What are Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Pulmonary fibrosis is a lung disease in dogs that is characterized by chronic and progressive changes in the lung integrity. Lungs become scarred, stiff, and thickened which results in respiratory distress and impaired oxygenation. Classic pulmonary fibrosis is thought to be an inflammatory disease that results from chronic injury and healing of the lung tissue. Conditions such as pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, congestive heart failure, and environmental pollutants damage the pleural tissue. Although the conditions themselves may improve with treatment, damage to the lung tissue is irreversible. In idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, the cause remains unknown. This condition is not triggered by an inflammatory process, but does seem to have a genetic link. Terriers, especially the West Highland White Terrier, are at risk for developing this disorder.
Dogs present with symptoms of exercise intolerance, respiratory distress, decreased appetite, and cough. Unlike pneumonia, viral illnesses, or congestive heart failure, the symptoms do not improve with conventional treatment. Extremely loud “crackles” are frequently heard in the lungs during a routine veterinary visit. The vet may order additional diagnostic testing to confirm the diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis. CT scan, x-rays, blood work, bronchoscopy, and ultrasound provide valuable information in diagnosing this condition.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic, progressive, and incurable condition. Veterinary management is aimed at reducing the symptoms associated with the disorder. Medications including steroids, bronchodilators, sedatives, and cough suppressants may provide some relief, but do not seem to decrease the progression of the disorder. The average life expectancy of a dog diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis is 12-18 months, but may vary based on the degree of lung damage at point of diagnosis.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic and progressive disease that causes scarring in the lungs. Because the lungs become stiff and thickened, it is difficult to maintain adequate oxygenation of the body.
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Symptoms of Pulmonary Fibrosis in Dogs
- Exercise intolerance
- Rapid respiratory rate
- Cyanosis (blue color of the tongue)
- Open mouthed breathing
- Decreased appetite
- Syncope (dizziness and fainting)
- Pulmonary interstitial fibrosis is thought to be an inflammatory process caused by chronic injury and repair to the lung tissue
- Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a noninflammatory and progressive fibrotic lung disease with no identifiable cause
Causes of Pulmonary Fibrosis in Dogs
Pulmonary interstitial fibrosis is thought to be caused by chronic injury and repair to the interstitial tissue of the lung. Injury and inflammation can result from:
- Chronic Bronchitis
- Viral illness
- Chronic dirofilaria and leishmania infections
- Congestive heart failure
- Environmental exposure to chemicals, polluted air, or cigarette smoke
- Acute pancreatitis
With idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis the cause of the disease is unknown, there appears to be a strong genetic component.
- West Highland White Terriers are the breed most affected by pulmonary fibrosis; other terrier breeds such as the Jack Russell terrier and the Staffordshire terriers are at increased risk for developing the disorder and Poodles are at a slightly higher risk of the condition
- Increased age seems to contribute to the onset of the disorder with typical age of onset 9 years
Diagnosis of Pulmonary Fibrosis in Dogs
Dogs present to the veterinary office with symptoms of respiratory distress, exercise intolerance, and cough. These symptoms can be indicative of other more common conditions such as pneumonia or congestive heart failure. Upon auscultation with a stethoscope, extremely loud “crackles” are often heard suggesting impaired air movement in the lung. Your dog may have an elevated respiratory rate and increased respiratory effort. In some dogs, there may also be a heart murmur. If the doctor suspects pulmonary fibrosis, there are several tests and procedures including:
- Chest x-ray – Will often show a heavy interstitial pattern without signs of infection or enlarged heart
- Blood tests may rule out infectious causes
- Bronchoscopy may be used to rule out chronic bronchitis and collect cells for cytologic examination
- Ultrasound can provide further information about degree of fibrosis and arterial function in the lungs
- CT scans of the chest are now being used to provide detailed information about the degree of fibrosis
Treatment of Pulmonary Fibrosis in Dogs
Pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic and progressive condition for which there is no cure. Lung damage is irreversible. Therapeutic goals include controlling complications and clinical symptoms of the disease. Treatment options include:
- Corticosteroids, but there is no proof that steroids will slow the progression of the disease
- Oxygen supplementation may be used for severe respiratory distress in inpatient settings, but is not practical for outpatient use
- Bronchodilators such as theophylline may be used to increase aeration in the lungs
- Cough suppressants such as hydrocodone or butorphanol may improve quality of life
- Dogs should be allowed to self-limit activity
- Sedatives such as acepromazine may be used to decrease anxiety associated with severe respiratory distress
- Viagra (sildenafil) may be used to treat pulmonary hypertension that develops in the late stages of the condition
Recovery of Pulmonary Fibrosis in Dogs
Dogs should be examined every 4-6 months. Pulmonary fibrosis is a progressive and incurable disease. Average life expectancy is one year after diagnosis.
