Endocarditis in Dogs

Endocarditis in dogs develops as the result of either a bacterial or fungal infection and affects the valves of the heart. This condition is not particularly common in dogs, but it does have a high fatality rate and demands medical attention. Because it is not a very common condition, it is typically overlooked or misdiagnosed, making even more dangerous to dogs.

Risk Factors that Can Lead to Endocarditis

Whenever infection enters the body, it is the job of the immune system to do its best to protect the body. However, as a dog ages and the immune system naturally becomes weaker, the risk of developing endocarditis as a secondary infection increases. For this reason, it typically develops in dogs older than 4 years of age. Additionally, larger breeds and male dogs appear to be in a higher risk bracket for endocarditis.

Causes and Process of Endocarditis

Endocarditis develops solely from the onset of a bacterial or fungal infection in the bloodstream. As the infection is carried through the blood to all outlets of the body, it eventually deposits in the valves of the heart, causing inflammation and decreased heart function. Although the reasoning is unclear, it is known that both the aortic and mitral valves are the most commonly affected by endocarditis, with the tricuspid valve rarely being touched.

While endocarditis may be the first condition to be diagnosed as a result of infection, it is typically just the first place that infection is noticed. Because the valves of the heart pump blood throughout the entire body, the infection is carried and can develop in other locations, ultimately affecting the function of other bodily organs.

Signs and Symptoms of Endocarditis

Once endocarditis develops, the symptoms develop pretty quickly because dysfunction of the heart affects the function of the entire body. Some of the signs to watch for include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Reduced stamina or endurance
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unproductive cough
  • Excessive weight loss

Diagnosis of Endocarditis

Endocarditis causes the heart to become enlarged as the result of infection. Because of that occurrence, it is relatively easy to see on both x-ray and cardiac ultrasound. Most of the time, the first diagnostic measure will be routine blood testing, as this can determine if there is an elevated white blood count due to infection. By compiling the medical history of the dog and his symptoms, the next step should be either chest x-ray, electrocardiogram (to check heart function and arrhythmia) or cardiac ultrasound.

Treatment and Prognosis

If endocarditis can be isolated and detected early, there are still some reasonable chances for recovery with medication control. In most cases, antibiotics may be tried initially to see if the infection will clear. Likewise, if an abnormal heart rhythm has developed as a side effect, anti-arrhythmic medications may be necessary.

However, if other organs of the body have become affected as well or congestive heart failure has developed, the prognosis decreases dramatically. Congestive heart failure is a common side effect of endocarditis, largely in part due to delayed medical attention.