What are Pericardiocentesis?

Pericardiocentesis is a minimally invasive surgical procedure which is utilized in dogs when the heart is experiencing an abnormal build-up in its pericardial sac. This sac is a protective layer surrounding the heart that can grow to a dangerous thickness as a result of infection, trauma, cancer, or an undetermined source, medically termed, "idiopathic". Pericardiocentesis calls for the veterinarian to make a small incision through the chest using a needle and draw the excess fluid build-up out, relieving the heart and restoring its functionality. 

Pericardiocentesis Procedure in Dogs

Before the procedure begins, your dog’s veterinarian will need to confirm pericardial effusion or pericarditis. Sometimes, this can be as simple as listening to your dog’s heartbeat, which will have a distinct muffled sound if surrounded by thickened fluid. Typically, however, a cardiac ultrasound will need to take place to confirm an abnormal heart size or shape. 

After the condition has been confirmed, pericardiocentesis will be scheduled to take place. Because any abnormalities of the heart are always considered potentially life-threatening by medical professionals, the procedure will likely take place as soon as an enlarged pericardial sac is discovered. Depending on your dog’s size and general temperament, anything from a local anesthetic around the incision area to full sedation may be necessary to successfully complete pericardiocentesis. 

After sedation or numbing has been administered to your dog, the procedure itself can take as little as 20 minutes to as long as an hour. The shaving of fur may be necessary in order for the vet and their staff to make proper judgement for the incision site; this will grow back. The minimally-invasive option involves the insertion of a long needle and utilization of a catheter to pull out excess fluid. 

However, a more invasive surgery may be necessary depending on certain conditions and your veterinarian’s opinion. In this case, a larger incision will be necessary, leading to a longer recovery time and potentially more in-surgery complications. The built-up fluid drawn out of the pericardial sac will be taken to a lab for analyzation to ensure no other abnormalities are present. Once the procedure is complete, the veterinarian and their staff will tend to or stitch up any incision sites, dressing the wounds as to avoid infection and ensure proper healing. 

Efficacy of Pericardiocentesis in Dogs

The success rate of this medical procedure in dogs is relatively high, with the success rate denoting pericardiocentesis’ ability to remove excess fluid surrounding the heart. Around 65% of canine patients who undergo this procedure have no negative reports. Rarely animals will experience in-surgery complications as this method is minimally-invasive and comparatively safe. 

However, efficacy of this treatment depends on individual cases. Prognosis for dogs with non-idiopathic development of pericardial effusion is not favorable. Pericardial effusion as a result of cancer (referred to medically in this instance as neoplasia) or other serious circumstances are likely not healed by pericardiocentesis, but rather relieved.

Another procedure available which directly treats excess fluid in the pericardial sac is called percutaneous balloon pericardiotomy (PBP). Much like pericardiocentesis, PBP is a minimally-invasive procedure also boasting high success rates in dogs. However, unlike pericardiocentesis, PBP does not allow for a thorough research of the cardiovascular health of your pet. 

Pericardiocentesis Recovery in Dogs

At least one overnight stay may be required so that the veterinary staff can monitor your dog’s heart rate utilizing an electrocardiogram (ECG). The amount of time your pet spends in recovery depends on their individual case. One or more follow-up visits may be scheduled after the procedure in which another cardiac ultrasound will inform the veterinarian team if the pericardiocentesis successfully relieved the heart. 

Depending on the state of the pericardial sac, another procedure may be scheduled. Further complications may require the removal of the pericardial sac, which dogs can successfully live without. Your vet may prescribe antibacterial medication as well as pain medication to help with the healing process which should last no longer than a couple of days for a small incision site, or no longer than a couple of weeks for a larger incision site. 

Cost of Pericardiocentesis in Dogs

Any pursuit of a cardiology procedure will result in a costly medical bill. For pericardiocentesis specifically, a lot depends on the individual case of your dog as well as what occurs during the procedure. Your pet may require extra sedation or the use of more than one syringe, all of which will appropriate on the bill. In general, the procedure can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $3,500 However, this total cost typically includes everything from the procedure itself as well as the exam and one night’s stay as the veterinary team monitors your pet’s heart, ensuring they return to their happy, healthy self. 

Dog Pericardiocentesis Considerations

Unlike many other operations or treatment methods, after treatment, your dog should not experience any noticeable negative effects. Other than the healing time from the incision site, your pet should experience little discomfort. 

Forty-eight hours after the procedure, veterinary staff will carefully monitor your pet’s heart rate and temperament, looking for any adverse post-treatment symptoms. In a majority of occurrences, if no adverse symptoms are present, the dog is highly unlikely to experience any long-term after effects as a result of pericardiocentesis. 

Pericardiocentesis Prevention in Dogs

There is little one can do to prevent the development of pericardial effusion in your pet. The best and most effective preventative measure is to discover pericardial effusion early and attend to it quickly.

There are, however, a few suggestions pet owners may follow in order to promote heart healthiness in their dogs:

  • Frequent visits and examinations: Never miss out on the annual or bi-annual check-ups with your veterinarian. These physical examinations are the best way to catch any adverse symptoms before it’s too late.
  • Proper diet: Giving your dog all the nutrients, protein, and vitamins they need can be a great preventative measure when it comes to their heart and health. 
  • Routine activity: Frequently scheduled time for play or physical activity keeps your dog’s heart healthy and their mind happy. It’s just an added bonus that it keeps you active and healthy, as well. 

Pericardiocentesis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Boston Terrier
10 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Sleepiness, shortness of breath

Our Boston (10 years old) just had a pericardiocentesis. They found a tumor on his heart- which caused the fluid build up. He is home now and very sleepy. We're just nervous as to what is to come next. How quickly can the fluid rebuild and require another pericardiocentesis? Are there other cases like ours? We went to a specialty hospital with cardiologists and oncologists. They said he may need multiple pericardiocentesis procedures done. But I am worried we will miss the signs. He barely had any except slight difficulty breathing and a distanced abdomen.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Fluid may accumulate again in the pericardial sac, this fluid may continue to accumulate regardless of the number of times it is drained or medical therapy; depending on the heart tumour and Hollywood’s general health, a pericardial window procedure may be performed which will allow any fluid to drain into the thoracic cavity but this is not suitable for all cases and the heart tumour needs to be consider too. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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12 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

My 12 yr old Shi Tzu Snoopy recently developed this condition . The pericardial sac has filled up with blood. But dont know how or when it all started.

Could it be because of his age or some issue in his heart ?

He never had an issue before or any mumor in his heart. Is there hope that there wont be any more blood filling up the sac after its been drained ? And there is no direct problem in his heart

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
If there is blood (or fluid) in the pericardial sac, it may return after being drained; in chronic cases a pericardial window is made during surgery to allow fluid to drain without further procedures. It is important for the cause of the blood or fluid to be identified so any treatment may be given as appropriate; echocardiography is useful to look at heart structure and to look for any masses etc… Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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pit bull terrier
9 Years
Moderate condition
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Moderate condition

Is Pericardiocentesis appropriate in this case? : Neoplasia tumor in the right autricle causign pericardial effusion. Her tummy is very bloated and her breathing is becoming harder with each day. Other than that, she still has a healthy appetite and is able to go on walks and also poop (although a little runny at times).

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
The pericardial effusion should be drained if it is likely to start causing a problem with the heart; if there is too much fluid in the pericardial sac it may cause the heart to have difficulty filling with blood so draining the fluid would allow for the heart to function better. This has to be determined on a case by case basis at your Veterinarian’s discretion, if you have concerns have another Veterinarian check Sarah over. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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