Pleural Effusion (Fluid In The Chest) In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Schapendoe or Dutch sheepdog, Canis familiaris, resting in grass, tongue lolling. (Photo by: Auscape/UIG via Getty Images)

(Picture Credit: Auscape/UIG via Getty Images)

Pleural effusion in dogs happens when there is a buildup of fluid in the area of the chest known as the pleural cavity, which is the sterile space surrounding the lungs an heart. When fluid accumulates in the pleural cavity, it can put pressure on the dogs’ lungs and make breathing difficult. Pleural effusion can occur when the pleural cavity doesn’t absorb enough fluid or when too much fluid is being produced. Sometimes pleural effusion can be discovered at a regular vet check up, but most often it isn’t found until dogs show symptoms of respiratory distress. If you see the signs of pleural effusion in your dog, consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Here is what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for pleural effusion in dogs.

Symptoms Of Pleural Effusion In Dogs

A dog lies on the sidewalk, paws out to the side, waiting, panting in the heat; edge blurred

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

Symptoms of pleural effusion in dogs can start off mild when only a small amount of fluid has accumulated in the chest, but they will get progressively worse as more fluid builds up. Pleural effusion can, itself, be a symptom of other underlying conditions. If you see the following signs of pleural effusion in your dog, get to your veterinarian right away.

  • Exercise intolerance
  • Lethargy
  • Rapid or difficult breathing
  • Coughing
  • Excessive panting or breathing with mouth open
  • Anxiety, restlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Extending the neck, as if to get air
  • Taking unusual positions to breathe easier
  • Pale or bluish gums, tongue, or lips
  • Low body temperature
  • Shock

Causes Of Pleural Effusion In Dogs

A tired and hot bulldog, lying on the floor, straddling its forelegs

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

There are several types of pleural effusion in dogs, each with their own possible causes. All of these types result in similar symptoms, though they may require different methods of treatment. Here are they types of pleural effusion in dogs and their causes.

Hydrothorax – Happens when there is an increase in hydrostatic pressure or decrease in oncotic pressure.

  • Liver disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Malabsportion
  • Heart failure
  • Burns
  • Chronic hemorrhaging
  • Kidney disease
  • Intestinal disease

Chylothorax – Happens when lymphatic fluid and chylomicrons accumulate.

  • Cancer
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Diaphragmatic hernia
  • Twisted lung lobe
  • Blood clot in the veins of the chest
  • Congenital defects present from birth

Hemothorax – Happens when blood accumulates in the chest.

  • Injury or trauma
  • Lymphoma
  • Tumors of the chest wall or heart

Pyothorax – Happens when pus and fluid accumulates because of an infection or growth

  • Injury
  • Fungal or parasitic infection
  • Pancreatitis
  • Pulmonary thromboembolism
  • Heartworm
  • Pneumonia
  • Esophageal disease
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Treatments For Pleural Effusion In Dogs

Veterinarians inserting tube into sedated small dog

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

Immediate treatment for pleural effusion in dogs involves relieving respiratory distress by providing oxygen therapy and draining fluid from the chest cavity with a needle and chest drain. These may need to be in place for several days depending on the severity of the condition. Other tubes or shunts may be placed to draw fluid away from the chest cavity. Intravenous fluid may also be provided for dogs suffering from dehydration.

Further treatment often depends on the underlying cause of the fluid buildup. Cancer may be treated with chemotherapy or radiation, and infections may be treated with antibiotics. Sometimes exploratory surgery may be needed to determine the cause. Dietary changes, exercise restrictions, additional medications, and follow-up vet visits may be prescribed for recovering dogs. The prognosis can vary a lot depending on the underlying cause.

Around The Web

Breed Profile Finder