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Acute Collapse in Dogs

By: Dr. Etienne Cote

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If your pet is still in a collapsed state when he is brought to the veterinarian, tests will be done immediately and hospitalization with continuous monitoring may be recommended, particularly if the situation is perceived as life threatening.

Your veterinarian will determine the underlying problem and the immediate threat it poses to your pet. Alternatively, if your pet's condition improves spontaneously, and your dog seems well when you reach the veterinary hospital, tests will still be performed. These will be aimed at determining the cause of the problem in order to assess the risk of future collapse and to see whether medication is warranted.

Numerous diseases can lead to acute collapse. Therefore, your veterinarian may perform one or more of the following tests:

  • A complete medical history and a thorough physical examination. Particular attention should be paid to auscultation of the heart, or listening with a stethoscope. Your veterinarian should also measure your pet's blood pressure, palpate or feel the abdomen and assess the neurologic status of your dog.

  • Routine blood tests. Abnormalities in blood test results can pinpoint certain causes of collapse such as anemia or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Blood tests can also help evaluate the state of many internal organs.

  • Specialized blood tests. These may include examination of some hormones to exclude Addison's disease (hypoadrenocorticism) or severe hypothyroidism.

  • Blood tests for myasthenia gravis. Blood tests for this disease of the muscle may be recommended if the clinical symptoms suggest this problem. This tests for antibodies against acetylcholine receptors.

  • X-rays of the chest and the abdomen. X-rays generally show the outlines of internal organs, which helps determine their size, shape and position. Fluid accumulation or bleeding may be evident if moderate to severe.

  • X-rays of the back and limbs. If a spinal problem or a leg problem is suspected on physical examination, X-rays are the best way to evaluate the bones. Often these X-rays need to be taken with the animal under general anesthesia or heavy sedation.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). If a cardiac problem is suspected, the rhythm of the heart beat is analyzed with an ECG recording. This can be as simple as a routine EKG or more advanced such as an ambulatory EKG that your pet wears while at home. These specialized EKGs are sometimes called Holter monitors and event recorders.

  • Ultrasound of the abdomen or of the heart. While X-rays show the outlines of organs, ultrasound makes it possible to see inside the individual organs. Therefore, X-rays and ultrasound examinations are often complementary. Ultrasound is frequently performed by a specialist, which may require referral to a specialty veterinary hospital.

  • Neurologic evaluation. If a disease of the brain, spinal cord or nerves is suspected, a consultation with a neurologist may be recommended.

  • Spinal or brain procedures. Examples include a myelogram, which is an X-ray of the spine taken with a special dye injection to evaluate the spinal cord; a CT scan ("CAT" scan); or an MRI scan. Sometimes a neurologist will recommend specialized tests of the nerves and muscles called an electromyogram (EMG).

    Additional, tests may be recommended from the results of any of the tests listed above. Therefore, the initial tests may find the cause of collapse outright or may direct the veterinarian to pursue other causes of collapse.

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