Why Does My Dog Have a Swollen Belly?

Updated on January 7, 2018
DrMark1961 profile image

Dr. Mark is a small animal veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.

A dogs swollen belly can indicate a serious problem.
A dogs swollen belly can indicate a serious problem. | Source

Your dog should not have a big belly. If she does, it may just be caused by fat and can be dealt with at home by putting her on a good diet.

If you notice that your dog has a swollen belly, especially if the abdomen is painful, she is eating less, having problems breathing, and also has a thin face or muscle loss in other parts of the body; get help from your vet as soon as possible.

If your dog is in pain do something right away. A swollen and painful belly is an emergency!

Reasons Your Dog Might Have a Swollen Belly

• Obesity
• Pregnancy
• Cancer
• Heart Disease (like heartworm, heart failure due to severe dental disease)
• Parasites
• Poisoning
• Obstipation (late stage constipation)
• Urinary obstruction/stones
• Hormonal (like Cushings)
• Torsion (a twisted stomach, liver, or other organ)
• Pyometra (an infected and swollen uterus in a female dog that has not been spayed)
• Other infection (like peritonitis, hepatitis, etc.)
Sometimes a swollen belly in a dog can indicate a life threatening condition.
Sometimes a swollen belly in a dog can indicate a life threatening condition. | Source

Tests That Your Vet Might Perform If Your Dog Presents With a Swollen Belly

If the physical exam in abnormal, and the vet can tell that the dog is not just fat, pregnant, or suffering from a torsion, the side of the belly will be clipped and scrubbed before a needle is inserted. If fluid is present a small amount will be drawn off and examined under the microscope.

The thickness (specific gravity) of the fluid will be evaluated. It will be checked for white and red blood cells, bacteria, and any other abnormalities.

Based on the results, your dog may also have his abdomen (and chest) x-rayed and then might need an ultrasound, an EKG, or even exploratory surgery and a biopsy.

A swollen belly may be from gastric torsion and your dog will need emergency surgery.
A swollen belly may be from gastric torsion and your dog will need emergency surgery. | Source

How Will Your Dog Be Treated If He Comes in With a Swollen Belly?

Treatment is going to depend on what was found during the dog´s exam and testing.

  • For cancer (lymphoma), your dog might be put on chemotherapy, or you can discuss some alternative treatments for cancer.
  • If your dog is having trouble breathing because of the fluid and heart failure, it might be drained off and then your dog can be started on medications.
  • If the heart failure is secondary to heartworm disease, that will have to be treated too. I recommend the slow kill method, but some veterinarians will want to destroy the worms by killing them all at once.
  • Surgery for bloat, other types of torsion, pyometra, urinary obstruction, and maybe for obstipation
  • Your dog might need to be on supportive care (like fluids and hospitalization) until the cause of the problem is determined, like in cases of peritonitis.
  • If your dog is in distress because of breathing problems, the fluid might be drained off and then he can be treated with antibiotics for the hepatitis or other infection/inflammation.

A Swollen Belly Is an Emergency

A swollen belly might not seem like much, but it is one of the most serious problems you can find during your examination of your dog. Your dog may or may not get better. It really depends on the cause of the swollen belly and how quickly you find out what is wrong.

Your vet can give you a better idea on whether your dog is going to get better after the problem has been determined. Getting thing taken care of right away might mean the difference between life and death.

If you ignore the problem, your dog might end up dying in terrible pain. Find out what is wrong, and do something about it right away.

If your dog is in pain, get help!

© 2014 Dr Mark


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    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 5 weeks ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Serene, have you taken her in to your local vet for blood work? With those symptoms, you need to consider diabetes mellitus, Cushings, cancer, kidney disease, or even a chronic infection. Have a CBC and blood chemistry run after getting a good physical exam for her.

    • profile image

      Serene 5 weeks ago

      Hi there,

      My mutt is 7 1/2 years old and only this last week has stopped eating her food and has started drinking more. She is normal in every other aspect of her life! Happiness, eating treats, going for walks, sleeping, no pain, no whimpering. Just thirsty, won't touch her dog food and is feeling way too boney everywhere, except her belly. She eats grass in the summer and has had constipation issues before. Any ideas as to what might be her issue???

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 7 weeks ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Hi Michelle sorry I do not know of anyone up in Ontario that I can refer you to. Unfortunately that answer may be close, or it may take a lot more testing. If you feel that badly, ask for your dogs records and look for another vet (board certified in internal medicine-ACVIM). The original visit may cost more, but it may end up costing less. I with you and your Boston the best .

    • profile image

      Michelle 7 weeks ago

      Hi. I have a 7 year old boston terrier. He has a swollen belly.. losing muscle mass as well. Sleep a lot and drinks excessively. We have had him tested for cushings... negative. Blood work shows high liver enzymes. They say no to diabeties. Now they want an ultra sound. I'm worried the vet doesn't know much. I have copies of all the blood work I was going to take him elsewhere. I just don't know what to do but all these 400 dollar tests are adding up quickly.

