Right ventricular diastolic collapse has been demonstrated to be a sensitive and specific sign of cardiac tamponade. Because the shape and position of the right ventricular wall are related to the relative pressures within the pericardial space and the right ventricular chamber, the usefulness of right ventricular diastolic collapse as a marker of cardiac tamponade may be influenced by intravascular volume and right heart filling pressures. This study was undertaken to determine the effects of volume loading and hemorrhage on the point within the hemodynamic progression of cardiac tamponade at which right ventricular diastolic collapse first appears. Five unanesthetized, chronically instrumented dogs were studied with two-dimensional echocardiography during 41 episodes of cardiac tamponade induced by the intrapericardial infusion of warm saline solution. Intravascular volume was adjusted before cardiac tamponade to a hypovolemic, euvolemic or hypervolemic state using saline solution and dextran infusion or hemorrhaging to achieve the prescribed mean right atrial blood pressure. The measurements recorded during each episode of cardiac tamponade were right atrial blood pressure, aortic blood pressure, cardiac output (by electromagnetic flow meter), heart rate and intrapericardial pressure. When compared with the euvolemic state, the onset of right ventricular diastolic collapse in volume contraction occurred at a lower intrapericardial pressure (with a lower aortic blood pressure and cardiac output), whereas in volume expansion it occurred at a higher intrapericardial pressure (with a higher aortic blood pressure and cardiac output). Volume expansion delayed the decrease in hemodynamic variables during cardiac tamponade in this canine model.