Posted By: Josh - Vet

A typical cough in a spaniel

Suzie was a small rescue cocker spaniel just under 5 years old when she came in to see us at the start of June this year. She had a couple of ongoing issues that were being managed by her owner who runs Buddy’s Rural Animal Rescue. These included some underlying joint and mobility issues and some diarrhea if overfed. Despite these she was an otherwise happy friendly little dog.

She was brought in because she had developed a cough after being out on a walk doing typical spaniel things such as diving in and out of bushes. Initially on exam she very cooperatively showed us her soft cough with some huffing and had a slight increase in breathing effort. She had no increase in temperature but was reluctant to open her mouth. Of all the breeds in which a cough may start abruptly spaniels are the ones known for inhaling things they shouldn’t do, such as grass seeds and the like.

In these cases serious consequences can occur as grass seeds can enter the lung and migrate through the tissues causing severe damage and infection. Given this risk we opted to perform x-rays to look for any evidence of inhaled foreign material (known as a foreign body – FB). Inhaled FBs normally fall into the right middle lung lobe and so this can be seen as an opacity in this area of a chest x-ray due to associated fluid accumulation.

The mouth was initially checked under anesthetic and found to be all clear and the chest x-rays were not particularly abnormal – no opacities were seen in the lung lobes. As a result, she was given antibiotics and anti-inflammatories for 1 week to assess her response to infection treatment.

Her owner brought her back 4 days later due to a lack of response to the medication and she was subsequently booked in for a bronchoscopy – a procedure whereby a flexible camera is passed down the airway to look for abnormalities. Prior to the bronchoscopy bloods were done which were all OK and we repeated her x-rays to assess for any changes; these were again normal. Under anesthetic the bronchoscopy was performed. We passed the bronchoscope down the trachea (windpipe) to the point where it first branches (known as the carina) into 2 other airways (the left and right mainstem bronchi).

At this branching point it was clear on the scope that there was a piece of foreign material stuck, giving us a potential cause for the cough. We were able to pass a grabbing device down alongside the camera and grab the foreign material. A video posted on on our social pages shows us removing this material and that it turned out to be a grass blade – feel free to have a watch! The reason no changes were seen on the xrays was because the grass hadn’t passed down into the proper lung tissue but was anchored in the upper airways. Suzie could then keep coughing up any mucus being produced and swallowing it so it wasn’t accumulating enough in the airways to be seen. 

Following removal of the grass blade we went back in with the scope and checked the rest of the airways for any other signs of foreign material or abnormalities; none were seen. Suzie recovered well and continued having a cough for a couple of days after the procedure because of the residual irritation of the procedure and the grass blade, but I can since report the cough has resolved and she is back running around like her normal self.

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