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Pulmonary Contusion in Dogs

What Is Pulmonary Contusion in Dogs?

Pulmonary contusion in dogs occurs when the lungs sustain injury or bruising due to blunt trauma to the chest, typically from impact with a dull, firm object like a car. This trauma leads to bleeding from damaged blood vessels surrounding the lungs. Contusions can range from mild bruising in a single lung lobe to severe hemorrhage affecting the entire lung. The development and worsening of contusions can continue for up to 24-48 hours after the initial trauma. Despite initially appearing to breathe normally, dogs may rapidly deteriorate, experiencing severe respiratory distress and potential fatality due to bleeding. Any chest or body trauma in dogs warrants immediate medical attention as a critical emergency. Dogs should be taken to a veterinarian or emergency facility promptly and remain under observation and treatment for at least 48-72 hours.


The symptoms of pulmonary contusion in dogs include various clinical signs, the severity of which depends on the extent of the trauma and the degree of lung tissue involvement:

  • Rapid, abnormal breathing (tachypnea)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing, potentially with blood or blood-tinged fluid
  • Nosebleeds (epistaxis)
  • Indications of thoracic trauma, such as broken ribs
  • Vomiting or retching
  • Wheezing, particularly during exhalation
  • Unsteady gait or inability to stand
  • Bluish or purplish gums
  • Pale gums
  • Excessive vocalization


Pulmonary contusions in dogs can result from various forms of blunt trauma, including:

  • Being struck by a car
  • Falling from a significant height
  • Human abuse or cruelty
  • Being kicked by another animal
  • Non-penetrating bite wounds
  • Crushing injuries

Among these, motor vehicle accidents, where a dog is struck by a car, are the most common cause of pulmonary contusion in dogs. Approximately 40–50% of dogs with chest injuries develop pulmonary contusions, so if your dog has been hit by a car, this condition should be considered and suspected.


Diagnosing pulmonary contusions in dogs involves considering recent thoracic or chest trauma, observing signs of respiratory distress, and conducting diagnostic tests. Initially, dogs may not exhibit clinical signs, as contusions can take up to 48 hours to manifest fully. While chest X-rays may appear normal initially, they may reveal abnormalities such as fluid accumulation around the lungs over time.

After obtaining a thorough medical history and performing a physical examination, additional diagnostic tests beyond X-rays may be necessary to evaluate the extent of injuries and the likelihood of pulmonary contusions. Baseline blood work will be conducted to check for signs of anemia or other adverse effects from the traumatic incident. If feasible, a blood gas analysis will assess the dog’s respiratory function and blood oxygenation.

In cases of blunt force trauma, immediate veterinary attention is crucial. During transportation to the vet, it’s advisable to secure the dog in a crate or doggy car seat for safety. Having another person nearby can provide comfort and reassurance to keep the dog as calm as possible during the journey.


Treatment for pulmonary contusion in dogs is intensive and typically involves hospitalization for several days. In mild cases, oxygen therapy is administered either through nasal tubes or a special mask, or using an oxygen cage if tolerated better by the dog.

Severe cases may require suctioning of blood from the lungs through the mouth followed by intubation, where a tube is inserted via the mouth to deliver oxygen directly to the lungs. Intubation necessitates sedation to ensure the tube remains in place.

For dogs with significant breathing difficulties, a chest tube may be necessary to drain accumulated blood, typically inserted under anesthesia or heavy sedation.

An IV catheter is essential for administering medications to manage symptoms and provide supportive fluids for hydration and maintaining blood pressure. Pain relief medications are also crucial components of treatment.

In severe instances, dogs may require ventilation assistance via a ventilator to aid breathing.

Regardless of the severity of contusions, dogs often need strict cage rest to facilitate recovery, especially if they have concurrent injuries like broken bones or pneumothorax, which may necessitate surgery.

Once stabilized and breathing normally, dogs can be discharged for continued recovery at home, often requiring medications like pain relievers, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories.

Recovery and Management

Recovery from pulmonary contusions in dogs often involves a period where symptoms may worsen before showing signs of improvement. Typically, respiratory issues peak 24-48 hours post-trauma, followed by gradual improvement. However, full resolution of pulmonary contusions usually takes seven to 10 days, necessitating strict cage rest for several weeks post-injury.

If a dog sustains blunt chest trauma and shows no signs of respiratory distress after 48 hours, the likelihood of further complications diminishes. Dogs without additional injuries generally have a better prognosis compared to those with secondary issues such as rib fractures or organ damage.

Dogs experiencing breathing difficulties or requiring temporary intubation or ventilation may have a less favorable prognosis for complete recovery.

Following pulmonary contusions, dogs may have a compromised respiratory system, requiring caution with activities that strain the lungs. Depending on the severity of injuries, lifelong medications may be necessary to maintain airway patency and manage pain.

Pulmonary Contusion in Dogs FAQs

What is the survival rate of a dog with pulmonary contusions?

The survival rate varies depending on the severity of the injuries sustained. According to one study, three out of 10 dogs with severe pulmonary contusions survived.

How long does it take for a pulmonary contusion to heal in a dog?

Pulmonary contusions typically follow a pattern where symptoms worsen before improvement begins. Respiratory issues often peak 24–48 hours after the trauma, but improvement may start within three to five days post-injury. While dogs may start feeling better, pulmonary contusions usually take seven to 10 days to fully resolve. Therefore, strict cage rest is recommended for several weeks following the injury.

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