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What is Pulmonary Edema?

Animals suffering from this may show signs such as labored or open-mouthed breathing,  hesitance to lay down, or favor lying on their chest. Upon thoracic auscultation, wheezing or crackling sounds may be heard. Pulmonary edema can be caused by many different conditions such as upper airway obstruction, allergic reactions, head trauma, or may occur along with circulatory disorders.

Pulmonary edema is the accumulation of an abnormal amount of fluid in the lung tissue, airways or air sacs. This condition is usually divided into cardiogenic and non-cardiogenic forms and can be clinically insignificant or life-threatening.


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Symptoms of Pulmonary Edema in Dogs

  • Increased respiratory rate or respiratory distress
  • Acute distress 
  • Jugular vein distension
  • Cardiac abnormalities such as murmur or arrhythmia 
  • Weak pulse 
  • Crackles in the thorax
  • Burns to the mouth in cases of electric cord injury 
  • Loud or labored breathing 
  • Fever 
  • Coughing
  • Cyanosis

Causes of Pulmonary Edema in Dogs

Risk Factors for this condition include:

  • Chronic heart disease
  • Poor diet high in sodium
  • Excessive fluid therapy treatment 
  • Obesity 
  • Cardiogenic pulmonary edema is caused by increased pulmonary capillary hydrostatic pressure due to heart failure on the left side; this is often caused by chronic conditions such as dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema is caused by an increase in permeability of the alveolar-capillary barrier; this form can be caused by underlying conditions such as sepsis, severe neurologic stimulation or electric cord shock

Diagnosis of Pulmonary Edema in Dogs

Your veterinarian will perform a full physical examination, with care not to stress your pet, especially if dyspnea has occurred. If your pet requires immediate oxygen therapy it may be necessary to perform a physical examination in stages, providing oxygen between examinations. Your veterinarian will listen to your pet’s respiration using a stethoscope; in cases of pulmonary edema a distinctive crackling sound may be heard. Your pet’s mucous membranes will be examined for signs of burns that may indicate burns from an electric cord.

If your pet is stable a thoracic radiograph may be performed, with your dog placed on their back. This radiograph may show signs of pulmonary edema such as increased interstitial or alveolar opacity. In dogs that are suffering from cardiogenic pulmonary edema, cardiomegaly and distended pulmonary veins may also be seen. 

Pulmonary capillary wedge pressure may also be taken to determine if the cause is cardiogenic or noncardiogenic’. This is measured by inserting a balloon tipped catheter through the jugular and heart, into the pulmonary artery. The balloon is then inflated and measurements taken while it is in place. A PCWP that measures higher than 18 mmHg is considered diagnostic of cardiac dysfunction. The edema fluid may also be tested to measure the protein content, as cardiogenic edema fluid is low, while noncardiogenic contains high levels, however, this is often not possible unless the pet is intubated or coughing the fluid up. 

Other diagnostic tests that may be carried out to determine the underlying cause of the condition are a complete blood count, urinalysis, serum chemistry and blood gas analysis, and full neurological examination.

Treatment of Pulmonary Edema in Dogs

If your pet is suffering from respiratory distress, oxygen supplementation may be required. This can be given by mask, flow by oxygen or by placing your pet in an oxygen cage. In some cases, a nasal tube may be placed through the nasal cavity.

If your pet is suffering from severe respiratory distress they may require sedation, intubation with an endotracheal tube and positive-pressure ventilation. 

In cases of cardiogenic pulmonary edema diuretics and vasodilators may also be given. Your veterinarian will utilise this therapy with extreme caution and your pet will be carefully monitored for signs of hypotension. Anti-arrhythmic therapy may be given if your pet is experiencing tachyarrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm).

For animals suffering from noncardiogenic pulmonary edema, the treatment may include anti-inflammatories and diuretics. Depending on the underlying cause, rest in a well oxygenated area may be sufficient treatment. Your pet may require sedation with an opioid to support respiration and decrease stress.

Recovery of Pulmonary Edema in Dogs

The prognosis for noncardiogenic edema varies from good to grave, while the prognosis of for cardiogenic edema may be guarded, with pets who survive expected to require life-long cardiac therapy. 

In both cases, the pet should receive careful monitoring during recovery of their respiratory rate and effort, heart rate, temperature and oxygen saturation. Your pet should be offered highly palatable food and given as much comfort as possible to reduce stress. If possible, keep away from other animals and bring items in from home such as bedding to provide comfort. 

If your pet is recumbent, ensure they are provided with soft, absorbent bedding that is changed often and they are regularly turned to prevent urine scalding or pressure sores developing.

