Pneumothorax in Dogs

Overview of Canine Pneumothorax

Pneumothorax is the abnormal presence of air within the chest cavity, which restricts the lungs from inflating normally during inhalation. Air is normally confined to spaces within the lungs. This can be a life-threatening condition in dogs.

Pneumothorax can be sub-divided into the following categories:

General Causes of Pneumothorax in Dogs

Pneumothorax can be the result of any of the following:

Dogs with pneumothorax exhibit difficulty breathing and, in severe cases that are left untreated, pneumothorax can be fatal.

What to Watch For

Signs of pneumothorax in dogs may include:

Diagnosis of Pneumothorax in Dogs

Depending on how much difficulty breathing your dog is experiencing, your veterinarian may want to place him in an oxygen cage immediately before obtaining a history from you regarding his condition. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination with careful auscultation (listening with a stethoscope) of your dog’s chest to determine the cause of trouble breathing. Additionally, your veterinarian will likely recommend the following tests:

Treatment of Pneumothorax in Dogs

Treatment of a pneumothorax may need to be done as an emergency procedure and may include any of the following:

Home Care and Prevention

Pets that show signs of difficulty breathing should be taken to your veterinarian immediately. Restrict exercise initially following discharge from the hospital.

Keeping pets leashed or confined to the yard can reduce the risk of pneumothorax caused by traumatic injuries due to automobile accidents or attacks by other animals.

There is no way to prevent a spontaneous pneumothorax from occurring.

In-depth Information on Pneumothorax in Dogs

The chest cavity does not normally contain air, except for air within the lungs. Any air in the chest cavity is abnormal. A pneumothorax develops when air is allowed into the chest cavity through a breach in the chest wall due to injury (external leak), and/or air leaks into the chest cavity due to a leak in the lung tissue or airways (internal leak).

The presence of air within the chest cavity exerts pressure on the lungs so they cannot expand or inflate when the pet tries to take a breath. Large volumes of air cause the lungs to collapse completely. If the lungs do not inflate normally or are collapsed, the pet cannot obtain enough oxygen and develops signs of difficulty breathing such as rapid, shallow breaths, and cyanotic (blue) gums and tongue. The volume of air and the rate at which it accumulates within the chest varies with the degree of traumatic injury or underlying problem.

Pets with pneumothorax require hospitalization for an average of two to five days.

There are many other problems involving the lungs that could produce symptoms similar to those observed with pneumothorax, such as:

In-depth Information on Diagnosis

Your veterinarian may recommend any of the following in order to make a definitive diagnosis:

In-depth Information on Treatment

– No endpoint is reached during thoracocentesis indicating a large continuous leak in the airways

– An endpoint was reached during thoracocentesis but thoracocentesis must be repeated more than two to three times, indicating a slow but continuous leak in the airways

– The volume of air removed during thoracocentesis was excessive for the patient’s size.

Chest tubes are also placed following chest surgery to allow removal of residual air for the first 24 to 48 hours post surgery. Chest tubes are placed using sterile techniques, and require that the pet be heavily sedated or anesthetized. The tubes are held in place by sutures in the skin where the tube exits the chest, and with a bandage placed around the chest. Tubes are removed when minimal volumes of air or negative pressure are obtained during aspiration over a 6 to 12 hour period, indicating the leaky airway has sealed.

Follow-up Care for Dogs with Pneumothorax

Dogs that show signs of difficulty breathing should be taken to your veterinarian immediately. Restrict exercise following discharge from the hospital. Dogs that are recovering from a pneumothorax should be rested for at least one week following discharge from the hospital and then gradually reintroduced to their regular activities. Dogs that are allowed to exercise too soon may cause a sealed leak to re-open or may tire easily and prolong their recovery.