    • profile image

      Vicki 4 months ago

      I've been getting him black walnut and a diurex he's eating a lot better but still real blodded

    • profile image

      jake 10 months ago

      Dr. Mark, Thank you for the advise. I don't know if it makes any difference now. She did get blood chemistry done as well as x-ray. By the time she became blind, they did want to do an ultrasound.

      Depressing and bad news, but I put her to sleep March 13th. This was one of the most devastating thing I had to do and the first dog I had to put to sleep. It would have been nice to know what was wrong with her.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 11 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Jake, the blindness with the swollen belly indicates a systemic problem. What does the blood chemistry panel show? What kind of results did you get from the CBC? If you have not done a panel yet, but have been to 3 different vets, you are wasting your time and money running around. How about x-rays? Have the vets tapped the stomach and evaluated the fluid, if any? Is she spayed?

    • profile image

      Jake 11 months ago

      Took my dog to 3 different vets to see why her stomach is distended. She doesn't have cancer, does not have bloat. Her stomach has been like this going on 3 months. She still eats, drinks and goes bathroom. The ONLY problem I noticed is that she has gone blind.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Too many pet owners find something amusing about an overweight dog: "Boy, he's a little porker, ain't he?" They may not take a distended abdomen seriously until the dog is in serious condition. This is an informative way to remind people that a big belly isn't something to be trifled with. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 3 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      That is really funny, Barbat, and I guess he would be classified as "normal variation". Some dogs are known to swallow air as they eat and drink, but that is great that you can burp him and he feels better. Is this an adult JRT? It sounds like something one of my puppies would do!

    • profile image

      Barbat79 3 years ago

      One dog of mine gets so thirsty he drinks too fast and then his belly appears to be swollen. I discovered that I needed to burp him! He even thanks me afterward! and then has room for more water, food etc. I pat the sides of his belly gently and then gently push up on the underside of his belly and out comes a huge burp...or after patting his sides, he puts his paws on my leg (positioning him in an upright or standing on two legs position) and out come the burps! Ever hear of a dog swallowing air as they drink?

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 3 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Here's one more thing you may want to consider if your dog's belly seems swollen but ONLY if the dog doesn't appear to be in pain. A dog may develop a belly that appears swollen, but is actually "potbellied", one of the symptoms of canine Cushing's Disease. The reason I'm aware of this is because my dog (though she doesn't have this symptom) recently had pre-op lab tests that indicated she may have Cushing's. She's currently had another set of tests the results of which were not definitive and she's scheduled for all-day blood tests March 27. (Her surgery had to be postponed.) Meanwhile I've immersed myself in veterinary-based articles about the disorder.

      Other symptoms of Cushing's include: excessive thirst and urination; increased appetite; weakness of hind legs; skin and coat problems; muscle weakness and lethargy. A dog with Cushing's may not exhibit all or even most of these symptoms and those he/she has may be so subtle the pet parent only considers them a sign of aging. (Cushing's usually affects dogs that are middle-aged or older.) The "potbellied" look, combined with the increased appetite, may seem to be merely encroaching obesity.

      I'm certainly not making light of the potential of bloat or any obstruction posing danger to the dog's life. Just thought I'd interject another possibility if the dog's tummy looks like the illustration at the beginning of the article., especially if it happened gradually. Of course, growth of a tumor may be gradual as well, so any change in the dog's appearance should be checked out by a veterinarian. Much better to be cautious.

      However, I agree with Dr. Mark that a dog presenting with a sudden swollen belly needs to be examined by a vet asap! There's no time to delay getting the help your dog needs.

      Voted Up, Useful, Interesting and shared.


    • Solaras profile image

      Solaras 3 years ago

      It was heart breaking, and they treated her with Baytril that gave her a seizure, and I spent a fortune on them thumping her to try to improve her lungs since they thought it was pneumonia. That was and $1800.00 bill for an overnight stay at the emergency clinic.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 3 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      What a sad story, Solaras. If a dog is presented with a swollen belly, part of the workup should also be an x-ray of the chest, and if the dog has chest problems there should always be an x-ray of the abdomen. The only time the vet should not do this is if the client is unwilling to pay for the x-ray. (That happens more than you might think.)

      It sounds like there was nothing to do for the tumor, but, as you point out, she could have suffered less if it was diagnosed correctly from the beginning.

    • Solaras profile image

      Solaras 3 years ago

      Great article. When my girl had a swollen belly, they misdiagnosed her with pneumonia. I told them to x-ray her abdomen, but they ignored me at the emergency vet. It turned out to be hemangiosarcoma, and she was gone within 30 hours from noticing something was not right to being put down to end her suffering. She had a 3" diameter tumor in her heart.

      Thumbs up and useful!

    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      This. Is great information. Thanks so much for sharing. Voted useful!