Pulmonary Fibrosis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My dog was a rottweilor/mastiff aged 9 years. We had no signs or symptons what so ever, and by this i mean honestly no signs. She walked without being any breathless than the norm, her toilet was fine as always her eating habit never changed. She just collapsted one morning randomly out of the blue, we rushed her to the vets, they done blood work etc, couldnt x ray her because she was that critical x raying her could have killed her, and the vets were most alarmed to how quickly she was deteriating. She went into cardiac arrest 4 hours later at the vets and died. Very sudden, very shocked, and ourselves and the vets had no idea how she died untill the autopsy results had beeb sent off and came back. Very very shocked, lost and sad.
Hi my dog clover has congestive heart failure and now pulmonary fibrosis vet say small amounts scarring on lungs but not put her on steroids what is outlook how long do dogs with condition
I'm so sorry you lost your Jaz. We do our best to understand what our pets who can't talk are trying to say. I've been there, no warning at all, and it hurts your heart to look back, what did I miss!? You didn't. My husband, so smart he is, told me "Humans are the only creatures who fear their own death, animals don't. They live every day like it's their only day." You loved Jaz, did all you could do. Yours was a loving home. Thank you for being a person caring & brave enough to look after one of God's greatest gifts.
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We have a 14 year old American Bull Dog/Pit Bull Mix. He was always a large dog and is currently at 135lbs. About 4 months ago he started hacking, coughing and wheezing. This would happen a couple times a day and last for about 30 seconds in duration. It is particularly bad in the middle of the night. We have taken him to a Vet, then a specialist and had a few thousand dollars worth of tests done and he was diagnosed him with pulmonary fibrosis and ventricular complexes. They prescribed him Prednisone and Thyro-tabs and Tramadol. He is scheduled to meet with a cardiologist in a few days. He is still alert and as active as a 14 yr old can be. He eats, drinks and goes outside without issue. However, when I try to walk him he will only walk about 30 feet and then sit down and refuses to go further. From reading your article it seems that there is nothing to be done except making him comfortable until the time comes to make the decision that none of us want to make. My question is what can be done to make him more comfortable at the end of his life? Are there any additional medications that can be given to him to help with pain and discomfort? Is there anything we can be doing to ease his pain? Are there any questions that I should ask my Vet? Thank you.
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Our great friend Maxie is 13 years old and weighs 75 lbs. Maxie is a mixed breed and has some Rottweiler mixed in. She still has a good appetite although she has all the other symptoms mentioned above.
Maxie has been to the vet and has had X-rays and blood work. The X-rays shows the problems in one lung. The vet did not prescribe any medication and after reading this article I’m disappointed that they didn’t.
I’ll look online for herbal medicines and call the veterinarian to discuss their recommendations for medications.
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Hello, My 14 year old Sprocker spaniel was diagnosed with Fibrosis of the lungs in November after we became concerned about him coughing and heaving.
He has a constant cough and the anti-inflammatory seemed to do very little for him so with the vets advice we took him off it. I cannot remember the medication he was prescribed.
He has an extreme decrease in appetite and over the past 7 days has eaten very little. we have tried everything and are now resorting to giving him food that we are eating of an evening, just as to get him to eat anything at all. On his walks he is only interested in eating grass and has been sick a few times upon return from his walk.
My partner is very distressed over it, but refuses to acknowledge there is an issue as our pet still seems happy in himself, he plays with his toys and wags his tail.
Any information you can help with is greatly appreciated.
How is Scamp doing? Im going through something similar with my 12 yr old boxer pit mix. She hasnt been diagnosed with this yet but the vet and i are in the first stages but everything points to this. I just want her to be comfortable but im scared because she is eating little but of course wants whats on my plate. Just wondering of Scamp has gotten any relief and what meds helped. Praying for your furbaby!
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