Septic Shock in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Septic Shock in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Author WDF Staff


Sepsis, a life-threatening infection, causes severe inflammation. If left untreated, it can progress to severe sepsis, which can lead to multi-organ failure. Septic shock occurs when severe sepsis overwhelms the dog’s body. Even with aggressive treatment, septic shock in dogs and cats can be fatal; reported mortality rates in dogs range from 20% to 68%. If you're concerned about your dog's health, here are a few facts about septic shock in dogs.

What exactly is sepsis?

Before we get into the specifics of septic shock, we must first define sepsis. Sepsis, also known as septicemia, occurs when bacteria or other toxins enter the bloodstream, causing inflammation that does not resolve. On the other hand, Bacteremia is simply the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream, which the body quickly removes. Sepsis can occur if bacteria remain in the bloodstream rather than being removed by the liver. Because a dog suffering from sepsis has bacteria circulating throughout its body, these bacteria may choose to settle in one or more parts of the body, causing severe and serious infections.

irish terrier on grass

What exactly is septic shock?

While there are thousands of different kinds of bacteria in the world, only a few of them are known to cause disease in dogs. Bacteria enter the bloodstream regularly. The good news is that they do that in fairly small quantities. An infection occurs when there are more bacteria than the white blood cells can remove. There are various levels of infection. Bacteremia, for example, is a more transient infection that rarely causes symptoms. It can happen during a dental cleaning when bacteria is dislodged from the mouth.

Sepsis, on the other hand, occurs when bacteria in the blood cause illness. Sepsis is a more serious condition with symptoms. Septic shock is the most severe form of sepsis.

What causes septic shock in dogs?

Sepsis is frequently caused by cytokines, which are substances produced by the immune system to fight infections, and toxins produced by bacteria. These substances cause blood vessels to dilate, resulting in a drop in blood pressure. Blood flow is reduced, including blood flow to vital organs such as the kidneys and brain.

The body attempts to compensate for this by increasing heart rate and thus pumping more blood. This weakens the heart over time, resulting in even less blood flow. GI tract infections, respiratory tract infections, severe dental problems, chronic UTIs, and infected wounds are the most common causes of sepsis.

Conditions that may increase the risk of sepsis include:

  • Surgery, especially if the surgical site is infected
  • Infections that existed previously
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Pneumonia
  • Infection of the uterus
  • Infection of the urinary tract
  • Infection of the skin
  • Whether the puppy is young or old

dog on couch

What are the symptoms of septic shock in dogs?

Sepsis symptoms vary according to the severity and progression of the condition, as well as the underlying causes of the septic condition. Symptoms are usually classified into two stages of progression: early and late.

In the early stages:

  • Shaking
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Bounding pulse
  • Temperature rapidly rises
  • Panting or rapid breathing
  • Urination decrease
  • Glucose deficiency in the blood
  • Red mucous membranes

In the late stages:

  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Pulse inconsistencies
  • Extremely cool extremities
  • State of stupor
  • Body temperature is too low
  • Organ failure
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Retention of fluid

How is septic shock diagnosed?

Diagnosis of septic shock may necessitate a battery of tests.

  • Physical examination
  • Blood tests that look at white blood cell count, oxygen levels, platelet count, lactic acid concentration, and metabolic waste product levels
  • An electrocardiogram is used to detect heart irregularities
  • Blood cultures will be used to identify the infectious bacteria
  • Urinalysis
  • X-rays of the chest and abdomen for urine culture
  • Stomach and heart ultrasound
  • A fluid analysis should be performed if abnormal fluid is discovered in the chest or stomach.
  • MRI

pug in woods

Because sepsis is a blood infection, your veterinarian will look for specific findings in your blood work. This can include things like:

  • Increased or decreased white blood cell count
  • Blood sugar levels that are extremely high or extremely low
  • Increased or decreased red blood cell count as a result of dehydration or anemia
  • Increased levels of liver enzymes
  • A rise in kidney values
  • Clotting times that are abnormal

How is septic shock in dogs treated?

The primary goal of sepsis treatment is to eliminate the source of the infection, with the secondary goal of treating symptoms and stabilizing the sick patient. Treatments that may be used to accomplish this include:

  • IV fluids are used to raise blood pressure.
  • Antibiotic treatment
  • Administration of colloids and vasopressors
  • Medications that increase blood flow to vital organs
  • Nutritional administration
  • Oxygen administration
  • Feeding tubes were inserted due to a decreased appetite and difficulty eating.
  • Surgery is commonly used to drain abscesses or remove dead tissue.
  • Constant monitoring for any changes in status, especially in clotting, hydration, and organ functionality.

What is the prognosis?

Close monitoring is a critical component of the recovery process. Your veterinarian may perform additional tests, such as blood work, to assess organ function, hydration, and clotting ability. Treatment and follow-up will most likely be completed in the hospital to monitor relapse indicators. The veterinarian will monitor white blood cell count, blood sugar level, red blood cell count, liver enzymes, kidney values, and clotting. While sepsis recovery depends largely on the severity of the condition and the underlying issues that caused sepsis, conditions in which the pet goes into septic shock have a more bleak prognosis.

World Dog Finder team

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