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Trauma to the Chest in Dogs

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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A major cause of serious and potentially life threatening chest damage can result from blunt force trauma. Automobile injuries, falls and kicks are the primary causes of blunt force trauma to the chest cavity.

The heart, lungs and airways are located within the chest cavity and are protected by ribs and chest wall muscles. The diaphragm is a thin muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. Trauma to the chest can result in bruising of the lungs and heart, lacerations of the lungs, bleeding or rupture of lungs or airways. Broken ribs, torn muscles and even tears of the diaphragm can occur. All injuries to the chest should be considered serious and immediate veterinary care is essential.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of chest trauma is based on a recent history of blunt force trauma such as being hit by an automobile, falling or receiving a kick to the chest area. Tests include:

  • Physical exam that reveals difficulty breathing, pain, bruising of the skin overlying the chest and possible broken ribs.

  • Auscultation of the chest (listening with a stethoscope) may reveal harsh lung sound with crackles and wheezes, or, in lung collapse, may reveal little to none of the normal lung sounds. Heart rate may be increased or erratic.

  • X-rays of the chest are necessary to determine the extent of the lung, airway and diaphragm damage. Unfortunately, X-rays cannot reveal injuries to the heart walls.

  • Electrocardiograms and possibly ultrasound may be required to detect heart wall damage.

    Treatment

    Treating chest trauma can be difficult and complex. Determining the extent of the damage may not be easy. Assisting in breathing as well as maintaining a normal heart rhythm is crucial. Additional treatment may include:

  • Oxygen supplementation
  • Steroids, pain medications and possible a chest tube
  • Intravenous fluids to help treat shock as well as maintain blood pressure
  • Antibiotics
  • Additional medications if the heart rhythm becomes erratic and life threatening
  • Emergency surgery as well as blood transfusions in severe cases

    Home Care

    There is no home care for chest trauma. After treatment by a veterinarian, home care is primarily aimed at reducing activity and allowing the pet to heal. Watching for difficulty breathing, weakness, lack of appetite or pain should prompt you to consult your veterinarian immediately.

    Preventative Care

    The best way to prevent chest trauma is to reduce the potential for trauma to occur. Keep your pet confined to the indoors or your yard. Do not allow your pet to wander or roam. Careful observation around large animals such as cattle and horses will help prevent kicks. Have all windows screened and make sure the screens are securely attached to the window frame.

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