Pulmonary Edema Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Shitzu mix
16 Weeks
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Pale Mucous Membranes
short of breath

Today my puppy went out to urinate and had a bowel movement. We noticed last night before bed she sounded stuffed up. We thought she may have a cold. While outside, she saw, another dog and bolted for the house pulling on her leash. She's done this before when hearing loud noises or seeing people/dogs. She is very nervous outside. When she came in the house, she was visibly weak and her breathing was very shallow. I picked her up and sat her on my lap. She did not move. Her tongue and gums were white. She coughed and gagged a few times. I called the vet and rushed her in. They took xrays and explained the her lungs appeared to have fluid, her large intestine was full of waste and there were objects in her stomach even after 12 hours with no food. The vet sent the xrays to a radiologist and they said it was non-cardiac pulmonary edema. I took her home with anti nauseant, stool softener and instructions to rest with no stress. Are these symptoms related and is this a serious concern? I've got to take her back tomorrow for another xray to see if the content in her stomach passed. Please advise if this sounds like the best course of treatment.

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12 Weeks
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

crackling noise during breath
Open mouth breathing

Charlie was given the craveena (sp?) shot for pneumonia. we are partnered with a breeder and train a lot of breeders puppies before they go home. we brought charlie home with us to give him some extra TLC. on staff vet told us to give 5 days of clavamox and if that didn’t work another 5 days. we are looking to get a second opinion as we believe he has pulmonary edema. are there OTC diuretics we can give him to help with fluid or is best bet to find a new vet?

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9 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

heavy breathing, panting, hurting,

My dog had a tumor removed from his neck. I had to leave him alone for 14 hrs and when I got home, he had ripped out most of his staples. He was bleeding everywhere. I rushed him to vet and he put a pressure dressing on him. He said that my dog didn't clot good. He had a blood disease something to sickle cell anemia. A few days after that my dog started breathing hard and I had to take him back to vet. He was filling up with fluids. He gave him a shot of lasix, and a steroid shot, plus a vitamin K shot. We did this for 3 weeks almost everyday. My dog got to where he wouldn't eat or get up to go out and pee. He hurt when you tried to move him. Ended up having to put my dog to sleep. I have a question: Was his filling up with fluid due to the blood lose?

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8 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Coughing, low energy

Medication Used

K bro vet , Furosemide, Vetmedin, Enalopus

My dog is 8 yrs old and was diagnosed with grandma seizures and pulmonary edema his organ functions are normal but consistently cough all day. I can't afford the 3 medications that he needs for his edema monthly so is it possible for me to put him on a low sodium diet being that his seizure medication (K-Bro Vet) also have sodium in it could that help decrease the fluid retention in his lungs

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1611 Recommendations
Without knowing the cause of Kenzo's fluid retention, I am not sure if sodium restriction will help or not, as there are many causes of the fluid buildup. Since your veterinarian knows more about what is going on with him, it would be better to ask this question of them, and they can let you know if it may help, or at least won't hurt. I hope that he does well.

Hi Dr. Michele King Kenzo's doctor never explained a cause I was just told that it was due to his age and weight but I decreased his food consumption and his doctor said that the rest is fluid. I don't know what to do;should I get his medical records and get a copy of his xray and blood panel for a second opinion.

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15 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

my dog have heart murmur. the doctor give him furosemide,enalaprine. he was okay and it has been cough every 5 minutesthe last two weeks. also he is on theophylline .

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Cough is a characteristic sign of heart failure, you should visit your Veterinarian for another examination as the furosemide may not be sufficient to prevent fluid build up on the lungs. However, other causes may run concurrently, including infections, allergies, foreign objects among other causes; either way a visit to your Veterinarian is required. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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10 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms


Medication Used


My 10 year old, female, spayed Boxer recently had 400ml of fluid removed from her lungs. She has a mass in her chest cavity, which we are being told has caused the fluid. We are still waiting results from the biopsy but a heart base tumor has been ruled out. She also has pancreatitis at this time and has been eating a low fat diet. Mainly cooked lean ground meat and rice. We just started mixing it in gradually with her low fat dry food to get her back to eating normal. She had stopped eating/drinking prior to the fluid removal. She still isn't producing much waste at all, but I'm contributing that to her new diet. She seems uneasy, restless. She'll lie down and get right back up and lay a different way. Sometimes on her side. Mostly lies on her stomach. She seems like she's in discomfort as no spot is good enough. I don't know if this is a symptom of the pancreatitis or if the fluid is building back up in her lungs. There is no labored breathing (but there never was before) She is not on any medicine other than some liquid vitamins her vet prescribed to make sure she's getting her proper nourishment. I asked my vet how soon the fluid in her lungs takes to return. He didn't have an answer, just said to keep an eye on her to see if she stops eating/drinking again. It was only drained 5 days ago. Could it return that soon? Her appetite seems to be back since the fluid was drained, but seems to be in discomfort.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations

There is no set amount of time for fluid to accumulate again after drainage; for treatment to be directed, the underlying cause needs to be determined. Diuretics may be used but are usually more effective in cases where heart disease is the underlying cause; once the results of the biopsy come back, your Veterinarian will be able to discuss options with you regarding treatment. Discomfort is a common issue, especially when there is fluid accumulation as breathing may be restricted in some positions. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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