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Saturday, 8 October 2011

Collapse in dogs and cats

Welcome to PercyPods Pet Emergency blogs; we hope that you and your pets are well. This week we are going to discuss the problem of “collapse”. Not all collapse is the same and we will describe what collapse is, what can cause it in dogs and cats, and what your vet might have to do to discover and correct the problem.

What is collapse?

Okay so let’s start this blog by explaining what collapse is and what can cause it. A dog or cat is usually described as being collapsed if they are unable to get up. To understand the causes better you need to know that in order for your dog or cat to be able to stand up a number of different parts of the body have to be working well enough. These are basically the brain and the nerves, the muscles, bones and joints, the heart and a good blood supply containing enough oxygen, all of which are also tied in with for example factors such as the level of glucose or certain hormones in your pet’s blood. So when your pet collapses it could be because of a number of different reasons.

In some cases the pet will be walking or at least standing up and then fall either into a sitting position if just their back legs give way or into a lying position if complete collapse occurs. He or she will then be unable to get up. There are however some animals that collapse after a period in which they have been sleeping or at least apparently resting normally; in other words an animal does not have to fall over to be described as ‘collapsed’. Some collapsed animals are conscious although they may appear confused or dazed; others can lose consciousness either very briefly or for a more prolonged period. Some animals collapse but then make an apparently complete recovery within seconds to minutes, while others remain collapsed and will not improve without veterinary attention. Animals with more localised problems causing collapse, that is problems that only affect their back or legs, are often quite bright and aware in themselves. They will often respond to and interact with you relatively normally unless they are in a lot of pain.

What causes collapse?

So let’s move on now and consider the causes of collapse. As we mentioned before, in order for your dog or cat to be able to stand up a number of different parts of the body have to be working well enough and it is therefore helpful to separate the causes of collapse along these lines – although the reality is that many causes of collapse affect a number of different parts of the body.

Causes affecting the brain

So a number of the causes of collapse mainly affect the brain. Seizures or ‘fits’ are one potential cause of collapse and it is common for animals to be collapsed for quite some time after a seizure. Animals with other brain problems such as a tumour or a blood clot – like a ‘stroke’ in people – may also collapse as a result.

Spinal cord/peripheral nerve causes

Some causes of collapse mainly affect the nerves supplying the legs either at the spinal cord which is in the neck and back or actually within the legs themselves. For example, just like people with so-called ‘slipped discs’, it is possible for cats and especially dogs to get problems with the discs in their neck or back and this can cause them to be collapsed. This problem is one we see commonly for example in Dachshunds.

Musculoskeletal causes

Another group of causes of collapse are ones that affect the muscles, bones or joints. In such cases symptoms such as limping, difficulty getting up, or inability to sit up or jump are often present and getting worse for days, weeks or months before collapse occurs.

Causes affecting the heart or blood supply

A number of the causes of collapse affect the heart or the blood supply to the body. Lack of a good blood supply can be a localised problem. For example there is a relatively common condition in cats with heart disease where a blood clot blocks off the blood supply to their back legs; they are completely unable to use their legs and this condition is usually very painful. However it is more common for collapse to occur because of lack of a good blood supply to the whole body causing the animal to be very weak or their nerves and muscles to fail.

So what can compromise the blood supply to the whole body? Well, one example would be heart disease where the heart muscle becomes very weak or the heart starts to beat very irregularly. The heart not working properly means that blood does not flow around the body well enough and the animal collapses. We see this type of problem for example in some dogs, such as Boxers and Dobermans, which are predisposed to certain heart diseases.

Another time when the blood supply to your pet’s body would be compromised is if he or she loses a lot of blood. The body needs a good blood supply to be able to stand and move and as an animal loses more and more blood, he or she will become weaker and weaker until they are completely collapsed. We see this type of problem for example in dogs such as German shepherd dogs or Golden Retrievers who quite commonly have tumours in their spleen or liver that rupture and bleed into their tummy area; you should note that this is not bleeding that you could detect just by looking at your dog as it occurs internally.

