Your dog just had a complete senior blood panel done and it was perfect. Now, all of a sudden, he has started to cough at night, especially when she is deep in sleep on her side. What’s going on? Shouldn’t the blood test have alerted you to this! Unfortunately, routine blood work tells us nothing about the heart, lungs or anything else in the chest. Heart, lung and tracheal (windpipe) health can only be determined by x-rays. After 8 years of age your senior dog needs to have regular chest x-rays to identify potential problems before symptoms (coughing, panting, decreased energy) occur. So, what do x-rays tell us about the chest?
-Heart size. It is common for older dogs to develop poor functioning heart valves that cause regurgitation and murmurs. This “un-pumped” volume of blood causes the heart to enlarge and become less effective at its job of circulating blood. This size change can be spotted on x-rays. Treatment, western and eastern, can be started to support heart health and delay or prevent eventual heart failure.
-Lung clarity. The blacker the area of the lungs on x-ray, the better. Allergic bronchitis, bacterial, viral or fungal infections cause fluid to accumulate in the lungs, decreasing air in the lungs. This causes the lung x-ray shadows to become greyer, rather than black, indicating a problem. Tumors or growths also show up as grey areas on x-rays. By knowing there is a problem, tests can be done to identify the cause and treatment initiated.
-Tracheal diameter. That dry, “honkey cough” by your dog when she gets excited is probably due to a collapsing trachea, especially if she is a small breed dog. X-rays clearly highlight the trachea, so when there is a constriction due to collapse or other problem (allergic irritation, inhaled object or growth) they are easily identified. The proper course of action can then be taken.
And, believe-it-or-not, we can generally identify problems in the chest with just 2 x-rays- one from the side and one with your dog on its back.
Special heart blood test:
We recently partnered with the our laboratory to offer a special blood test that assess heart health. We now have a blood test that will identify if a dog with a heart murmur is likely to develop congestive heart failure. The beauty of this test it alerts us to the level of intervention we need to manage the murmur. Low risk allows us to treat exclusively alternatively with Chinese herbs and cardiac supplements. If risk is high, we can add targeted western medications as needed. This capability has been a tremendous tool for our treatment of dogs with murmurs!