It is an inflammatory condition of peritoneum, which is the membranous lining of the abdomen. Peritonitis is often fatal in dogs, with as much as 68% of the affected canines succumbing to the condition. The inflammation can be widespread or localized. It may be an acute, short-term occurrence or a more persistent and long-term condition. The starting point of the inflammation is usually the introduction of a foreign body into the abdominal cavity. For example, a piercing wound, a ruptured intestine, or a suture opening up inside the abdomen, may introduce contaminants such as food particles, blood, pus and germs into the relatively sterile environment of the abdominal cavity. This will end up irritating the lining of the abdomen. Viral and bacterial infections in the abdominal cavity can also initiate peritonitis.
The usual symptoms of peritonitis include fever, pain in the abdomen, sepsis, shock and abnormally low blood pressure. Paralysis of the intestines may result, which in turn may cause obstruction in the intestine and constipation. Edema due to fluid retention is another visible symptom. Intestinal ruptures that spill the contents of the intestines into the abdominal cavity may result in an acute, short-term peritonitis. It may end in the sudden death of the dog due to shock from bacterial toxin overload.
If the peritonitis develops gradually, and if it is diagnosed early enough, the condition can be treated successfully with antibiotics and adjunct therapies to reduce the consequences of inflammation. Intravenous administration of fluids can help restore electrolyte imbalances and regulate blood pressure by compensating for the fluid loss. Antibiotics can fight infections. Blood or plasma transfusion may be necessary to bring the heart out of shock.
The cause of the inflammation should be indentified and removed once the dog is stable. Surgical exploration of the abdomen may be necessary to reach the tissue damage, if any, and to repair it. A thorough stomach-wash with saline and antiseptic or antibiotic solution will get rid of foreign bodies as well as toxins. Antibiotic treatment alone cannot tackle peritonitis especially when there is fluid loss and shock. Intravenous administration of fluids and nutritional supply may continue for some more time, along with antibiotics, until oral feeding can be resumed.