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Pyothorax in Dogs

By: Dr. Theresa Welch Fossum

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Diagnosis In-depth

Diagnostic tests will be performed to:

  • Determine that fluid is present in the chest cavity
  • Verify that the fluid is infected
  • Determine if there is an underlying disease, such as abscess, lung tumor or foreign body, that might have caused the infection.

    To determine is fluid is present

  • Your veterinarian will take a complete medical history and will perform a thorough physical examination.

  • Careful auscultation of the chest (using a stethoscope) will help determine whether the heart and lung sounds are normal. When fluid is present, the heart sounds may be muffled. Additionally, lung sounds may be difficult to hear in certain parts of the chest if fluid is present.

  • Thoracic radiographs (chest X-rays) will be taken to identify fluid in the chest and determine how much is present and where it is located. The radiographs will also be evaluated to determine whether other causes of difficult breathing such as pneumonia, asthma or tumor or fluid formation (lung lobe torsion) might be present.

    To confirm that the fluid is infected

  • Fluid removed from the chest by needle thoracentesis (chest tap) is analyzed for physical characteristics (color, clarity), the type and number of cells, amount of protein and the presence of bacteria or other infective organisms.

  • Most infected fluids contain bacteria that are present within cells that have phagocytized (eaten) them as well as bacteria that are present outside of cells. The type of bacteria, whether they are round or oblong and how they stain, will be used to help identify the type of infection that is present.

  • Fluid will be submitted for a culture, during which the bacteria type is determined by growing it on certain medias, and for sensitivity in which different antibiotics are tested on the bacteria to see which ones are most effective in killing them.

    To determine if there is an underlying disease

  • After removing the fluid, your veterinarian may wish to repeat the radiographs to see if there is evidence of a tumor or abscess in the lung tissue or to look for the presence of a foreign body or diskospondylitis. The chest cavity will be checked to identify any evidence of a bone or other material in the esophagus that might have caused a perforation. The lungs will also be inspected to determine whether they are able to inflate normally once the fluid is removed.

  • An echocardiogram may be performed if there is any concern of heart dysfunction.

  • Routine blood work (complete blood count and serum biochemical panel) will often be done to help assess organ function and overall health of your pet.

  • Your veterinarian may recommend other tests to help further identify potential diseases that may have caused the pyothorax or to identify concurrent diseases that might be present.

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