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Can a Cat Detect Carbon Monoxide? The Interesting Answer!

Written by: Kristin Hitchcock

Last Updated on February 2, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

hand holding carbon monoxide alarm

Can a Cat Detect Carbon Monoxide? The Interesting Answer!

Cats cannot smell or otherwise detect carbon monoxide. This gas is completely odorless. Therefore, there is no way for your feline to detect it—despite their stronger noses.

However, cats have a much smaller body weight than humans. Therefore, they are much more sensitive to the effects of carbon monoxide, and they will often begin to experience negative signs sooner. Sometimes, this may warn their humans that something is not right. Still, these signs can vary widely; not all are clear signs that something is wrong.

For instance, some cats may get drowsy and go to sleep, which isn’t often unusual. Other times, cats may exhibit more unusual behavior, such as confusion, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. These signs may signal that something is wrong and prompt the owner to consider the presence of carbon monoxide.

If you own a cat, you may still consider getting a low-level CO detector. These are designed to detect smaller levels of CO. Because cats are more sensitive to this chemical, even lower levels can cause issues. Being alerted to these lower concentrations can help save your feline.

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Do Cats React to Carbon Monoxide?

Like almost all animals, cats can get carbon monoxide poisoning. Because they weigh less than humans, felines also have a lower tolerance for CO. However, also like humans, cats cannot sense carbon monoxide. Therefore, it can be deadly to felines—often before it’s deadly to their owners.

It’s particularly dangerous because the signs aren’t always clear. An affected cat may sleep, for instance. Given how often most cats curl up and nap, this behavior probably won’t make their owners bat an eye. Carbon monoxide can easily be the “silent killer” for cats and humans.

The most common signs are sleepiness and drowsiness. Carbon monoxide literally starves the brain of oxygen. Because it can’t function properly, the brain begins to slow down, which causes the cat to get sleepy. It does the same thing in people, which often leads to death. After all, the cat (and owners) won’t notice any other signs when asleep.

However, not all felines will curl up and sleep immediately. In this case, the feline may act drowsy, confused, and wobbly. After all, their brain won’t be functioning properly.

orange cat smelling something
Image by: MariyaL, Shutterstock

Eventually, more serious signs will develop. For instance, the cat may have difficulty breathing, vomit, and have seizures. As the brain becomes more oxygen-starved, it will eventually cause seizures and death.

These more troublesome signs can sometimes alert owners that something is wrong, leading to them getting out of the building. However, many owners may feel sleepy or drowsy when the cat experiences these worsening signs, so they may not notice. Therefore, while cats experience signs before humans in most cases, that doesn’t mean they always signal the carbon monoxide leak.

People still get carbon monoxide poisoning and die even if they have pets in their homes.

Can Cats Smell Gas Leaks?

No. Cats cannot smell carbon monoxide, as it is odorless. While they are much more sensitive to smells, carbon monoxide doesn’t have a smell. Therefore, they cannot sense this gas despite their more sensitive nose. In fact, no animal can sense carbon monoxide, which is one reason why it is so dangerous.

Once upon a time, birds were used as early detection sensors for mines. However, this isn’t because the birds detected the gas. Instead, their lower body weight means they were affected far sooner than humans. Often, this led to their death. Therefore, when the bird died, the miners knew there was a gas leak.

However, displaying signs of carbon monoxide poisoning is the only way that animals can be used to detect it. They cannot smell it or sense it in any other way.

How Long Does It Take for a Cat to Get Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

It depends on the concentration of the carbon monoxide and the cat’s body weight. Different leaks release different amounts of carbon monoxide into the air. Leaving a cat in a closed garage with a running car would typically lead to carbon monoxide poisoning in about 10 minutes, for instance. Other heavy sources of carbon monoxide would likely produce similar effects in the same amount of time (such as generators).

Cats are often exposed to carbon monoxide due to human error. Usually, it’s because certain machines that run on gas aren’t installed correctly. In these cases, the amount released may be much smaller. Therefore, the cat may not show signs quite as soon. However, most carbon monoxide poisonings happen within only a couple of hours.

Cats may also be exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide during house fires. In this case, the amount of carbon monoxide released depends on what is burning. The lack of oxygen suffocates many cats during housefires—not necessarily burned by the fire.

a cat that feels sick and seems to vomit
Image by: chie hidaka, Shutterstock

What Causes Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Cats?

There are many sources of carbon monoxide in our modern world. Here are some of the most common causes of carbon monoxide poisoning in cats:

  • Poorly ventilated areas
  • Gas or kerosene heaters
  • House fires
  • Unventilated furnaces
  • Vehicles in closed areas
  • Carbon fuels

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Cats cannot smell carbon monoxide, as it does not have any smell. Despite cats having stronger noses, cats will not consciously notice this gas. However, due to their smaller size, they typically get signs before their humans do.

Still, this doesn’t mean that their owners always notice the signs. When the cat is in serious trouble, the owner may also be sleepy, drowsy, and have other signs. Therefore, they may not be in the state of mind necessary to notice their cat’s is in danger.

Featured Image Credit: Ralf Geithe, Shutterstock

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