Pericarditis In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Samoyed dog on the examination by a veterinarian

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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, in turn, causes further inflammation and swelling. If pericarditis goes untreated in dogs, it can become life-threatening and lead to heart failure. If you see the signs of pericarditis in your dog, consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Here is 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 are related to pressure put on the heart. The heart is responsible for pumping 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, get to a veterinarian.

  • 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, the condition can progress to hemorrhagic pericarditis, meaning blood builds up in the heart sac. Pressure outside of the heart can become greater than pressure within the heart, which is a condition called cardiac tamponade. This 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 the condition is diagnosed 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.

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Treatment for pericarditis in dogs depends on the underlying cause of the condition, though all dogs that are diagnosed with pericarditis require hospitalization. Chemotherapy may be prescribed in the case of cancer, antibiotics will be given in cases of infection, and a pericardectomy, which is surgery where part of the pericardium is removed, may be necessary. If cardiac tamponade has developed, a tube can be inserted into the pericardium to siphon off some fluid and relieve pressure on the heart. This procedure may be repeated if fluid continues to build up. Corticosteroids may be given to help reduce inflammation.

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The prognosis for dogs that are treated in time is usually good. Half of dogs that are treated with tubes that remove fluid from the heart sac recover, and those that 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 veterinarian right away if you see the signs of pericarditis in your dog.