Our border collie of 10 years was having a hard time breathing and last week had xrays and it showed his lungs appeared

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Customer: Our border collie of 10 years was having a hard time breathing and last week had xrays and it showed his lungs appeared to have fibers through both lungs. We took him to a canine oncologist who said he had cancer of the lungs and did an ultrasound of his organs to see where it started. Nothing showed except for 2 tiny (1cm) spots on the spleen, too small to determine. Our vet ran a blood test for Valley Fever because the lungs could look the same but it came back as negative. Is there such a thing for dogs to get some type of fibrosis of the lungs and is there a test/meds for him? I'm still not sure he has cancer of the lungs.
Answered by Dr. Laura Devlin, DVM, DABVP in 7 mins 12 years ago
Dr. Laura Devlin, DVM, DABVP
Pet Specialist

1,724 satisfied customers

Specialities include: Dog Veterinary, Cat Veterinary, Bird Veterinary, Large Animal Veterinary, Small Animal Veterinary

Hello, and thank you for your question.

I am Dr. Devlin, and I am happy to assist you with your question.

I'm so sorry to hear that your border has these abnormal radiographs. What is his name?

First, I am glad that you have seen an oncologist, and that you are looking for further information on his condition. I want to stress that a diagnosis can not be made from radiographs alone, and you are right, there could be another possibility here.

However, I do think it is important to consider that your dog should be quite sick (fever, elevated white blood cell count, etc) if the changes are due to a severe fungal or bacterial infection. I think it is still possible, but I do want to be clear that a metastatic cancer (rarely primary lung cancer) would be the most likely cause based on his age and the fact that he is feeling well otherwise.

Where do you live? Depending on the region, there are other fungal diseases that could cause a disseminated infection aside from valley fever. Were other tests performed to rule out blastomycosis and other fungal diseases?

Were there any other abnormalities on lab work? Anemia, elevated white count, elevated calcium, anything else?

Any draining skin lesions or lumps under the skin?

Any enlarged lymph nodes that could be sampled?

Finally, would you consider having a lung wash or lung aspirate performed to try to diagnose the disease?

Please feel free to let me know as much information as possible, and I'll be standing by to help.
Dr. Devlin

Thank you, XXXXX XXXXX in San Jose, CA, my dog's name is Buster. He went to the vet a week ago and was checked out physically. At the time the vet could find nothing physically wrong with him. Nothing enlarged, heart functions normal, breathing sounded fine, no temperature but he did notice that Buster's gums were not the deeper pink they should be. Buster was put on penecilin twice a day. After 5 days, there was still this cough and some spitting of phlem with very small spots of what looked like dried blood. I took him back and they did a blood test. Next day was urgent for Buster to come in, he had lung xrays and the vet noticed strange fiberus throughout both lungs. We took Buster immediately to the specialist for oxegen and further information. The oncologist suspected lung cancer but needed to do an ultrasound to see where it was coming from because it normally doesn't start in the lungs, he said. He didn't rule out a fungus infection but suspected it was cancerous. Buster's breathing is too labored for them to do a lung biosys at this time to confirm. My vet called on Sat. and said the lab had enough blood left to do the test for Valley Fever (something from the San Joaquin Valley - CA). Though Buster has not been there, Ididn't want to rule anything out. The tests came back negative.


He has no skin lesions and his lymph nodes are not enlarged. He has no temperature. His white cell count is up and his body is producing more red cells to make up for the lack of oxegen. He pants to breath but tries to be active. (We have another Border Collie- 4 yrs). He still likes to walk and eats well and drinks water. He urineas fine too.


Neither doctor wants to touch his lungs now. I realize I am grasping at straws but it is hard to understand how a healthy dog can become this sick from nowhere. I so want to help him breath easier and I'm trying to understand if there are other sicknesses that dogs can get like Lung Fibrosis. What would those type of xrays look like, if he had something like that? His current xrays have this webbing affect about 3/4 full.


Thanks for your expertise. Beth Stephens-Lamers

Hi Beth,

Thank you for all the wonderful details about Buster. I am sending prayers and good thoughts your way and I'm so glad he is receiving such wonderful care.

Some thoughts without actually seeing the x-rays:

1.) Ask to have the x-rays evaluated by a boarded radiologist. It is amazing what else they can glean and what other possibilities they may come up with.

2.)The fungal serologies are not always accurate and false negatives can occur. Any history of travel? We have blasto in the southeast, histoplasmosis can be obtained from birds, etc. You may want to ask your vet if testing for other common fungal diseases is warranted.

3.)Depending on the pattern noted in the lung x-rays, a nodular interstital pattern can by due to parasitic disease as well. You could request a a baermann for lung parasites

4.) Please talk to your specialist about the risks with treating with prednisone. It causes immunosuppression and may worsen fungal/bacterial infections. However, it may be necessary in this case if he is having significant respiratory distress. The vets in charge are better equipped to answer this question, but I think an in-depth discussion about risks/benefits is essential.
5.) Was a thorough exam repeated? All tiny lumps and bumps sampled? Rectal exam performed? Anal glands palpated? Thorough eye exam looking for changes in the back of the eye as well as the front of the eye? Thorough oral exam?

6.) Was the platelet count normal? Do you know if he has any evidence of coagulation abnormalities? Exposure to rat poisoning or bleeding within the lungs can cause a diffuse interstital pattern that can mimic cancer/fungal infections. (rare, a PT/PTT can be performed to assess clotting status).However, I would expect a lowered red blood cell count, not elevated. ( I think this possibility is remote)

Severe and chronic airway reaction/infection/inflammation could be present if there is a bronchial pattern visible on the x-rays.

Primary airway diseases do exist - pulmonary fibrosis is seen most often in west highland white terriers but can be seen in other breeds. There may be secondary infection to a primary airway disease also. Pulmonary fibrosis is rare. Allergic airway disease should have a different x-ray appearance then fungal/metastatic cancer.

Sampling would be the only way to receive a definitive diagnosis. If they do not want to biopsy, could an airway wash be performed? This may be diagnostic, although if the disease is interstital in location (and not free in the airways) it could be missed - AND he would need to be placed under anethesia for the endoscope to be passed to collect the samples. You and your vet would need to discuss potential risks.

In addition, I'm wondering if they could perform a local block and then just use a needle aspirate to obtain samples for the pathologist? This would be less invasive then the biopsy.

Please know I am pulling for him. Sadly, without fever, and with his age, cancer is highest on the list. However, I know if this were my dog, I would not want to give up while there was even the smallest hope it could be something else. Also, if it does turn out to be cancer (and I hope not) by diagnosing the type of cancer if possible, you have a better chance of addressing it specifically.

A biopsy would likely be the only way to diagnose a fibotic condition (not infectious in nature) - again, these are rare in dogs.

Please let me know how else I can help, and how things go. God bless you and Buster.
Dr. Devlin
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Dr. Laura Devlin, DVM, DABVP
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Dr. Laura Devlin, DVM, DABVP
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