Effects of a Gas Leak on Animals

By Bridget Johnson

The silent killer of carbon monoxide not only endangers the lives of the humans in your household, but your animal companions as well. Gas leaks come from household appliances and operating items indoors that cause a buildup of carbon monoxide. Animals quickly can be overcome due to their small size. Prevention steps as well as rapid action in the event of a leak must be taken to save lives.

Where It Comes From

Carbon monoxide leaks can come from anything in the home that uses gas, from stoves to hot water heaters and fireplaces or furnaces. A dirty chimney can push carbon monoxide back into the home, and using a gas generator, portable camping stove or charcoal grill indoors also causes a buildup of deadly gas. Even working on a car in the garage with the door open while the engine runs is dangerous.

Gas companies put a sulfurlike additive in gas so that it can be smelled, but you still can have a gas leak if you don't smell anything. Sound ranging from a hiss to a roar near a gas appliance can be a sign of a leak, or you may see damage to connections on a water heater or appliance.

Poisoning Symptoms

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 400 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning, with the young and elderly at the highest risk. The symptoms for humans can resemble the flu at first, and move into deeper neurological symptoms including weakness and disorientation. Pets are overcome in much the same way as the gas keeps red blood cells from carrying oxygen throughout the body.

Animals can be overtaken by the invisible, odorless gas quickly, as evidenced by the canaries lowered into coal mines in the early 20th century. The birds would show signs of illness such wobbling on a perch before the miners would feel ill, telling them to get out of there. The same applies in your home, though specific signs can vary by species. Gas leaks cause distressed, unsteady pets starting with the smallest creatures.

If you have sudden, unexplained cases of animals getting sick or dying in your home, investigate the possibility of a gas leak.

Take Action

Your No. 1 priority is getting every living creature in the home out into fresh air. If you have several animals to evacuate, open all windows to let in fresh air while you either quickly transfer them to travel cages and carriers unless they're in small enough cages to grab and go.

Perform CPR if your pet is not breathing; call an emergency veterinarian if you need to be walked through the procedure. Call 911 if anyone in your home is feeling the effects of the gas, and call the gas company to report the leak. See a veterinarian as soon as possible for animals showing any ill effects. Quick action gives your pet a better shot at making it through without potential long-term effects of gas poisoning, such as damage to the heart.

Have the numbers of your regular vet and a 24-hour emergency vet or pet poison hotline programmed into your cellphone in case you need to get out of the home quickly.

Pets' Sixth Sense

Pets also have demonstrated an uncanny ability to sense the gas leak before you can, and may try to tell you something's amiss. In 2007, a Montana cat named Schnautzie poked her owner until she awoke to find the busted gas pipe outside the bathroom. In 2014, an Indiana dog just adopted by his family was behaving oddly and led his new family to the leaking water heater.

Pay attention if your pet is trying to tell you something with behavior out of the ordinary by crying or yelping, or insistently trying to lead you somewhere. It could be a thunderstorm is on the horizon -- or something worse.

Use a carbon monoxide detector to sniff out potentially deadly gas leaks and warn you when your family and animals are at risk.