Oct 25, 2010 8:33 PM by Bonnie Markoff, DVM

Oxygen therapy for pets

Cindy has asked if oxygen treatment may have contributed to the death of her kitty who had suffered chest trauma. This is a very interesting question that cannot be answered completely without more information, but I can address the use of oxygen in trauma cases.

Oxygen and fluids are considered the cornerstone of all critical treatments. Every animal that presents to Animal Care Clinic in shock or distress will immediately be put on oxygen and IV fluids. Without oxygen, the cells of the entire body cannot function properly. When an animal is in shock, there is not adequate blood supply to the tissues. Since the blood carries oxygen, we need to get as much oxygen as possible into each ounce of blood. Animals with lung damage or trauma have a hard time transferring the oxygen they breathe into the bloodstream. Therefore, we want them to breathe as much oxygen as possible to increase the amount that gets into the blood and thus to the cells.

Oxygen can be administered many ways. Masks, bags and intranasal catheters can all be used. One of the easiest ways to provide high oxygen levels is to use an oxygen cage. The nice thing about the oxygen cage is that the animal can relax and breathe normally without anything attached to its head. Most of us are familiar with the nasal adapters or masks that are used on people in the hospital. These work wonderfully, but most dogs and cats won't tolerate them without sedation.

High levels of oxygen can potentially damage the lungs. This is not a common situation in veterinary medicine. While pulmonary oxygen toxicity can occur in just a few hours, it is more often associated with near 100% oxygen levels lasting 24 hours or more. Critical care oxygen levels, including those in most oxygen cages, are generally 25-50%. Animals under anesthesia receive close to 100% oxygen and even with extended orthopedic procedures, this does not lead to lung damage. There is no doubt that the benefits of oxygen therapy far outweigh any minor risk.

Cindy, I think that your kitty probably had some severe damage to the lungs and or heart that had not been diagnosed. What looks like a lung contusion on an early x-ray can quickly progress to a more severe bleed into the lungs or even around the outside of the lungs. The heart may have been bruised or your kitty may have even developed a pulmonary embolism (clot). I think that whatever made your veterinarian want to put him into the oxygen cage is the thing that lead to his death. Oxygen therapy, even with a low body temperature, was almost certainly the right thing to do. I am so sorry this happened to your feline friend, but it sounds like he received good care. You should feel confident using this same veterinary hospital in the future.



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