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Peritonitis in Dogs

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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The peritoneum is a membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and produces a small amount of fluid that lubricates the abdominal contents. In addition, the peritoneum is also responsible for forming adhesions, or scars, in the presence of an inflammatory process.

Peritonitis is an inflammatory process affecting the peritoneum that can be very serious, or even life-threatening. Peritonitis results in the accumulation of excessive fluid within the abdominal cavity. It can be associated with abdominal trauma, abdominal surgery or pancreatitis.

What to Watch For

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Abdominal distention
  • Abdominal pain


    Various diagnostic tests are performed to help determine the presence of peritonitis and the severity of the infection. Tests may include:

  • An abdominal tap to obtain a fluid sample
  • Complete blood count
  • Biochemical profile
  • Culture of the abdominal fluid to determine the type of bacteria
  • Abdominal X-rays
  • Abdominal ultrasound


    Peritonitis can be treated medically or surgically, depending on the underlying cause of the peritonitis. Medical therapy includes:

  • Intravenous fluids
  • Antibiotics
  • Medication to control pain

    Surgery is performed if moderate or severe peritonitis is present. Surgery includes:

  • Exploratory surgery to address the underlying cause of the peritonitis
  • Placing a feeding tube
  • Flushing the abdominal cavity and cleaning with saline
    The incision may be closed or left open for a short period of time to allow the remaining fluid to be removed.

    Home Care and Prevention

    After treatment, animals are often continued on antibiotics for a period of time. The animal is monitored for vomiting, lack of appetite or depression.

    Peritonitis can be difficult to prevent, but prompt diagnosis and effective treatment of underlying illness can help reduce the risk.

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