Why Does My Dog Have a Swollen Belly?
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
• Heart Disease (like heartworm, heart failure due to severe dental disease)
• 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.)
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.
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!
Questions & Answers
What if I can't take my dog to the vet when he is laying down and looking bloated and in pain?
If you do not want to take your dog to the vet because you are too busy or think it will cost too much, you should be aware that your dog might not live the rest of the night. If he has a twisted stomach or another organ, there is not much you can do at home.
If you cannot go to a vet because there is none available, like in some countries, you can try going to a feed store that sells animal antibiotics and treating the dog for an infection like pyometra. I do not know what antibiotics are available at the feed stores where you live so I cannot recommend which one you should buy. You can also try giving your dog activated charcoal to bind any poisons still in his GI tract.Helpful 22
My dog has a swollen belly, rapid breathing and eats a small amount only. What should I do? (I have no time to bring him to a vet since I'm on daytime shift.)
Your dog might have pyometra (a uterine infection), peritonitis, etc. There is no way that anyone can diagnose her problem over the internet. If you cannot take her to the vet for an exam, please ask someone you know to take her.Helpful 26
My dog's belly goes from normal to hard and is causing him discomfort. Been to vet 2x all his vitals and blood work came back good this afternoon. He got excited and wanted a walk, so I put on his harness; he walked 20ft, and he sat down. His stomach got hard, and I had to carry him in. What could be causing this?
Has your dog had x-rays of his belly taken? It sounds like a torsion, but I would expect the pain to be constant unless it is relieving itself and then happening again later.
If the x-rays are normal, the next step would be an ultrasound. If that is normal too the only other way to diagnose this is by a diagnostic surgery.Helpful 19
I have a Labrador, and he is just forty-five days old. His stomach is a little big; no signs of pain or anything and he is so active. Why is his stomach large?
The most common cause for a very large abdomen on a puppy is parasites. Has your dog been checked for worms? If not, take a stool sample to your vet and have it checked.
It is also possible that it is just a normal puppy stomach. At that age a large stomach is okay. Ask your vet when you take him in for his first vaccinations.Helpful 22
My dog’s abdomen is swollen. He is in a lot of pain. He cries out a lot. The x-rays the vet took show nothing abnormal. Blood tests show nothing abnormal. What could it be?
Pain is almost always a sign of a twisted organ, like a bloated stomach. The gas buildup would show up on an x-ray, but if it was a twisted liver lobe, it would not. Those organs are mostly fluid.
If you can afford it and your vet can do so, have an exploratory laparoscopy done to check your dog's internal organs. If it cannot be done, an exploratory laparotomy (a surgery to open the abdomen and look around inside) is the next best thing.
If this were you, and you were in pain and the physician could not figure out what was wrong based on x-rays and bloodwork, this is what he would want to do next.
Please do not wait if your dog is in pain.
© 2014 Dr Mark