At home oxygen therapy is commonly prescribed to humans with a variety of cardiopulmonary conditions. This type of treatment may have some benefits for animals as well. Not all cardiac conditions in animals should be managed with at home oxygen therapy – for example, left sided congestive heart failure when severe is a medical emergency that is best managed in the hospital with a combination of oxygen therapy, diuretics and other medications to reduce the fluid accumulation within the lungs. Providing oxygen only to patients with left sided heart failure will not improve their condition.
The most common indication for at home oxygen in animals is an adjunctive treatment for pulmonary hypertension and some chronic pulmonary diseases. Pulmonary hypertension is a disease characterized by high blood pressure in the lungs. Oxygen therapy has been shown to relax the pulmonary arteries, therefore reducing the pressure in these vessels. Chronic treatment with oxygen for humans with pulmonary hypertension may help to slow disease progression. Treatment for pulmonary hypertension is multi-modal, often combining oral medications and oxygen therapy at home for some patients. Oxygen therapy alone is not enough for these patients to manage their condition.
Do not use oxygen for your pet at home unless you are directed to do so by a veterinarian. If you have been prescribed oxygen therapy for your animal at home, the first step is to obtain an appropriate oxygen kennel. There are commercially available oxygen kennels for animals which are specifically designed for this purpose – we recommend the use of the Buster oxygen kennel (https://www.jorvet.com/product/buster-icu-cage-medium/). This can be purchased through veterinary suppliers. These kennels have a port for insertion of the oxygen tubing and supply attachments to vary the percentage of oxygen entering the kennel. They have clear sides so you can easily monitor your animal. Some owners may fashion an inexpensive solution for an oxygen kennel by using a clear Tupperware container with holes drilled into the sides of the container. Although this can be useful in the very short term, it is not recommended for a long-term solution due to concern for overheating.
After obtaining an appropriate oxygen kennel, the next step is to obtain an oxygen tank or concentrator. This generally requires a written prescription from a veterinarian. Some oxygen companies will rent the equipment to pet owners while others may require purchase of the units. Some owners have found used and refurbished oxygen concentrators online. Many owners prefer the oxygen concentrators as they do not have to worry about an oxygen tank. As oxygen is flammable, no smoking or open flames is recommended close to the oxygen source or kennel! Your veterinarian will recommend a flow rate for the oxygen delivery which is set from the oxygen concentrator or tank. Generally flow rates of 2-5 L/min are used. Some smaller concentrators may have limits to their oxygen delivery rates.
It is important to remember that animals in an oxygen kennel need regular monitoring – they should NOT be left unattended in the oxygen kennel. The kennel is generally used for brief periods at a time (1-2 hours or less, or as long as your pet will tolerate within this time frame). Providing comfortable bedding and fresh water inside the kennel is important. Longer periods in the oxygen kennel could be associated with side effects. Furthermore, animals requiring extended oxygen treatments may need other medication adjustments and should be re-evaluated by a veterinarian.
Monitoring of temperature in the kennel is important – the goal temperature is between 16-23 degrees Celsius. A small digital thermometer can be placed inside the kennel to monitor the temperature. If the kennel overheats, frozen gel ice packs can be placed in the kennel (do not place ON your pet). Due to the higher flow rate of oxygen entering the kennel, there is low risk for carbon dioxide build-up or excessive humidity inside the kennel. With high flow rates of oxygen, the air in the kennel is generally replaced every 2-3 minutes, not allowing time for carbon dioxide levels to build. If condensation is noted, the front zipper can be opened slightly.
When using at home oxygen therapy for your animal, it is very important to work closely with your veterinarian to ensure that continued oxygen therapy is appropriate. Do not hesitate to contact a veterinarian or your veterinary cardiologist with any concerns with this treatment.