The Causes of Ascites (Fluid in the Abdomen) in Dogs
Distended Abdomens in Dogs: What to Watch For
Ascites is a medical definition depicting fluid accumulation in the abdomen. In a dog, it can have various underlying causes, and it often indicates some sort of organ malfunction or abnormality. A dog may have a slight form of ascites with subtle symptoms when there is little fluid accumulation, or the dog may present with a distended and enlarged abdomen when the fluid accumulation is substantial.
See a Veterinarian Immediately
In a dog, ascites may indicate a serious underlying condition that requires treatment. In some cases, the abdomen may enlarge rapidly, requiring immediate veterinary help because the enlarged abdomen may compress the diaphragm and interfere with breathing.
This is a symptom you definitely don't want to try to treat at home. First, because the fluid accumulation may be due to many serious underlying conditions that need to be addressed; and second, because the fluid accumulation may increase, causing serious complications such as trouble breathing and weakness.
Below are some common causes of ascites in dogs:
- Liver disease causing low serum protein levels.
- Heart failure causing increased pressure in the veins and making fluids leak into the abdomen. At times, this can be cause by the presence of heartworm disease.
- Peritonitis causing intestinal contents to leak out.
- Hypoalbuminemia, which means low albumin levels caused by the liver not functioning well (possibly because of a portosystemic shunt or an infection). In this case, when albumin is lacking, there isn't anything that can help contain water in the bloodstream, so it just leaks out of blood vessels and other spaces of the body such as the abdomen.
- Pyometra, causing pus in the uterus to leak out. This is seen in unspayed females and is a medical emergency.
- Kidney problems causing the dog to be losing albumin out of the kidneys.
- Bleeding disorders, such as from ingesting rat poison or an inherited blood clotting disorder (causing blood to seep into the abdomen).
- Trauma (caused by the rupture of the spleen, bladder or gallbladder, leading its contents to leak out).
- A ruptured blood vessel in the abdomen causing blood loss, anemia and shock (often caused by injury or a ruptured tumor).
Symptoms of Ascites
Dogs affected by ascites will exhibit the typical sign of a distended abdomen. Tapping on the abdomen will produce a dull, flat noise. Depending on the underlying cause of ascites, there may be accompanying symptoms owners must be on the lookout for:
- Breathing difficulty (suggesting the distended abdomen is interfering with breathing)
- Cough (often suggesting heart disease)
- Weakness (in some cases, suggesting internal bleeding)
- Pale gums (suggesting anemia or shock from internal blood loss)
Treatment of Ascites
Treatment focuses on detecting the underlying causes. Often a procedure called Abdominocentesis is required where a needle is inserted to drain out the excessive fluids, allowing the dog to breath better. This can help the pet feel more comfortable, but it won't stop the fluid leaking unless the underlying cause is addressed.
The fluids collected are often analyzed so to come to a proper diagnosis. Ascites due to trauma may require blood transfusions and emergency surgery. Diuretics are often prescribed (such as Furosemide) to aid the body in flushing away excessive fluids. Dogs on diuretics will urinate more. IV fluids are administered in case of shock or dehydration.
A Distended Abdomen Is Serious
Ascites is a condition that should not be left untreated, especially when it appears suddenly. The underlying cause needs detected as soon as possible in order to treat effectively and promptly. Never underestimate a dog with a distended abdomen.
Note: In some cases, the dog's abdomen may appear distended not because of fluids leaking, but because of air. If your dog's abdomen appears enlarged and your dog is restless, attempting to vomit and in pain, see your vet immediately as these may be signs of bloat in dogs.
A Vet Explains Possible Causes for Dog Ascites
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
What can I do to comfort my dog who is basically dying from heart failure and has an excessively distended belly? What can I do to make my dog as comfortable as possible without suffering?
So sorry your dog is going through this. Unfortunately, when fluid starts to build up like this and the underlying cause is heart failure, generally, the time left is, unfortunately, going to be limited, so with the help of your vet, you want to focus as much as possible on providing comfort. Your vet can tap the chest and remove some fluid, but this will keep building back as the heart is unable to pump as it should. You may want to discuss with your vet adjusting the heart meds your dog is on as sometimes little tweaks in dosages (or the addition of some other medication) can help, but there is no certainty on how your dog may respond.Helpful 35
© 2009 Adrienne Farricelli