home.

What Are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Cats?

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning in cats can vary widely depending on the level of CO exposure and may include:

  • Coma
  • Heart problems
  • Lung damage
  • Seizures
  • Balance and weakness issues
  • The appearance of being depressed
  • Labored breathing
  • Hearing loss
  • Partial or complete blindness
  • Vomiting
  • Death

Keep a close eye on your cat for up to a week after it has been exposed to CO. Watch for any sudden worsening or coming back of neurological symptoms in animals who have been poisoned by carbon monoxide.


Trina Greenfield, Author
SmackDown Media LLC

About the Author:
Trina Greenfield, the owner of SmackDown Media LLC, is passionate about providing information to those interested in the air quality in and around their homes. Trina writes content about things she’s passionate about, such as safe, in-home air, educational platforms for children and adults, as well as all things family-related.