Pyothorax in cats and dogs (Proceedings)
May 01, 2011
The purpose of this lecture is to review the management of pyothorax in cats and dogs. Pulmonary infection can result from bacterial, viral, fungal or protozoal infection, however, pyothorax is almost uniformly bacterial. The pleural space has a small amount of fluid normally (~ 5 ml) which serves as lubrication for the pulmonary parenchyma. However, liters of fluid cross the pleural space daily through extravascation and subsequent resorption. This is important as inflammation and loss of resorptive ability can result in large volume of effusion accumulating quickly. Pyothorax is defined as a septic pleural effusion. In people the term empyema is often used. The organisms can be a mixed population including anaerobic organisms or can be a single organism depending on the initial sources of the infection.
Risk factors for the development of pyothorax in dogs include large breed young active hunting dogs. Pyothorax is through to develop in response to migration of the inhaled plant awns, and are often associated with pulmonary abscesses. In cats, pyothorax is more common in multiple cat households, and in those cats that go outside. The most common cause of feline pyothorax are thought to include thoracic bite wounds and extension from pulmonary abscesses (eg. Severe URI/pneumonia). Pyothorax in both cats and dogs can be associated with esophageal perforation or with iatrogenic infection associated with thoracocentesis or thoracotomy.Complementary diagnostics to cytology and bacterial culture include CBC/Chemistry profile/UA as well as Feline leukemia/FIV testing. White blood counts are often markedly elevated in dogs and cats, and a profound left shift is often present. Chemistry profiles are typically normal, but may document low albumin or evidence of other systemic disease (azotemia, raised liver enzymes). FeLV or FIV could affect the ability of the cat respond to the supportive care, or at least in the case of FeLV, might affect the client's wishes as far as proceeding with intensive supportive care. From an imaging standpoint, radiographs will usually simply support the presence of effusion, although mass lesion or spontaneous pneumothorax may also be present. Ultrasound examination or computed tomography could be considered for more careful examination of the thoracic cavity, in particular for a search for an abscess or foreign body. Recall that the mediastinum in both cats and dogs is not intact, thus unilateral effusions reflect the presence of fibrosis adhesions occluding the exchange of fluid across the mediastinum. For similar reasons, the long standing practice of recording the volumes that are obtained from the right and left sides of the chest is unlikely helpful, as the fluid can easily move from one side to the other.
Following diagnosis, the major questions that exist include 1)prognosis and 2) best approach to therapy. Prognosis can be divided into short term survival and long term rates of recurrence or on-going pulmonary compromise. Prognosis, like in most cases of sepsis, will reflect the degree of systemic inflammation and multiple organ dysfunction. Overall, pyothorax tends to have a better prognosis that other causes of pleural effusion, in almost all cases successful therapy is extensive and may require significant financial commitment on behalf of the client and a longer duration of hospitalization that more many other diseases. Cats that present moribund (or interestingly with pytalism) have a worse prognosis. Long term prognosis can be more variable, as recurrence is not uncommon, especially in dogs with Actinomyces infection or potentially in animals treated more conservatively.
The options for therapy include medical or surgical therapy. All forms of therapy include an extended course of broad spectrum antibiotics, ideally directed by culture and sensitivity testing. Animals should ideally be hospitalized so they can be more closely monitored and receive 24 hours care. Other therapies include discussion of the following:
• Periodic thoracocentesis
Surgical therapy (delayed or immediate)
• Median sternotomy
The right approach is often hotly debated. One study (Rooney et al) has shown an improved outcome in dogs treated with surgical intervention in comparison to dogs treated medically. Based upon this retrospective study, as well as personal experience, the recommendation is to explore dogs via a median sternotomy as soon as practical (eg, not at 2 am) rather than first placing chest tubes and treating more conservatively first. However, a more recent retrospective (Boothe et al) showed no improvement with surgical management, but advocated lavage with heparin. In cats, most often the recommendations have been to treat medically for 4-7 days first, and then if there is no improvement, to consider surgical exploration at that point. Surgical exploration should be pursued more promptly if there is evidence of a pulmonary abscess or other lesion that appears to be surgical resectable.
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