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Dog Peritonitis

What is Dog Peritonitis?

Dog peritonitis is an ailment characterized by inflammation of the peritoneum, the membrane that coats the abdominal cavity. Typically triggered by injury or infection, this inflammation leads to fluid accumulation within the abdomen. Given its severity, peritonitis poses a grave threat to a dog’s life, necessitating urgent medical intervention.


The indications of dog peritonitis encompass a broad range and might be easily mistaken for symptoms arising from various other conditions. If your dog displays any of the following signals, it is imperative to promptly seek veterinary attention, particularly if two or more symptoms are evident.

Abdominal pain stands out as a prevalent symptom of peritonitis. Dogs may exhibit abdominal discomfort by assuming a “prayer” position, with their rear end elevated while their front legs and head rest on the floor. Additionally, abdominal distension or bloating could manifest.

Other indications of illness encompass:

  • Vomiting, nausea, or reluctance to eat
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Paleness in the gums


The causes of peritonitis in dogs stem from injuries and inflammation within the abdominal cavity, presenting a variety of potential triggers. For instance, peritonitis may arise from penetrating wounds or blunt trauma to the abdomen, such as those sustained from stabbings or kicks.

Intestinal blockages resulting from the ingestion of foreign objects also pose a risk of peritonitis. Other contributing factors include:

  • Ruptured bladder, uterus, or gall bladder
  • Incisions that tear open post-surgery
  • Ulcers induced by medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
  • Abdominal tumors
  • Malfunctioning of internal organs like the heart, kidneys, liver, spleen, or pancreas
  • Gastric dilatation and volvulus, commonly known as twisted stomach or bloat
  • Hepatitis, inflammation of the liver

Peritonitis can also result from blood-borne infections, including bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic sources. In rare cases, the root cause remains unidentified.

Although not hereditary, certain breeds exhibit higher susceptibility to conditions leading to peritonitis. For instance, young large-breed dogs like Labrador Retrievers may be inclined to ingest foreign objects, causing intestinal blockages and subsequent peritonitis. Conversely, breeds like miniature Schnauzers are predisposed to pancreatitis, which can also precipitate peritonitis. Similarly, giant breeds like Great Danes are more prone to gastric dilatation and volvulus.


The diagnosis of dog peritonitis commences with a physical examination aimed at detecting signs of abdominal pain and fever. Your veterinarian will inquire about your dog’s medical background, including recent surgeries and current medications, with special attention to NSAIDs. Additionally, you’ll be asked about any potential trauma and objects your dog may have ingested.

Various diagnostic tests are typically employed to investigate peritonitis, including:

  • Blood tests to evaluate overall organ function, white blood cell count, and hydration status
  • Abdominal x-rays to identify abdominal fluid accumulation, intestinal blockages, or masses
  • Abdominal ultrasound to confirm the presence of fluid in the abdomen
  • Abdominocentesis, involving the extraction of a fluid sample via a needle, to examine for inflammatory cells and bacteria.


Upon confirmation of peritonitis through diagnostic tests, hospitalization and administration of intravenous fluids become necessary for your dog. Medications to alleviate symptoms like nausea, pain, and diarrhea will be prescribed, alongside antibiotics, which play a pivotal role in your pet’s treatment.

Emergency surgical intervention is typically indispensable to address the root cause of inflammation, such as ruptures, wounds, or abscesses. In instances where the precise cause remains elusive, the surgeon will perform abdominal lavage using sterile saline solution.

Living and Management

Prompt diagnosis and treatment of peritonitis are crucial for achieving optimal outcomes and reducing complications. Recovery from this serious condition typically spans 3 to 5 days post-surgery, sometimes extending further. During this period, intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and nutritional support are imperative. Despite intensive care, the survival rate hovers around 50%, with even lower rates if sepsis develops.

Your veterinarian will discharge your dog once they are free of fever and able to eat without vomiting. Expect a complete recovery to necessitate 10-14 days of rest with limited activity. Depending on the underlying cause of peritonitis, your dog may fully recover and resume normal activities. For instance, if peritonitis arose from ingesting a foreign object, preventive measures will be crucial to forestall future incidents.

However, if peritonitis resulted from an underlying issue like bowel rupture due to a tumor, comprehensive tests are essential to diagnose and address the root cause.

Dog Peritonitis FAQs

Is peritonitis curable in dogs?

Peritonitis in dogs is indeed treatable. However, it is an extremely severe condition that can rapidly escalate to a life-threatening state, necessitating urgent and intensive veterinary intervention, often including hospitalization and surgery.

What causes septic peritonitis in dogs?

The primary cause of peritonitis in dogs typically involves a perforation in an internal organ, stemming from a variety of factors such as penetrating abdominal wounds, ruptured intestines due to blockage or ulceration, dehiscence of surgical sites, or erosion of the stomach or intestines from a tumor. These conditions can lead to a severe and life-threatening bacterial infection known as sepsis, demanding immediate veterinary attention.

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