Toxemia in Dogs

By Cate Burnette

A common misconception of dog owners is that toxemia in dogs is only related to pregnancy. While pregnant humans and farm animals may develop infectious toxemia (pre-eclampsia), it has not been shown to occur spontaneously in pregnant dogs, usually being related instead to kidney disease. Canine toxemia is most commonly the result of an underlying disease or organ failure and can be extremely difficult to treat. It is often financially and emotionally costly to pet owners and usually results in a poor prognosis for the dog.


Toxemia in dogs can be defined as a whole-body systemic infection resulting from the spread of bacterial products, or toxins, by the bloodstream. Causes may vary greatly, but generally begin with a localized infection run amok. Wounds that are not properly cleaned and bandaged, intestinal illnesses that kill good stomach flora and let bad bacterial flora overmultiply, and kidney failure that fails to remove toxins from the body by the urine can result in toxemia. Dogs can develop toxemia by ingesting chemical or plant poisons through the digestive system. Mastitis, an infection and inflammation of the mammary glands, has also been shown to cause toxemia in pregnant and nursing dogs.


In general, dogs with toxemia usually show symptoms of acute whole-body organ failure, including jaundice, depression, lethargy and high fevers. Reduced appetite, diarrhea and vomiting are also common symptoms. Low blood pressure, muscle weakness, low fecal output and low urine production can be signs of systemic infection. In the end stages of the disease, the dog may have trouble breathing and can have a build-up of fluids in the lungs and abdominal cavity.


The best prevention of toxemia in dogs is treatment of the underlying cause or disease. That means that keeping wounds clean and bacteria-free and following veterinary treatment protocols for all diseases is imperative. If toxemia occurs, the veterinarian will often hospitalize the dog so she can be placed on high doses of intravenous antibiotics and receive fluids with nutrients. The dog will also need to be monitored closely by the vet so that any necessary emergency procedures can be initiated at a moment's notice.


Dogs who have experienced any form of toxemia and recovered are prone to recurrence. They will need to be closely watched at home for any sign of disease and will need to be seen by a veterinarian when symptoms are first noticed again.


The presence of large amounts of toxins in the blood can result in toxic shock syndrome in dogs. Muscle weakness, slowed heart rate, lowered blood pressure and body temperature, and pallor of the gums and eye mucosa are signs of this syndrome. Toxic shock is extremely hard to treat and may result in death or the need for euthanasia of the dog.