Pneumothorax is an emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention. It is characterized by the presence of air that leaks into the space between the pleural membranes, the two membranes that cover the lungs and line the chest cavity. The air can increase pressure on the lung, resulting in tension pneumothorax (collapsed lung). The condition may result from a number of causes. In most cases, pneumothorax follows a motor vehicle accident when the air is presumed to come from a small tear in the lung. In rare cases, air can leak into a lung due to trauma to the trachea, which is usually the a result of a bite wound, foreign body or tumor. If the trachea is punctured, air and bacteria can leak into the surrounding tracheal tissues and cause fatal infection. Pneumothorax may also result from infection with Paragonimus kellicotti (lung flukes) which reside in cysts within the pulmonary membranes causing chronic lung infection.3 Pulmonary cystic echinococosis, a zoonosis caused by the larvae of the dog tapeworm Echinococcus granulosus, has also been reported to cause simple or tension pneumothorax.4

Dogs with pneumothorax have rapid, shallow breathing and difficulty inhaling. If a small amount of air leaked into the chest cavity, it can be quickly removed with a needle or syringe. Animals with moderate pneumothorax will usually recover after 4-5 days of cage rest. More persistent air leaks may require that a tube be temporarily planted within the chest cavity for drainage until leakage of air is stopped. If the problem cannot be solved in this way, the leak must be closed surgically.


  1. Mordecai Siegal. UC Davis Book of Dogs: The Complete Medical Reference Guide for Dogs
  2. John K. Dunn. Textbook of Small Animal Medicine
  3. Eucoleus aerophilus respiratory infection in a dog with Addison’s disease
  4. Pulmonary cystic echinococosis. Saul Santivanez, MD, MPH, Hector H. Garcia, MD, PhD

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