When your dog's blood clots in any of the major veins in their body, they are susceptible to pulmonary embolism, which occurs when a clot travels to their lungs along one of the main arteries that facilitate the flow of oxygen in the lungs. The clot then damages blood vessels and slows down the flow of blood and oxygen to the lungs. Inherited blood clotting disorders, immobility and certain medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories leave your dog susceptible to developing blood clots.
Pulmonary embolism isn't always caused by blood clots and can occur when there's any sort of blockage in a main artery to the lungs. If you have a dog or think your dog might have pulmonary embolism, here's what you need to know.
Symptoms of pulmonary embolism include:
- Difficulty breathing or increased breathing rate which may present as fast, shallow panting
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Coughing with or without blood
Your vet will physically examine your dog, listen to their breathing and organise a number of blood tests and a urinalysis, which can help to both diagnose and identify the cause of the pulmonary embolism. Blood tests can detect a blood clotting disorder and measure oxygen levels in your dog's blood. Your vet may also organise an X-ray of your dog's chest, which will help them to establish if your dog has heartworm disease or if their lungs or heart look enlarged or damaged.
Treatment will be based on the cause of the pulmonary embolism, but oxygen therapy will be used to stabilise your dog's blood oxygen levels regardless of the cause. If your dog has heartworm disease they will be given medication to kill a mild infestation of heartworms, but a large infestation may need to be surgically removed. If the blood tests and imaging reveal your dog has cancer your vet will discuss treatment options with you such as chemotherapy and pain management.
If the pulmonary embolism is being caused by a blood clot your dog will be given an anticoagulant medication such as heparin, which will break the clot down over a period of time. They may have to stay at the vet clinic while receiving this medication as the vet will want to monitor them and make sure the treatment is working. If blood tests reveal your dog has an inherited blood clotting disorder, they may need to take anticoagulant medication for the rest of their life.
Pulmonary embolism can be fatal, so it's vital you act quickly if your dog displays any of the above symptoms. If you are in any way concerned about your dog's health, schedule an appointment with the vet clinic like Kingston Animal Hospital as soon as possible.