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Cats exposed to wildfires are at risk of deadly blood clots

A new study led by the University of California, Davis has found that cats who suffered burns and smoke inhalation during urban wildfires in California were at a significant risk of developing lethal blood clots. This study follows up on a previous one conducted at the same university, which showed that cats injured in urban wildfires had a higher incidence of cardiovascular issues.

“Prior to these two papers, we didn’t realize that cats impacted by urban wildfires were prone to forming clots, which can lead to sudden death,” said study co-author Ronald Li, an associate professor of Small Animal Emergency and Critical Care at UC Davis. “This study will change the standard of care for rescued cats from these wildfires and hopefully save more lives.”

By examining cats treated for injuries from the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California, the scientists found that they have more overactive platelets – cells that circulate in the blood and help forming blood clots – than healthy cats or cats with heart diseases such as subclinical hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a common cardiovascular disease in felines which causes a thickening of the heart muscle. 

“Cats with HCM are hypercoagulable, meaning they are more likely to form clots,” explained study lead author Avalene Tan, a veterinary research fellow at UC Davis. “That’s why we used them as a control group to compare with cats in the wildfire group. We found cats exposed to wildfire smoke and injuries are even more prone to throwing clots, showing a direct association between wildfire injuries, platelet response, and clot formation.”

The scientists also discovered a novel receptor on cat platelets, the Toll-Like-Receptor-4, which may play a significant role in clotting and could be targeted in future treatments. “These results could lead to bigger health implications for our feline patients and highlight the important role that platelets play in linking inflammation with the coagulation system,” Professor Li said.

Since wildfires pose a major risk to humans too, often causing heart attacks and strokes after prolonged wildfire exposure, better understanding the phenomenon of systemic platelet activation – which plays a crucial role in mediating the likelihood of developing blood clots as a result of wildfire injuries in cats – could shed more light on the impact of wildfires on human health and open novel therapeutic pathways.

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer   

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