Cats offer clues for human medicine

15 March 2020

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USA – Cats injured in Northern California wildfires could offer insight into the heart problems that both pets and people may experience after fire exposure, a new study found.

The study, by researchers at the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, looked at cardiovascular problems diagnosed in 51 cats treated after the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa and the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, and was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

“These cats came to UC Davis” after they were rescued from burned areas, said Catherine Gunther-Harrington, a study author and assistant professor of clinical cardiology at the Department of Veterinary Medicine & Epidemiology. “They had burn injuries, and they had smoke inhalation. Just by the nature of being burned in these fires, these are really stressful events. All those, in human medicine, are known to cause some cardiovascular effects. In our study, half (the cats) had cardiovascular effects.”

That included inflammation of the heart muscle itself, or fluid within the heart muscle. More than half the cats had heart muscle thickening and nearly 30% had blood clots or were at high risk of developing blood clots, which pose a high risk of sudden death. Those changes occurred at a higher rate than in humans, she said, and in cats with only moderate burns, such as burned paws or faces.

“Usually with people, you have to have over 20% of your body burned to observe these changes,” she said. “With cats, many had less than 20% burned.”

It’s unclear if cats are more susceptible to those changes, or if the nature of the fires themselves exacerbated the effects, she said.

“Is it something toxic in the smoke?” she asked. “These are not wildland fires, but are in urban environments that might release toxicants.”

The cats in the study received wound care, fluid replenishment, pain management, treatment for eye injuries, and some received anti-coagulants to reduce the risk of blood clots. Six of the cats in the study died or were euthanized because of cardiac issues, but 82% survived and were discharged. Many of those that survived were reunited with their owners, and others were adopted to new homes, Gunther-Harrington said.

The study offers insights that could lead to new lines of treatment for humans who suffer burn injuries, as well as other animals including dogs, horses and livestock, Gunther-Harrington said.

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