Understanding Pneumothorax in Canines

Feb 7, 2024 | Dogs

Pneumothorax in Dogs - dog with tongue out laying on the grass

What Exactly is Pneumothorax in Dogs? Pneumothorax occurs when air abnormally gathers in the chest cavity but outside the lungs, hindering normal lung expansion and potentially causing lung collapse. This condition has several variations, each with unique characteristics, all of which require emergency veterinary treatment.

Traumatic Pneumothorax in Dogs

An Overview This type involves air accumulation in the chest due to trauma, like a horse kick or a puncture from a dog bite. It’s divided into closed pneumothorax, where there’s no ongoing chest wall hole, and open pneumothorax, with a direct connection between the chest cavity and outside air. In closed cases, trapped air might result from a quickly sealed chest wall hole or a lung hole that allows air out but not back in.

Signs of recent trauma are common in dogs with traumatic pneumothorax. Obvious chest wall damage points to an open pneumothorax, characterised by rapid and labored breathing, and possibly respiratory distress. Affected dogs might stand with elbows out to increase lung capacity and show abdominal rather than chest breathing. They may also have an elevated heart rate, pale or bluish mucous membranes, signs of shock, and air trapped under the skin, felt as crackling under the skin.

Traumatic pneumothorax can arise from:

  • Blunt trauma
  • Penetrating chest injuries
  • Surgical chest incisions
  • Oesophageal perforation
  • Tracheal trauma
  • Lung diseases
  • Foreign body migration, like a grass seed

Spontaneous Pneumothorax in Dogs

A Separate Concern This type occurs without trauma, with air leaking from the lungs or air passages into the chest cavity. More likely in large, deep-chested breeds like the Siberian Husky, spontaneous pneumothorax may be primary, arising without underlying lung disease, or secondary, due to conditions like lung cancer, inflammatory airway disease, or severe pneumonia. Symptoms are similar to traumatic pneumothorax.

Tension Pneumothorax

A Critical Condition This serious form often follows intubation, blunt trauma, or penetrating wounds. It involves a one-way valve effect, where air enters the chest cavity but can’t escape, severely compromising breathing and must be treated immediately.

Treatment Protocols for Pneumothorax in Dogs Treatment varies based on the cause but commonly includes hospitalisation, air removal from the chest cavity, and oxygen therapy. Pain management is crucial in traumatic cases, and surgery may be needed for significant chest wall defects. Post-treatment, dogs generally need strict rest to prevent recurrence.

Potential Complications and Recovery from Pneumothorax Complications can include fatal cardiovascular events due to low blood oxygen or recurrence. Monitoring breathing rate and follow-up X-rays are essential for early detection of recurrence. Recovery chances are generally good, especially with prompt and appropriate treatment, but depend on the severity of the trauma or the underlying cause in spontaneous cases.


A Serious but Treatable Condition Despite its severity, advancements in diagnosis and treatment have significantly improved outcomes for dogs with pneumothorax.

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