And yet another cause of poor blood flow around the body would be if your pet goes into ‘shock’. Although people often use the word ‘shock’ to describe how someone feels emotionally when they receive terrible news or lose someone close to them, it is actually a medical term which describes poor blood flow around the body. There are lots of causes of shock in animals, two of the most common examples of which are ‘bloat’ or gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV) syndrome in dogs and blocked bladders in male cats. We have discussed both of these conditions in previous blog so please have a listen if you haven’t already.

Lack of oxygen in the blood

Other causes of collapse that we would like you to be aware of include a lack of enough oxygen in the blood because of a problem with your pet getting oxygen into their lungs or from their lungs into their bloodstream. Oxygen is essential for the body to work properly and reasons why your pet may not have enough oxygen include: severe lung diseases such as pneumonia; heart failure; or obstructions of their airways for example in so-called ‘brachycephalic’ dogs such as Pugs and Bulldogs, or in cats with feline asthma.

Metabolic/hormonal causes

The last group of causes of collapse that we would like to mention includes problems with parts of your pet’s metabolism or with their hormones. For example low blood glucose is one cause that we see relatively commonly. This may occur for example in dogs affected by a certain tumour of the pancreas organ known as ‘insulinoma’, in puppies and kittens, or indeed if you accidentally administer too much insulin to your diabetic pet. Collapse is a relatively common symptom in dogs with a hormonal disease known as “Addison’s disease” or hypoadrenocorticism where they do not produce enough of certain essential hormones in the body, and collapse can also be seen in other hormonal diseases.

What will my vet do and what treatment might be needed?

In general we would recommend that you have your pet examined by a vet if they are collapsed and this is especially urgent if your pet appears to be depressed or non-responsive. This would not be a time to wait and see. So now that we have discussed the causes of collapse, let’s move on and briefly discuss what your vet may need to do and what treatment your pet may need. As you can see there are a lot of different causes of collapse and your vet will need to use whatever information they have available to help them decide what to do. This will include information that you provide, for example about what happened to your pet when he or she collapsed, whether there was a loss of consciousness, and whether there has been any change at all. Your vet will also get very important information from examining your pet about how well their heart is working, their blood is flowing, their nerves and muscles are functioning and so on. Using this information your vet will be able to decide whether your pet needs to be admitted to the practice for immediate stabilisation and monitoring and also what some of the more likely causes are and this will help guide them in terms of what tests they need to perform and how urgently this needs to be done.

Some tests that are commonly performed early on in some collapsed patients include blood tests, for example to check for blood loss or blood glucose concentration, and an ECG test to see how the heart is beating. In some cases x-rays and ultrasound are used and in others your pet may need to be sent to a more specialist centre where more advanced tests such as MRI or CT scans can be performed. The tests that your pet needs will very much depend on his or her particular circumstances and your vet will be able to go through all this with you.

As there are many different reasons why your pet may collapse it will not be surprising that there are also many different possible treatments. These range from supportive measures and time to various medications and in some cases surgery. Unfortunately some animals are diagnosed with a condition that has a very grave outlook and you and your vet may decide that putting your pet to sleep is in his or her best interest. As always, your vet will discuss all this with you as and when information becomes available.

Okay so that brings us to the end of this blog on collapse in dogs and cats. It is quite a common and a serious emergency problem for which there are lots of different causes and the outlook very much depends on the cause. Your priority should be to have your pet examined by a vet and then take it from there.

The next blog will be in approximately 2 weeks time when we will talk about animals with difficulty breathing. Remember that if you have any comments or questions on this blog, or indeed any suggestions for future blogs, you can contact us in the usual ways. Via email on; via the PercyPods Facebook page; or via Twitter on @PercyPods. Also don’t forget to subscribe for future episodes via the RSS feed or iTunes. So thank you for reading and until next time, may you and your pets be safe.

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