Pectus Excavatum in Dogs
In pectus excavatum, the sternum and costal cartilages are deformed, resulting in a horizontal narrowing of the chest, primarily on the posterior side. The sternum, or chest bone, is a long flat bone located in the center of the thorax, and the costal cartilages are the cartilages that connect the chest bone with the ends of the ribs. In appearance, the middle of the chest appear to be flat or concave, rather than slightly convex.
Brachycephalic (short-nose) breed dogs are predisposed to this condition and in most cases are born with (congenital) this disability.
Symptoms and Types
- Difficult breathing
- Unable to perform routine exercise
- Increased depth of breathing
- Recurrent lung infections
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Failure to gain weight
There is a genetic predisposition in some dog breeds, particularly brachycephalic breeds, but pectus excavatum can occur spontaneously in any breed. The condition may not be obvious until several weeks after birth unless it is a severe form.
Raising puppies on surfaces causing poor footing may also predispose these animals to developing such a condition.
You will need to give your veterinarian a thorough history of your dog’s health, any information you have of its parentage and genetic background, and the onset of symptoms. Routine laboratory tests will include complete blood tests, biochemical profiles, and a urinalysis.
Your veterinarian will conduct multiple X-rays of the thoracic cavity to confirm the diagnosis of pectus excavatum. These X-rays will reveal the actual deformities and related structural abnormalities. In some patients, the heart may be shifted from its normal place on the left side of the thoracic cavity due to the abnormal shape of the bones. Abnormalities and concurrent diseases related to the respiratory system will also be visible on X-rays. Echocardiography, a sonographic image of the heart, will be used to further evaluate the heart, its functioning ability, and possible cardiac defects.
Surgery remains the only treatment option for repairing this deformity. However, if the disease is mild and your dog only has a flat chest, then it may be improved without surgery. In such cases, your veterinarian will instruct you in manually compressing the chest in such a way that will encourage the sternum and costal cartilages to take on a more convex shape.
In some dogs, a splint application will work to reduce the mild defects. However, in cases of moderate or severe inward sinking of the sternum, surgery is indicated for correction of the defects. The technique used by your veterinary surgeon will depend on your dog’s age and the extent of the problem. Dogs with respiratory problems that are directly related to this condition, meanwhile, generally improve substantially after surgery and will start breathing more comfortably.
Living and Management
Prognosis is very poor for severely affected patients, but a timely intervention and reparation at an early age may help improve the prognosis. Follow your doctor’s guidelines for physical therapy at home if your dog has a mild form of the condition.
After surgery, your dog may feel sore and will need proper rest in a quiet place, away from other pets, active children, and busy entryways. You might consider cage rest for a short time, until your dog can safely move about again without overexertion. Trips outdoors for bladder and bowel relief should be kept short and easy for your dog to handle during the recovery period.
Your veterinarian may also prescribe a short course of pain killers until your dog has fully recovered, along with a mild course of antibiotics, to prevent any opportunistic bacteria from attacking your dog. Medications will need to be given precisely as directed, at the proper dosage and frequency. Keep in mind that over dosage of pain medications is one of the most preventable causes for death in household animals.
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