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Pathology of carbon monoxide poisoning in two cats



Carbon monoxide (CO), a common cause of poisoning in human beings has also been implicated in the death of animals. Though there are multiple studies on CO poisoning and relevant lethal blood COHb concentrations in humans, there are no reliable reports of diagnostic lethal carboxyhemoglobin percentage of saturation (COHb%) in cats. Additionally, due to shared housing environments, exposures to companion animals can be a surrogate for lethal exposures in human beings and provide valuable information in concurrent forensic investigations.

Case presentation

Two adult Singapura brown ticked cats were submitted to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory (CAHFS) for necropsy and diagnostic work-up. These animals were found dead along with their two deceased owners. Similar lesions were observed in both cats. At necropsy, gross lesions consisted of multifocal, large, irregular, bright red spots on the skin of the abdomen and the inner surface of ear pinnae, bright red muscles and blood. The carcasses, and tissues fixed in formalin retained the bright red discoloration for up to two weeks. Microscopic lesions included diffuse pulmonary congestion and edema, and multifocal intense basophilia of cardiomyocytes mostly affecting whole fibers or occasionally a portion of the fiber. Based on the clinical history,gross and microscopic changes, cyanide or carbon monoxide poisoning was suspected. Blood samples analyzed for carbon monoxide showed 57 and 41% carboxyhemoglobin COHb%. Muscle samples were negative for cyanide.


There are no established reference values for lethal COHb concentration in cats. The COHb % values detected in this case which fell within the lethal range reported for other species, along with the gross lesions and unique histological findings in the heart suggest a helpful criteria for diagnosis of CO intoxication associated death in cats. This case demonstrates that since pets share the same environment as human beings and often are a part of their activities, they can be useful adjuncts in potential forensic investigations to help solve human cases.

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