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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Chest Injuries View In Dogs

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition

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Condition Overview

A chest injury is always painful, and dogs and cats may struggle to breathe. A hard blow to the chest can bruise the lungs or heart, which will also interfere with breathing.

Symptoms

The animal may stretch out his neck to make breathing easier, respirations may become shallow or may be very labored and fast, and you will probably notice more motion in the abdomen with each breath. A broken bone can also pierce the lung and cause it to collapse. Any kind of wound that penetrates into the chest cavity will interfere with breathing, even if no injury is present.

Causes

Chest injuries are often due to blunt trauma. This happens when a pet is hit by a car, falls, or is kicked by a horse or malicious human. Bites, bullets, arrows, or running into stationary objects can also cause terrible chest injuries. Cuts and lacerations may happen when pets encounter power grass trimmers or try to run through a glass door or wire fence.

Diagnosis

Generally, diagnosis can be made by observing symptoms.

Treatment

Any chest injury is an emergency that needs immediate medical attention. First aid can keep your pet more comfortable, or even keep him alive and breathing, until you reach medical assistance.

  1. Control the bleeding - Before doing anything else, stop any bleeding. THe best method is direct pressure to the wound. Hold a clean cloth, gauze pad, or sanitary napkin against the wound and put firm pressure over the area with the palm of your hand or fingers. If the pad soaks through, don't remove it. That can disrupt the clotting. Instead, add another pad on top of the first and continue the pressure.
  2. Treat your pet for shock - Shock can kill your pet in as little as 10 - 20 minutes, so prompt treatment can buy your time to get to medical help. Keep your dog or cat as quiet as possible and wrap him in a blanket or towel to keep him warm. you can also put a drop or two of Karo syrup or honey on your pets gums to keep him conscious. See Shock for more information.
  3. Look for wounds - Check to see if your pet has an open chest wound that exposes the lung, or if there is a puncture that allows intermittent or continuous "sucking" of air into the chest when the pet inhales. In this case, you should get your pet to the vet as quickly as possible. In the meantime, there are a few techniques you can use to help your pet breathe.

    If the wound has a tiny entry, like a puncture wound from a bite, you can seal it with a big wad of petroleum jelly or even K-Y Jelly. Then put a clean cloth or clean plastic sandwich bag against the ointment on top of the opening and hold it in place with tape wrapped around the torso. If the wound is too large for ointment, cover it with a piece of plastic wrap (Saran Wrap) to form a seal. Either hold it in place with your hand or gently wrap it around your pets chest while someone else drives you to the vet.

    Once the wrap is in place, have your pet lie on the injured side, which will keep pressure on the bleeding, helps seal the hole, and also offers rigid structure to the chest wall if your pet has broken ribs.
How To Seal Sucking Wounds - The area inside the chest is normally a vacuum that allows the lungs to easily expand when your pet inhales air. When a wound punches through the chest wall, it is like switching on a vacuum cleaner inside the body. Air gets pulled into the cavity, and that pressure collapses the lungs to prevent them from expanding. Once the lungs collapse, your pet can suffocate. These injuries to the chest are commonly described as sucking wounds because of the way the air is pulled into the hole. Blood from the opening may bubble as air rushes in and out.

You can make a one way valve that seals the wound to keep air from being sucked into your pets chest yet allows the air inside to escape. This can help re-establish the normal vacuum, prevent the lungs from collapsing, and ease your pets breath until medical help is available.

Cut a section of plastic wrap or any clean plastic material (a sandwich bag or part of a clean garbage bag will also work). Using first aid tape, tape 3 sides of the plastic over the open wound so that it completely covers the injury, but can still be lifted open (if necessary) to allow air to escape. As your pet inhales, her inflating lungs push air out of her chest cavity and back through the hole - the plastic will lift on the side that let it escape. When she exhales and the lungs deflate, the sucking of the wound pulls the plastic against the hole and keeps any additional air from entering the chest cavity.

Prevention

There is no prevention for this condition.

Support

Most chest wounds are serious and pets will be hospitalized for treatment until they are out of danger. When surgery is necessary to repair torn internal structures or fix broken ribs, the dog or cat may have a large incision down the side of his body or down the breastbone. Keep the sutures clean by wiping away any drainage as needed, using a gauze pad soaked with sterile saline contact lens solution.

Some pets with massive chest wounds will still be bandaged when they come home. It is important to keep the bandage clean and dry because it will cause itching and infection if it gets wet. Protect the area by wrapping it with plastic wrap before your pet goes outside in rainy weather.

As the incision starts to heal, it may itch, and dogs (especially) may lick or chew at the sutures. Use a cone shaped collar restraint like an Elizabethan collar to keep him from bothering the sutures. He will not be able to eat while wearing the collar, so be sure to remove it during feedings. Another option is to smear a tiny bit of Vicks VapoRub or bitter apple on the skin around the sutures. The odor and taste will keep most pets from licking and chewing. Reapply as needed, usually once daily.

Depending on the injury, you may need to give antibiotics to prevent infection. Sticks and other foreign objects can put bacteria or even fungi deep inside a wound. It is pretty easy to hide a pill in a dab of peanut butter or cheese to help your dog take it willingly. For cats, you can crush most medicines with a spoon and mix them with some wet cat food. If your cat refuses to eat medicated food, try grasping the back of her neck and pointing her nose at the ceiling. This will prompt her to open wide. Drop the pill in the center dip of her tongue and close her mouth, keeping her nose pointed up. Gravity will move the pill and she should swallow. Give her a treat to help wash the pill down the rest of the way.

Show Sources & Contributors +

Sources

The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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