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What is Chylothorax?

This condition is often characterised by the inability of the patient to fully inflate their lung due to the buildup of fluid in the thorax. This buildup can lead to inflammation of the lungs and heart. Due to the potential for long-lasting harm, it is essential that your dog receives prompt treatment if you suspect they may be suffering from this condition.

Chylothorax is an uncommon, poorly understood disease in which chyle accumulates in the thoracic cavity. This may be caused by underlying heart conditions, trauma, cancer, fungal disease or blood clots; however, often the cause is idiopathic.

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Chylothorax Average Cost

From 516 quotes ranging from $500 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,000

Symptoms of Chylothorax in Dogs

The symptoms displayed in a pet suffering from chylothorax are commonly seen in other respiratory illnesses such as pneumothorax. Signs may include:

  • Non-productive cough
  • Lethargy
  • Appetite reduction or weight loss in chronic cases
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Tachypnea
  • Cyanosis 

When left untreated this condition can cause irritation, inflammation and irreversible damage to the lungs and pericardium.

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Causes of Chylothorax in Dogs

Chylothorax is caused by the buildup of the fluid chyle, which is lymphatic fluid, in the thoracic cavity. In a normally functioning canine, chylomicrons are produced following the ingestion of fats, these molecules are absorbed in the cisterna chyli and carried through the thoracic duct to the cranial vena cava. In canines suffering from chylothorax, a dysfunction in the thoracic duct leads to leaking of chyle into the thorax. This can result in difficulty breathing due to reduced lung inflation, weakened immune system, and metabolic disorders. There are many diseases that may cause this dysfunction such as cancer, fungal disease, and heart conditions such as murmurs and blood clots.

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Diagnosis of Chylothorax in Dogs

Your veterinarian will perform a full clinical examination. Signs that may indicate fluid in the thoracic cavity are muffled heart or lung sounds on auscultation. If your veterinarian suspects fluid in the thorax radiographs of the thoracic area may be performed. Your veterinarian may be able to visualise fluid in the thorax from the radiograph, allowing a diagnosis of pleural effusion to be made; however, she will not be able to confirm the presence of chyle. In order to determine the type of fluid present in the chest your veterinarian will likely perform a thoracentesis. In order to carry out this procedure sedation may be necessary for your pet. This procedure is performed by the veterinarian inserting a small needle between your dog’s ribs into the thoracic cavity and aspirating in order to obtain fluid. Through visual examination your veterinarian may suspect chylothorax due to the distinct, milky appearance. In addition, it may be sent for laboratory testing for confirmation. 

As chylothorax can be a secondary complication of underlying conditions further diagnostics such as thoracic or cardiac ultrasound or computed tomographic scans may be performed.

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Treatment of Chylothorax in Dogs

Immediate care

Your veterinarian will initially focus on trying to remove the chyle from the thoracic cavity of your pet in order to allow your companion to breath with full lung expansion. This may require a tube placed into the thorax or or intermittent thoracentesis. 

Surgery 

Your veterinarian may feel that thoracentesis will not be an effective treatment for your pet and choose to perform surgery to treat this disease. The two surgical options are: 

Thoracic duct ligation – This surgical method involves the ligation of the thoracic duct, preventing the chyle flow through this duct and instead forcing the body to develop new lymphatic connections to the venous system in the abdomen. 

Ablation of the cisterna chyli – This surgical method involves removing the cisterna chyli, causing the body to create new pathways for the lymph fluid to enter the bloodstream, allowing pressure on the thoracic duct to be relieved, and leaking of chyle into the thorax reduced.  

Recent studies have also shown that a pericardiectomy, the removal of the pericardium, may be beneficial in treatment of this condition. Your veterinarian will discuss with you the risks involved with this procedure. The surgery for chylothorax may be time consuming and due to decreased lung capacity and the respiratory effects of anesthesia agents, your dog is at an increased anesthetic risk.

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Recovery of Chylothorax in Dogs

Your dog will likely require hospitalization following the surgery. As anesthetic can cause hypothermia and excitement during the recovery period he will be provided with a warm, quiet environment during the postoperative period, in some cases oxygen therapy may also be indicated during this time. Your veterinarian may continue to drain your pet’s thorax intermittently using the chest tube. Your dog will be carefully monitored and once his chest tube is able to be removed he will be able to be discharged. 

Offer regular, palatable meals and encourage food intake during your pet’s recovery. A diet restrictive of fat may be indicated by your veterinarian. 

Regular revisit appointments are vital and intermittent, outpatient thoracentesis may be necessary if clinical signs present. The prognosis varies depending on the treatment given, however when successful you can expect full recovery within a few weeks of surgery.

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Chylothorax Average Cost

From 516 quotes ranging from $500 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,000

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Chylothorax Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Liza

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Labrador Retriever

dog-age-icon

7 Years

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Critical severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Difficulty Breathing
Not Eating
Cant Lay Still

Our perfectly healthy 7 year old lab was bit in the thorax right above her left leg by another dog. She was given antibiotics and pain killers the next day. Two days later her leg swelled up and fluid accumulated under her chest behind the front legs. Her leg was weeping blood and fluid. Went back to vet, stronger antibiotics which were not helping. She died the next day. Is there anyway this could have been chylothorax? Maybe the bite punctured her thoracic duct?

June 13, 2018

Liza's Owner

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0 Recommendations

I understand that you’re trying to make sense of Liza’s passing, but without examining her and performing a necropsy I cannot give you any concrete answers; I also do not want to speculate what the specific cause of death was (besides complications from a dog bite). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

June 14, 2018

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Lenny

dog-breed-icon

Mutt

dog-age-icon

4 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Hot Spots
Random Swelling

I have a large mixed breed dog that I adopted 4 years ago. He was approximately 8 weeks old at the time. When he was about a year and a half old, he was diagnosed with idiopathic Chylothorax. My veterinarian didn't feel confident in performing the surgery and the nearest place that could, would charge far more than I could afford... So my vet and I decided on a low fat diet and Rutin for treatment. My vet has seemed satisfied with his development and checks him annually for any changes (bloodwork and exams). Within the last month, my dog has suddenly developed hot spots and random swelling. He's never had these symptoms before. The first appearance was a hot spot on his hip, which I treated promptly. A few days later his right eye swelled up. It lasted about two days and was gone. My vet checked him out and found nothing out of the ordinary and chalked it up to possible allergies. About 3 weeks later, another hot spot popped up, this time under the base of his tail. The right side of his muzzle also swelled up (top and bottom lips). Of course, I'll have my vet check him out this week. But, I'm wondering if his immune system could be compromised from the Chylothorax? Has anyone else experienced these sorts of ailments with Chylothorax?

June 7, 2018

Lenny's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Skin disease and random infections are not related to Chylothorax, in my experience, and may be a different, unrelated problem. I am impressed that you have been able to manage the chylothorax medically, that is not a small feat. I hope that all goes well for him.

June 7, 2018

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Chylothorax Average Cost

From 516 quotes ranging from $500 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,000

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