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Pet Oxygen Masks Can Save Animals’ Lives in Fires

Firefighters in Ocala, Fla., found Hanna, a 2-year-old Siamese cat, lying in a smoky bedroom, unconscious and not breathing. Believing her dead, they carried the cat outside. Then Hanna moved her head.   Firefighter Eric Morton recalls rubbing her belly and giving her oxygen through a mask designed for people. Without a proper fit to her face, not much happened. A fellow firefighter reminded him that the crew also had a pet oxygen mask.

“As soon as I put that mask on the cat, it started almost immediately to come around,” Morton says. “She started to open her eyes and look around.” He kept it on her until animal control officers arrived, and by then, he says, Hanna “was like a normal cat.”  

“It was pretty cool to see the cat come through,” he says.   Hanna’s owner, who was hospitalized with serious burns in the May 2010 fire, later paid Morton a visit to thank him for saving her pet, he said.   While pet oxygen masks have been used for decades by veterinarians in offices and hospitals, their use in the field by first responders – firefighters, paramedics and animal rescue teams – has been building for a decade, experts say.  

The cone-shaped masks are designed with enough depth to fit over an animal’s nose and mouth, making the delivery of oxygen more effective than it is with masks made for people’s flatter faces. The pet masks have a rubber seal that creates a snug fit around the snout. Rescuers have improvised with human masks on pets with mixed results.   Just removing an animal from a smoky fire isn’t always enough. As with people, the earlier that oxygen is delivered to combat poisonous carbon monoxide, the better for those animals that wouldn’t otherwise survive the trip to the hospital.  

“Immediate oxygen therapy can make the difference between life and death in severely affected pets,” says Elke Rudloff, an emergency and critical care veterinarian outside Milwaukee.   And for people whose homes and possessions have gone up in flames, seeing their pet saved, sometimes right before their eyes, can be a bright spot in a tragedy.   “Most people are hugging the pet to death because they’re so happy,” says Ines de Pablo, whose company Wag’n Enterprises sells the masks at-cost to first responders…

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