Tracheal Wash

Posted on June 12, 2015

Respiratory issues in pets can manifest themselves in forms of chronic cough, shortness of breath and overall difficulty in breathing.  It is important to accurately identify the source of these respiratory problems in order to properly diagnose and treat the source, whether it is fungal, bacterial or neoplastic in nature.  In severe cases, symptoms may even be caused by tumors, which will in turn require more aggressive and invasive methods of treatment.

Collection of fluids from the lungs is the most common and least invasive method of identifying and diagnosing respiratory issues in pets.  Tracheal wash and bronchoscopy are two very popular forms of fluid collection and require only local anesthesia and pose the least amount of risk for complications.

Tracheal wash consists of inserting a small catheter into the airways and washing a few milliliters of sterile fluid into the lungs and then quickly aspirating it for analysis.  Insertion of the catheter into the airways can be achieved either directly through the mouth into the airway; referred to as transoral; or more invasively by cutting a small incision along the neck, referred to as transtracheal.  Transtracheal washes are typically associated with more side effects such as the trapping of small pockets of air underneath the skin, more commonly known as subcutaneous emphysema.

In cases of foreign objects trapped in the lungs or when biopsy maybe necessary for further diagnosis, veterinarians normally use a bronchoscope equipped both with a camera and light to assist in guidance.  Bronchoscopy allows not only for the insertion of a plastic catheter for bronchial washes, but also for the use of forceps for object removal and tissue sample collection.  Unlike transoral and transtracheal procedures however, bronchoscopy requires full sedation of the animal and is not advised for some pets.