A retrospective study of 143 dogs with pericardial effusion is presented, including a statistical analysis of survival time. Cases were classified into those in which a mass was seen on echocardiography (echo-positive) and those in which no mass could be identified (echo-negative). Forty-four dogs were echo-positive and 99 were echo-negative. The median survival time (MST) was 1068 days for echo-negative dogs and 26 days for echo-positive dogs. Dogs with a history of collapse were more likely to present with a mass on echocardiography. Those presenting with collapse had an MST of 30 days compared with 605 days for those without collapse. Echo-negative dogs tended to present with ascites and generally had a larger volume of pericardial effusion. The median survival for dogs presenting with ascites was 605 days compared with 45 days for those without ascites. Among echo-negative dogs, 64 per cent had a relapse of their effusion. Subtotal pericardiectomy was performed in 31 echo-negative dogs. The procedure had a perioperative mortality of 13 per cent but provided a favourable long-term prognosis. Dogs undergoing pericardiectomy had a median survival of 1218 days compared with 532 days for those not undergoing surgery.