Locally-Owned in Oakdale and St. Paul, Minnesota

Sepsis in Pets

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  • If your pet is experiencing respiratory distress, this is considered a “RED” – or true emergency – on our Fast Track Triage system. We advise you seek immediate veterinary care. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!
  • If your pet is experiencing diarrhea paired with persistent/severe vomiting (more than 2 times) and/or loss of appetite, these are considered an “ORANGE” – or urgent case – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend having your pet see your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital within the next 12 hours. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!

If your pet has an infection and is NOT experiencing symptoms of sepsis or another emergency, please contact your family veterinarian for evaluation.


Sepsis is the presence of an overwhelming infection in the body. Such an infection can trigger pronounced inflammation, and in severe cases, it can lead to impairment or failure of multiple organ systems and become life-threatening. Infections are often caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi that enter the body. When these organisms remain in circulation, progression to sepsis can occur. 

Does Every Infection Lead to Sepsis? 

No. Simply having an infection or bacteria in the body doesn’t necessarily mean a pet has sepsis. However, if the infection is not addressed by the body’s natural immune defenses or if appropriate treatment isn’t provided, sepsis can develop. Massive systemic inflammation can then be triggered within the body, and a cascade of adverse effects can follow.

While infections do not automatically lead to sepsis, it’s important for pet owners to visit their family veterinarian for a thorough evaluation. Your family veterinarian will be able to run diagnostic tests on a case-by-case basis to determine if your pet could be developing sepsis.  

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Common Sources of Sepsis 

Respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal tract infections, contaminated wounds, and chronic urinary tract infections are all common sources of sepsis.  

Symptoms 

Symptoms of sepsis vary and depend upon which part of the body is affected. Common signs of sepsis include: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Poor appetite 
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Shaking or confusion
  • Rapid or difficult breathing 

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Diagnosis 

Diagnosing sepsis requires a veterinary examination and diagnostic evaluation. The diagnostic tests typically start with a complete blood count to evaluate red and white blood cells, chemistry panel to review organ function and electrolyte values, and urinalysis.

In some cases, further testing such as radiographs, ultrasound, or MRI may be needed to definitively locate the source of the problem. Cultures of contaminated body cavity fluid, urine, or tissue can also be important. Some indications of sepsis on examination and lab work include fever or very low body temperature, low blood pressure, breathing changes, alterations in white blood cell count (either very low or very high), low blood sugar readings, and organ dysfunction.

Once sepsis has been diagnosed, hospitalization with aggressive therapy is often necessary. The mainstays of therapy usually include intravenous fluids and intravenous antibiotics. In some cases, oxygen therapy, medications to support blood pressure, and/or surgery may be needed. 

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Prognosis 

The prognosis for animals with sepsis varies depending upon the underlying cause of the infection along with how promptly treatment is initiated. If the infection is severe enough or is allowed to run unchecked for an extended period, many animals do not survive. Those that do usually require very intensive therapy in the hospital.  

Prevention 

It is not possible to fully prevent your pet from developing sepsis, however, with diligent monitoring of behavior and clinical signs, you may be able to catch many illnesses or simple infections well before they can progress to sepsis and its severe consequences. Paying close attention to your pet and seeking care from your family veterinarian with any health concerns is the first step in maintaining your pet’s well-being.  

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If your pet develops an infection and begins displaying signs of sepsis, contact your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital. Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota’s Oakdale and St. Paul’s ERs are open 24/7, every day of the year. Please always call ahead of your arrival. 

Kayla Hanson, DVM, DACVECC, cHPV, cVMA, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

 

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