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What are the Signs of a Punctured Lung in Dogs?

What are the Signs of a Punctured Lung in Dogs?

If you suspect your dog has a punctured lung, you are likely wondering about what the symptoms of a punctured lung in a dog would be. A punctured lung in dogs typically occurs after some traumatic event such as being involved in a car accident or, in the case of a small dog, being attacked by a larger dog. If your dog has a history of some recent traumatic event consider that the signs of a punctured lung in dogs would for the most part, involve trouble breathing and the gums may turn pale white or blue from lack of proper oxygenation.

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Pneumothorax in Dogs

Pneumothorax is the medical term used to depict the abnormal collection of air in the pleural space, the space that is found between the lung and chest.

The collection of air can occur because of a variety of causes. For instance, it can be triggered by a pathology of the dog's lungs (asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD), as a complication of certain veterinary treatments, and in some cases, it can even be idiopathic, which means that it can happen with no known cause.

However, in many cases, pneumothorax is due to a punctured lung as a result of some traumatic accident. According to veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Rozanski, traumatic pneumothorax is indeed the most common cause of pneumothorax affecting dogs and cats, with dogs being affected more commonly that cats.

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What kind of traumatic injuries can cause a lung to become punctured? The impact of being hit by a car, blunt trauma (like being kicked by a horse), a gun shot wound, a stab wound or a puncture wound (like from a dog bite) or a fractured rib can be a few possible culprits.

Signs of Trouble

Panting in dogs on steroids

Normal mucous membranes are pink

When the lung is punctured, the air leaks out filling the area around the dog's lungs. This causes the lung to be compressed, and since it cannot expand properly, it ends up collapsing as seen in the picture above. When the lung is collapsed, it cannot inflate as it should, preventing the dog from obtaining enough oxygen as needed.

Affected dogs will therefore typically have trouble breathing (dyspnea) especially on inhalation, shallow breathing, coughing, increased heart rate, anxiety, chest pain, exercise intolerance and pale or bluish gums. To be better able to breath, dogs may choose to lie in an upright position on their chest, with the neck extended. Affected dogs may refuse to lie down on their side.

In some cases, a soft bulge under the dog's skin caused by air bubbles may be a sign suggesting air escaping the dog's lungs (subcutaneous emphysema).

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While these symptoms are indicative of a punctured lung, it's important to point out that severe breathing problems may also be seen in other conditions such as pulmonary contusions, diaphragmatic hernia, or shock, which all can happen as well as a result of traumatic accidents.

It's important to see an emergency vet to treat any of disorders that are affecting a dog's breathing. Left untreated, severe cases of pneumothorax in dogs can be fatal.

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At the Vet's Office 

If the dog is having trouble breathing, the dog may be placed in an oxygen cage immediately. The vet will then collect information about the dog such as a history of some traumatic accident (in most cases, it's pretty evident) and other relevant information.

If there are signs of pneumothorax and the dog is in respiratory distress, the vet may decide to perform a procedure known as thoracocentesis. In this procedure, the vet will remove air from the pleural space using a needle. Another possible procedure carried out in more severe cases, where the accumulation of air in the pleural space is very rapid or severe, is tube thoracostomy. In this procedure, a hollow plastic tube, called a chest tube is inserted to remove the air. Supplementation of oxygen may be needed.

Depending on the dog's condition, the vet may suggest x-rays to check for air in the chest/elevation of the heart off of the sternum, arterial blood gas test and pulse oximetry to check the dog's ability to oxygenate. In normal healthy dogs 95 to 100 percent oxygen is ideal, while much lower than that is suggestive of problems. For large air leaks, surgery may be needed to repair them. Generally dogs affected by a punctured lung are hospitalized from 2 to 5 days.

If there is a chest wound, the vet will prescribe antibiotics, (chest wounds are often contaminated) and pain relievers. If the situation is not too critical, in the case of closed pneumothorax (air in the n the pleural space without any outside wound), dogs may be kept under close observation and may not require any intervention other than stabilization.

After release from the hospital, it's very important to restrict activity for at least one week. Too much activity may cause a recurrence.

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  • DVM360: Managing pneumothorax (Proceedings)

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