Why Should I Bring my Pet to Willows for a Pericardiectomy?

Willows is one of Europe’s leading small animal referral centres. Our state-of-the-art hospital is led by internationally renowned Certified Specialists committed to providing the highest standards of veterinary care. Our team of Specialist Cardiologist are supported by our multi-disciplinary team of Specialists across a number of disciplines including; Soft Tissue, Anaesthesia, Diagnostic Imaging and Emergency and Critical Care.

In addition, Willows has a large dedicated team of Nurses and clinical support staff available 24 hours a day, every day of the year to provide the best possible care for your pet.


What is a Pericardiectomy?

The pericardium is the fluid-filled sac that surrounds the heart and the initial part of the heart’s great vessels. Pericardiectomy is the removal of the pericardium (heart’s sac). This is major surgery and is performed via a thoracotomy (opening the chest between the ribs). A pericardiectomy is indicated when there is recurrent haemorrhage into the pericardial sac or when the pericardium becomes stiff (thickened and restrictive) resulting in constriction of the heart. The heart is then unable to pump and circulate blood normally, leading to symptoms of heart failure. The role of the pericardial sac is minor and a dog can live without it.

In some cases, the Veterinary Specialist may be able to use a keyhole surgery to remove only part of the membrane. This is a much less invasive form of surgery, dramatically improving the dog’s recovery times and lessening the chances of complications arising. However, not all cases are suitable for a keyhole pericardiectomy.

What are the Most Common Reasons for a Pericardiectomy?

Pericardiectomy is indicated when the heart filling is being restricted by a stiff pericardial sac or by recurrent cardiac tamponade. Cardiac tamponade is the compression of the heart by accumulation of fluid in the pericardial sac due to a bleed or build-up of other types of fluid.


What are the Signs of Cardiac Tamponade?

Cardiac tamponade can cause a dog to have distended abdomen, be very tired or weak, to faint or struggle to breath. Some dogs can also show pale gums, experience vomiting and lack of appetite.

Before recommending pericardiectomy a Specialist Cardiologist will perform a thorough ultrasound examination of the heart (ideally before and after drainage of the haemorrhage from the pericardial sac). Radiographs of the lungs and an ultrasound examination of the abdomen are also useful to check for other evidence of malignancy.

What can I Expect if my Pet undergoes a Pericardiectomy?

Pericardiectomy has a success rate of approximately 80-90% resulting in a resolution of the symptoms for many years. Complications can however occur, the most common is continuing haemorrhage leading to inflammation of the chest cavity resulting in breathlessness.

Whilst there is a strong success rate, the procedure is not without risk and a small number (approximately 5%) may not survive the procedure. The probability of positive outcome is affected by underlying disease and for the best results, the procedure should be performed by a Veterinary Surgeon experienced in this surgery.

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Find out more

To assist owners in understanding more about the conditions related to and treatments available for patients with heart and lung problems, we have put together a range of information sheets to talk you through the some of the more common cardiology conditions seen by our Specialists.