Locally-Owned in Oakdale and St. Paul, Minnesota

Fur-Tunately: Stories of Animal Survival | Episode XX: The Collapsed Lung Mystery

Fur-Tunately, Stories of Animal Survival, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, Twin Cities emergency vet, Saint Paul emergency vet, Oakdale emergency vet, Minnesota emergency vet, emergency veterinary care

If your pet is having difficulty breathing, this is considered a “RED” – or true emergency – on our Fast Track Triage system. We advise you to seek immediate veterinary care. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you! Remove any neck collars or facial restrictions such as muzzles.

  • Remove any neck collars or facial restrictions such as muzzles.   
  • If your pet is having difficulty breathing caused by heat, learn more here.
  • Seek immediate veterinary care rather than attempting chest compressions or CPR at home. Have a veterinary professional guide you over the phone on how to help your pet during transportation.

Something was wrong. Beck, a 6-year-old Irish Setter, stopped eating, was drooling, and had shallow breathing. She was rushed to her family veterinarian and was diagnosed with pneumothorax – a collapsed lung.

A collapsed lung is an injury or abnormality of the lung causing air leakage. This leads to air accumulation between the chest wall/rib and lungs – which prevents full lung expansion that’s needed to take in a good breath. As a result, pets breathe harder and faster to get oxygen into their body and carbon dioxide out!

But how could this happen!? Up until now, Beck has been a healthy dog who is even a national competition field athlete!

A close-up of Beck, an Irish Setter, wearing an e-collar. Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota.

Arriving to the ER 

Thankfully, Beck’s human took quick action and her family veterinarian was able to quickly diagnose her. Beck was transferred to our ER for aggressive treatment and to pinpoint the cause of the collapsed lung. 

Without immediate care, Beck would have been deprived of oxygen and retaining excessive carbon dioxide. This would have put her body in shock and led to organ failure or even death. 

Our team leapt into action! Until we could figure out the cause of the collapsed lung, we knew any treatment provided would only temporarily help Beck. Typical causes of pneumothorax include inhaling a foreign body, a lung lobe abscess, or a mass – but which one? If we couldn’t solve this mystery, it would likely happen again to Beck.  

An x-ray of the collapsed lung of Beck, an Irish Setter, at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota.

Finding Answers 

Our first step was imaging. Dr. Saveraid, one of our board-certified veterinary radiologists, performed a chest CT scan on Beck that confirmed a left-sided collapsed lung. A CT scan often doesn’t reveal the cause of a collapsed lung – but it did help us determine that Beck didn’t have an obvious mass.  

We weren’t giving up! We told Beck’s human we could either perform surgery or continue treatment with medical management. After discussing options, Beck’s human chose surgery so we had our best chance of cracking the case! 

Dr. Meyers, one of our board-certified veterinary surgeons, performed an exploratory chest surgery so she could closely examine Beck’s lung lobes, as well as hopefully stop the air leakage and/or remove the unhealthy lung lobe. 

Quickly, she discovered the cause of Beck’s problem. 

There, within Beck’s chest cavity, was an intact grass awn – a 2.5 cm piece of Foxtail to be exact! 

A sample tube containing an intact grass awn – a 2.5 cm piece of Foxtail to be exact - that was found within Beck the Irish Setter’s chest cavity.

How!? 

Grass awns, foxtails, and other plant materials are a very common culprits of various maladies in pets – depending on where they enter the body! Foxtails are more common in the Western United States, but can be found around the country. 

Since Beck is a competitive field trial athlete, we suspect that she inhaled the Foxtail during a competition and it migrated out her lung lobe – leaving a hole that caused the air leakage and collapse.   

During the surgery, Dr. Meyers removed the Foxtail and the leaking lobe. If it had been left, there was a high risk of the lobe leaking air again and being a source of ongoing infection. 

Fun Fact: Dogs have six lung lobes (four on the right and two on the left). 

We sure are glad Beck’s human chose surgery! If medical management had been selected, we wouldn’t have found the Foxtail and Beck could have developed an infection and purulent material around her lungs. This would have further restricted the lungs from expanding and taking in good breaths – creating a crisis! Beck would have needed emergency surgery within days to weeks! 

Beck, an Irish Setter, in a three-photo collage at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota's ER. The first photo is of a technician's hand petting Beck in her kennel. The second photo is of Beck in a thundershirt standing outside her kennel. The third photo is of Beck wearing an E-collar.

Recovery 

In addition to surgery, Beck needed oxygen therapy, intravenous fluids, antibiotics, pain relievers, anti-nausea medications, and chest taps – a minimally invasive emergency procedure where a veterinarian sticks a needle through the chest into the pleural space to temporarily drain excessive fluid or air and allow the lungs to expand. 

After five days in the hospital, Beck returned home feeling much better. Her human even reported that Beck was seemingly unaware that she had had major surgery! After several weeks of strict rest, Beck is expected to make a full recovery and be able to return to future field trials this spring.  

Beck, an Irish Setter, in a two-photo collage. The first photo is of Beck playing with a toy in the middle of her kitchen. The second photo is of Beck wearing a blue patterned dog shirt. Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota.

Update from Beck’s Family 

Beck is doing well and is indeed back to competing! She won twice while on the road in Ohio and Michigan at all breed field trials. She also competed at an Irish Setter Championship in Illinois in early April – her brother ended up winning though! Beck hasn’t lost any steps, and her family is excited for her continued success as a field trial dog. 

Beck, an Irish Setter, standing in a field. Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota.

Prevention 

It can be tricky to prevent pets from inhaling a foreign body – even if we are monitoring them closely while outside! They sniff everything after all! To help solve this problem, OutFox developed a mask to help protect dogs from these potentially dangerous plants bits. We’ve also seen dog parents purchase these masks to prevent their dogs from eating things they shouldn’t like rocks, socks, & other foreign bodies that can get stuck in the digestive tract! 

A close-up of a dog's snout. Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota.

Be like Beck’s human and contact your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital right away if you suspect your pet inhaled a foreign body or if you notice any signs of respiratory distress  

Our “Fur-tunately: Stories of Animal Survival” series features real pets treated by our team at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota. All images and information have been shared with the owner’s permission.      

Case content provided by Ally Thell, DVM. 

More Reading: 

Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, Fast Track Triage, color-coded triage system, pet emergency, Twin Cities emergency vet, Minnesota emergency vet, Saint Paul emergency vet, Oakdale emergency vet

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