Pericarditis In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Samoyed dog on the examination by a veterinarian, possibly checking for pericarditis

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

Pericarditis in dogs happens when the pericardium, the outer sac that surrounds the heart, becomes inflamed. The pericardium is made of a fibrous outer layer and an inner membrane layer. These layers are separated by a small space that is filled with fluid that keeps the membrane and the heart moist.

When either of the pericardium layers becomes inflamed, more fluid is produced, which causes a buildup that compresses the heart and surrounding tissue. This leads to further inflammation and swelling.

If pericarditis goes untreated, it can eventually become life-threatening and lead to heart failure. If you see the signs of pericarditis in your dog, then consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Here’s what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for pericarditis in dogs.

Symptoms Of Pericarditis In Dogs

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

The symptoms of pericarditis in dogs relate to pressure put on the heart. The heart pumps oxygen-filled blood to the organs and tissue of the body, and when it has difficulty functioning normally, a variety of symptoms can result.

If you see the following signs of pericarditis in your dog, then you must get to your vet:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Syncope (fainting)
  • Vomiting
  • Weak pulse
  • Tachycardia
  • Difficulty breating
  • Paleness
  • Ascites
  • Bulging jugular vein
  • Cold limbs and paws
  • Collapse

If pericarditis goes untreated in dogs, then the condition can progress to hemorrhagic pericarditis, meaning blood builds up in the heart sac. Pressure outside of the heart can grow greater than pressure within the heart, which is a condition vets call cardiac tamponade.

This then makes it difficult for the heart to contract, and right-sided congestive heart failure can quickly develop.

Causes Of Pericarditis In Dogs

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

There are several possible causes of pericarditis in dogs, though sometimes vets diagnose the condition as idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown. This means that fluid can build up in the heart sac with no explanation, though this is more common in large breeds of dogs.

Here are several possible known causes of pericarditis:

  • Bacterial or fungal infection (including tuberculosis, Coccidioidomycosis, Pasteurella, and others)
  • Influenza and other viral infections
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Toxin exposure or radiation therapy
  • Pericardial sac thickening (constrictive pericarditis)
  • Cancer of the heart
  • Peritoneopericardial diaphragmatic hernia (inherited condition more common in Weimaraners)
  • Trauma or injury
  • Congestive heart failure

Treatments For Pericarditis In Dogs

Ill labrador retriever in veterinary clinic.

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

Treatment for pericarditis in dogs depends on the underlying cause of the condition, though all dogs who are diagnosed with it require hospitalization.

Vets may prescribe chemotherapy in cases of cancer. They’ll give antibiotics in cases of infection, and dogs may also need a pericardectomy, which is surgery where vets remove part of the pericardium.

If cardiac tamponade develops, then vets can insert a tube into the pericardium to siphon off some fluid and relieve pressure on the heart. Vets may repeat this procedure if fluid continues to build up. Vets may provide corticosteroids to help reduce inflammation.

The prognosis for dogs who receive treatment in time is usually good. Half of dogs treated with tubes that remove fluid from the heart sac recover, and those who don’t are usually treated with pericardectomy.

The trouble is that if pericarditis goes untreated and cardiac tamponade develops, it can be fatal before treatment can even be given. This is why it is important to get to the vet right away if you see the signs of pericarditis in your dog.

Do you keep up with vet visits to find conditions like pericarditis early? How do you keep your dog’s heart healthy? Let us know in the comments below!