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Pleural Effusion in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Have you heard of pleural effusion in dogs? It's a condition that reduces the space available for the lungs to expand within the chest cavity, making it harder for affected dogs to breathe. Here, our vets in Englewood provide a detailed overview of the symptoms, causes, and available treatments for pleural effusion in dogs.

What is Dog Pleural Effusion

Pleural effusion is a medical term used to describe the buildup of excess fluid in the chest cavity. This fluid is not present inside the lungs but within the pleural sac, causing the lungs to be surrounded by fluid. The accumulation of fluid takes up space in the chest area, restricting the lungs from expanding to their full capacity.

Symptoms of Pleural Effusion in Dogs

Symptoms of fluid accumulation in the pleural cavity can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Muffled breathing sounds
  • Dull heart sounds
  • Long intake of air
  • Short, fast exhale of air
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Bluish color to skin and mucous membranes
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite

What Causes Pleural Effusion in Dogs

There are several potential causes of pleural effusion. In dogs, the most frequently encountered causes include:

  • Infections, bacterial, viral or parasitic
  • Injuries, including penetrating chest wounds
  • Heart failures
  • Cirrhosis
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary emboli, or blood clots in the blood vessels of the lungs
  • Tumors and cancers
  • Hypoalbuminemia, or low albumin levels
  • Lung conditions
  • Lung hernia
  • Lymphatic disruption
  • Bleeding or clotting disorders
  • Drug toxicity
  • Rat poison toxicity

How Can Pleural Effusion in Dogs Be Diagnosed?

When your dog shows signs of pleural effusion, your veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination, including a check of the heart and lungs. They may also perform imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, or ultrasounds to detect any fluid buildup and rule out other conditions.

To diagnose breathing difficulties, a common procedure called thoracocentesis may be used, which involves extracting air or fluid from the pleural cavity using a needle. Ultrasound technology may also be used to aid in this process. Once the fluid is extracted, it is tested and X-rays are taken to assess the severity of the pleural effusion.

The fluid samples are analyzed cytologically, and aerobic and anaerobic cultures are conducted. Further tests may be performed on the fluid and blood samples to determine the underlying cause of the effusion. These tests can include CBC, retroviral screening, infectious disease screening, heartworm testing, triglyceride level testing, and coagulation parameters. An echocardiography may be necessary if your dog is suspected of having heart issues.

Your primary vet may offer a referral to a specialty hospital such as ours for advanced diagnostics and care.

Treatment of Pleural Effusion in Dogs

If your furry friend is experiencing pleural effusion, the treatment approach will depend on the underlying cause of fluid buildup. In most cases, thoracentesis is the primary method of treatment, as it serves as both a diagnostic and therapeutic procedure. This technique promptly relieves the condition by draining the fluid from the space around the lungs, which allows for better lung expansion. Once the procedure begins, breathing typically improves immediately. While supplemental oxygen may also be provided, it's important to note that it doesn't directly aid lung expansion. This is why thoracocentesis is a crucial component of the treatment process.

How Long Can a Dog Live with Pleural Effusion?

The fate of dogs diagnosed with pleural effusion relies on three crucial factors: the underlying cause of the condition, the severity of the effusion, and the effectiveness of the treatment. In cases where the effusion is severe and the root cause is not addressed promptly, the dog's lifespan may be limited to a few days or weeks. However, if the underlying cause is curable and the treatment is successful, the dog can live for several months to years.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you have concerns about your dog's breathing and notice symptoms of pleural effusion, please reach out to our Englewood vets to learn more about scheduling an appointment with our specialists.

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VRCC Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Hospital in Englewood is always accepting new patients! Our board-certified specialists and emergency veterinarians are passionate about restoring good health to Denver Metro area pets.

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