Heart Disease in Dogs: Endocarditis

Bacterial infection of heart valves (bacterial endocarditis) is thankfully an uncommon disease and isHeart Disease in Dogs: Endocarditis unlikely to affect the health of your pet.  Bacterial endocarditis in the dog can develop on any of the four valves of the heart however it typically occurs on the left side of the heart; Mitral valve and Aortic valve. Click here to learn about normal functioning of a dog heart.

Cause of Bacterial Endocarditis in Dogs

Invariably bacterial endocarditis occurs secondary to a severe infection in another organ and or of the blood (septicemia). It typically occurs in young larger-breed dogs with a history of systemic infection (trauma, abscess, pyometra, immune suppression, etc). In humans a strong link has seen established between dental disease and bacterial endocarditis. However, there has been no evidence linking bacterial endocarditis with dental disease and prophylactic dental cleaning our pet population.

Clinical Signs of Bacterial Endocarditis in the Dog

Typically if your pet has bacterial endocarditis the early signs will be related to the underlaying infection. If untreated the valve develops a large proliferation of tissue (vegetative lesion). The valve at that point cannot close properly and it begins to leak. Clinical signs will then be both from infection and left heart failure.

Diagnosis of Bacterial Endocarditis in the Dog

If your veterinarian suspects bacterial endocarditis in your pet a series of diagnostics will be needed. Routine blood tests will help determine if an infection is present and if any other organs are diseased. Chest radiographs will help to determine if the heart is enlarged, if your pet also has pneumonia or heart failure pulmonary edema.

An echocardiogram is needed to definitively determine if your pet has infection of the valves. Click here to see a video clip of an aortic valve which does not have  vegetative lesion but is a good example of aortic regurgitation that can be the result of Bacterial Endocarditis.

Treatment of Bacterial Endocarditis in the Dog

Early diagnosis and effective treatment of any infection will typically prevent the infection from affecting the heart valves.
When the aortic valve leaks severely the result is devastating and produces a severe form of left heart failure and is often refractory to treatment. If your pet develops vegetative bacterial endocarditis of the mitral valve the ensuing heart failure is less devastating and may respond better to medical management.

If your pet develops bacterial endocarditis the goals of treatments are to treat the underlying infection, to decrease or clear the infection of the valve or valves, and treatment of heart failure if present. Treatment involves aggressive, long-term antibiotic therapy as these infections can be highly resistant to antibiotic therapy.  Blood cultures performed prior to beginning antibiotic treatment are vital to ensure that the most effective antibiotic is chosen.

Dogs with endocarditis are at risk of death from congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, blood clots (emboli).  Bacterial emboli may occur in the kidneys, brain, lungs, intestines, liver, and spleen.

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Dr Roger Johnson

Roger K. Johnson, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board- certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include cardiology as well as using advanced diagnostics to help his patients. His particular favorites include echocardiography, abdominal ultrasonography, and endoscopy.

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