Pulmonary Fibrosis in Dogs
Pulmonary fibrosis is one form of pneumonia that can affect dogs. The development of this disease results in inflammation and scarring of the tiny air sacs of the lungs and lung tissue. The reactive scarring of the lungs results in fibrotic tissue buildup, where the tissue becomes excessively thick, reducing the ability of the affected sacs to pass oxygen into the blood stream. Therefore, as the disease progresses, less oxygen than normal is passed into the body’s tissues when the dog breathes.
The factors which initiate pulmonary fibrosis are still unknown; however, hereditary factors and a variety of micro-injuries to the air sacs are suspected. Recent evidence also suggests abnormal wound healing in the lung as a mechanism for fibrosis. It may exist concurrently with bronchitis in dogs. Affected dogs are usually midde-aged or elderly.
Symptoms and Types
The signs and symptoms displayed by the dog generally progress slowly; these include:
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Cough (nonproductive)
- Shortness of breath
- Increased respiratory rate and effort
- Open-mouth breathing/panting
- Exercise intolerance
West Highland White terriers and other terriers, such as the Staffordshire, Cairn, Border, and Norfolk, are genetically predisposed to pulmonary fibrosis. However, the underlying cause for this type of pneumonia is usually idiopathic. Other causes include:
- Viral infection(s)
- Acute pancreatitis
- Toxins or drugs
- Oxygen toxicosis (a pathological condition caused by oxygen)
- Environmental damage (e.g., exposure to polluted air or cigarette smoke)
The biggest problem in diagnosing and treating pulmonary fibrosis is that the disease may be far along before symptoms begin to appear.
Your veterinarian will conduct a full physical examination, including a chemical blood profile, complete blood count, and chest X-rays. Other diagnostic tools include an echocardiography to determine whether the heart is enlarged, a computed tomography (CT) scan to view the dog's lungs three dimensionally, and biopsy samples of the affected tissues for microscopic examination.
Your dog may need supplemental oxygen; in which case, it will be hospitalized. This is a life-threatening disease and may be terminal if not treated immediately and appropriately. For that reason, treatment will focus on support, and on controlling the symptoms to enhance the quality of life.
If the dog is obese, there may be further treatment complications because it can impede ventilation (breathing). Weight loss will lessen symptoms of respiratory impairment.
Your veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatory dosages of prednisone at first, tapering the dosage over the course of a month if there is no underlying infection. There are also some antifibrotic agents that may be helpful, as well as bronchodilators (drugs made to widen the air passages and relax the bronchial tissues) to assist your dog’s breathing.
Living and Management
You will need to eliminate the dog's exposure to dust or fumes. This is a progressive condition with a guarded prognosis; dogs with pulmonary fibrosis generally only survive between 8 and 15 months for dogs.
Pulmonary hypertension and right heart failure often develops with any severe, chronic lung disease. Your veterinarian may want to repeat lung biopsies in order to track progress the dog's progress and the effectiveness of its treatment. A positive response to treatment will result in an increase in mobility.
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