Cindar was a 7-year-old, beautiful black female wolf. She was very sensitive and smart. Jean and Susan called me because she was depressed and seemed ill. When I arrived she was weak and was breathing very rapidly. When I listened to her lungs with the stethoscope she had very little air moving through them. I was immediately concerned as to why such a seemingly healthy wolf was losing lung function so quickly. We decided that to get a better idea as to what was going on with her lungs, we needed to do a chest x-ray. The x-ray revealed fluid in the chest and very limited lung capacity. Some of the lung had no air in it at all. It was clear she had pneumonia but what would have caused it? Cancer? What sort of infection would be that rapid? We started treatment for pneumonia and I went home unsettled in my mind. In the middle of the night I suddenly sat up from a deep sleep and said – it’s a torsion! Lung torsion is quite rare and is seen mainly in very deep chested dogs like Afghans, which are similar to wolves in conformation with their narrow deep chest cavities. What happens is that one lobe of the lung twists around its base, which includes the airway and all the blood vessels. In a very short period of time the lobe starts to die. This process causes toxins to build up, and fluid to accumulate which further decreases the animal’s capacity to breathe. The only treatment is surgery, which is very complicated and has to be done by a specialist. Unfortunately the closest hospital able to perform the procedure on Cindar was in Salt Lake City.
As soon as I realized it was a torsion we were dealing with Jean was in the car on the way to Salt Lake as Susan made arrangements, but it was too late. Cindar died before reaching the hospital. This was a very difficult case to diagnose and to lose. Cindar’s lung had twisted well before she was showing any outward signs of distress. Wolves are so strong and so capable of hiding pain and illness it makes it very difficult to know if something is wrong until they are very ill. This was a very unfortunate case and I may never see another lung torsion again in my career because they are so rare but I will always keep it in the back of my mind because of Cindar and maybe I can save the next one.
by Don Betts, DVM