Chylothorax in Dogs

Chylothorax is a medical condition that is caused by the accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the chest. The lymphatic fluid that gathers in the dog's chest is also known as chyle, which is a fluid that is filled with fat and proteins or other substances.

Causes of Chylothorax

Chylothorax may affect any dog breed, but may be more common in certain breeds (i.e., Afghan Hounds). Typically, the disease will occur after the age of five. The real causes of chylothorax are not well determined. Some dogs that have heart disease, blood clots, heartworms or tumors develop chylothorax more often, so the condition has been linked to these underlying problems.

Chylothorax Symptoms

The accumulation of fluid in the thorax or chest cavity will cause the dog to have breathing problems. You may also notice a few symptoms such as:

  • Excessive panting
  • Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Sudden fainting
  • Decreased appetite

Detection of Chylothorax

The vet should know about the symptoms of the dog, so do let him know about everything you've noticed. The vet will perform a fluid absorption test using a syringe, to extract the fluid from the chest. The fluid will be analyzed and the vet will determine if the dog has chylothorax.

The vet will run additional tests to see if the dog is affected by other medical conditions that have been associated with chylothorax. These tests may include:

  • X-rays
  • Ultrasounds (especially the heart)
  • A biopsy (if a tumor is suspected)

Chylothorax Treatment

The vet will focus on removing as much fluid from the chest cavity as possible. The dog will also have to be kept under IV fluids. There are a few experimental drugs (such as Rutin) administered for dogs with chylothorax. These may be used and should absorb the fluid from the chest cavity.

Periodical chest taps will be needed to remove the fluid that may accumulate in the chest cavity. If the dog is affected by an underlying disease causing chylothorax, the vet will administer additional treatment. The dog should receive a special diet that is poor in fats, but has the necessary nutrients to keep him in good health. Periodical x-rays will have to be performed to determine the amount of fluid left in the chest cavity and whether the fluid levels increase. In some cases, chylothorax may resolve in a few months, provided the dog gets the necessary diet.

Surgery may be recommended if the condition doesn't improve in a few months or seems to get worse. Surgery is needed, as the fluid can cause severe scars and damage the lungs in the long run.

Chylothorax Prevention

Due to the fact that chylothorax is an idiopathic disease, there are no preventive measures to stop the formation of chyle fluid in the thorax. However, heart disease may be prevented with an active lifestyle and a suitable diet. Heartworm medication may also be administered to prevent the infestation with worms, which can be associated with chylothorax.