You don't have to be a veterinarian to know just how important a role the lungs play in your dog's overall health. The lungs perform the essential role of absorbing oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide.
Just like humans, dogs have a right lung and a left lung. But did you know that dogs can live happy and normal lives after having one lung removed? This may sound astonishing but it's true, and the news may give hope to the owners of pooches suffering from a range of lung health issues.
So, why might a dog need to have its lung removed, what does the procedure involved, and what will life with one lung be like for your dog? Keep reading to find out.
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Signs and Symptoms of Lung Problems
There are several diseases that can potentially affect the lungs, while traumatic injuries can also cause lung damage. However, perhaps the most common reason a dog will need to have a lung removed is due to lung cancer, so it's important to be fully aware of the symptoms of lung cancer and other respiratory problems so you can get them checked out by a vet as soon as possible.
Primary lung tumors — those that originate in the lungs — most commonly affect middle-aged or older dogs. However, it's worth pointing out that some dogs will not show any symptoms at all of an underlying problem, and their tumors are usually discovered by accident when a chest x-ray is taken for some other reason.
Of those dogs that do show symptoms, the first symptom you notice may be a cough. In some dogs, this may also be accompanied by phlegm or blood. Lethargy and exercise intolerance are also common indicators, along with weight loss and a general loss of appetite.
Of course, you should also keep an eye out for other signs of respiratory problems. For example, if your dog is having difficulty breathing or suffering from shortness of breath, it's time to get them examined by your veterinarian.
- Raspy panting
- Dropped Ears
- Chronic cough (sometimes accompanied by blood or phlegm)
- Exercise intolerance
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Breathing difficulties
- Shortness of breath
The Science of Dogs Living Without a Lung
Each and every day, your dog's lungs are exposed to environmental triggers that could potentially cause health problems. From bacteria, viruses, and fungi to chemicals, there are plenty of harmful substances that may eventually make it into your dog's lungs. However, the good news is that dogs have protective measures in place to safeguard the lungs against a range of problems.
Unfortunately, sometimes it's simply not possible to protect your pet's lungs against disease and injury. The most common reasons why a dog may need to have a lung lobe removed include:
- Lung cancer
- Severe traumatic injury
- Lung lobe torsion (twisting)
Dogs have a right lung and a left lung. Although we often think of each of these lungs as a single sac, both the right and left lung are made up of several lobes. There are six lung lobes in total, with four in the larger right lung and two in the left.
This lobe-based structure allows for expansion and contraction during breathing, and also maximizes the surface area of the lungs so that our pets can get more oxygen into their bloodstream per breath. However, when disease or injury affects the lungs, it may be necessary for the lobe that has been most seriously affected to be removed.
This procedure is known as a lobectomy. It's quite serious, so is often seen as a last resort after other treatments have failed.
Helping Your Dog Live with One Lung
The news that your dog has to have even a small portion of their lung removed is alarming. But while the procedure is certainly not one to be undertaken lightly, it definitely doesn't spell doom and gloom for your pet. Amazingly, dogs can function normally even with up to 50 percent of their total lung volume removed.
Dogs can undergo either a partial lung lobectomy (removal of a portion of the lobe) or a complete lung lobectomy (which sees the entire lobe removed). If your dog has a single, small tumor, the procedure is often an effective method of treatment. However, in more serious cases, an entire lung may need to be removed.
Most lung lobe tumors are removed by making an incision in the side of the chest just behind the dog's front leg. The incision is made between the ribs, with those ribs then spread apart so that the lobe can be taken out.
The prognosis for your dog after surgery will vary depending on a variety of factors, including why the procedure was needed, which lung was removed and their overall health. However, the chances of survival are far better for dogs that have had the left lung taken out than for those who have had their right lung removed.
If the procedure was needed to treat your dog for lung cancer, chemotherapy or radiation may also be recommended to prevent the spread of cancerous cells. As it's major surgery, recovery will also take a while. Your dog will be looking at a stay in the hospital until they're breathing well and any pain can be managed with oral medications.
Your vet will also be able to offer post-surgery instructions on how you can care for your dog at home. This will include limiting their amount of exercise, giving medications as directed, and monitoring your dog's breathing and general condition.
Lung removal is a serious and daunting procedure, but it's not a death sentence for your pet. Speak to your vet for guidance and advice on the best treatment and management options for your pet.
How to Care for a Dog After Lung Removal:
Give pain medications and antibiotics as instructed by your vet.
Depending on the exact surgical procedure carried out, you may need to limit your pet's exercise for up to six weeks.
Monitor your dog's breathing for any signs that it may be labored.
Check that your dog's gums and tongue are pink.
Check the incision regularly for signs of infection and don't allow your dog to lick or scratch the incision.
Take your dog back to the vet for a post-surgery check-up when required.