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What is Distended Abdomen?

In dogs, a swollen or distended abdomen may be a sign of a significant medical condition or disease, or it may be due to a resolvable bacterial infection. Due to the possibility of organ failure or breathing difficulty, however, any swelling in the abdominal area warrants an immediate veterinary visit. Some underlying causes of a distended abdomen are potentially fatal and indicate a dysfunction or disease process involving a major organ such as the heart, lungs or kidneys. Additionally, most cases of abdominal distension carry pain and discomfort that can be alleviated with treatment. One probable cause of abdominal distension in dogs is a condition called ascites (or abdominal effusion), which is a general term that refers to the build-up of fluid in a dog’s abdominal cavity. In a healthy animal, there should be no more than a nominal amount of fluid present in the abdominal cavity. The purpose of this fluid is to keep the organs operating and “gliding” smoothly around each other. In fact, the amount of fluid in a healthy dog’s abdomen should be low enough not to appear in radiography. Any imaging that reveals the presence of free fluid is an indication of a serious health problem. Ascites is a symptom of many other conditions, including liver and cardiac disease, specifically congestive heart failure (CHF). In congestive heart failure, the heart cannot pump enough blood throughout the body, causing fluid to swell in tissues both in the lungs and stomach. The dog’s overall prognosis will depend on the source of the swelling or ascites. Another possible cause for the abdominal distension is a pooling of blood that may have originated in the stomach or elsewhere in the canine’s gastrointestinal system. In the case of a GI bleed, immediate veterinary care is critical.

Rapid-pooling gas, or “bloat,” is another emergent cause of abdominal distention in a canine. In the veterinary world, bloat is an alarming term that signifies something far different than feeling full after a big dinner. Bloat, in a dog, will cause the abdomen to become untenably swollen and tight. The abdomen may take on an uneven appearance in which one part of the abdomen distends beyond another. If your dog appears to be bloated, this is a highly emergent situation, and the dog must get veterinary care immediately. 

Other common causes of abdominal distension in dogs include pregnancy, which is distinguishable from other conditions due to the presence of swollen mammary glands and teats. Obesity is another possibility; in this case, the stomach should be soft and fat should be visible elsewhere on the body, not only in the stomach area.

In canines, a distended abdomen may signify a disease or dysfunction related to a major organ such as the heart, or another condition such as pregnancy or obesity.

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Symptoms of Distended Abdomen in Dogs

Clinical signs associated with distended abdomen in dogs include:

  • Distended abdomen
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Signs of discomfort when touched
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Urinary changes
  • Exercise intolerance

Causes of Distended Abdomen in Dogs

  • Bloat- A very serious condition in which gas rapidly fills the abdomen
  • Bleeding -An emergent condition in which blood is pooling in the abdomen
  • Free fluid (also called abdominal effusion or ascites) - A serious condition when fluid builds in the abdomen, may signify disease or failure of major organs
  • Pregnancy - The female usually presents with a swollen abdomen by 6 weeks of expectancy, and will also have swollen mammary glands and teats
  • Obesity - The abdomen should be soft and weight should be distributed around the body
  • Growths/tumors - Benign or may signify a disease such as cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • Uterine infection (UTI)
  • Hormonal condition
  • Peritonitis - Swelling of the peritoneum, the tissue that lines the abdominal wall and covers most of the abdominal organs

Diagnosis of Distended Abdomen in Dogs

The veterinarian may make an initial diagnosis based upon the dog’s presentation of symptoms at the physical examination. Radiography and ultrasounds may confirm the presence of fluid in the abdomen, or perhaps reveal another cause. Blood (CBC), urine and sample of (if any) fluid will be subject to laboratory testing, and may offer insight into the dog’s overall condition. Other testing will be performed based on the veterinarian’s suspicions.

Treatment of Distended Abdomen in Dogs

Treatment options will depend upon the cause of the abdominal distension, and any underlying conditions. If there is a fluid buildup, that will have to be eliminated; however, without treating the source of the ascites, improvement is not likely. Treatment examples would be:

  • Obesity - The veterinarian will advise on a healthy weight loss and maintenance program
  • Growths - A tumor may need to be removed
  • Bloat - Surgery may be necessary in order to reverse volvulus (twisting of the stomach)
  • Fluid - Draining will be required

Recovery of Distended Abdomen in Dogs

As with any illness, provide your dog with a quiet place to rest and heal. Follow veterinary advice regarding any nutritional changes, and follow-up medications. The dog’s prognosis will depend upon the cause of the distension. Keep a watchful eye on the abdominal area, and notify the veterinarian if changes are noted.

Distended Abdomen Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Sophie
Mini Bolonauzer
8 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Hard bloated stomach

Sophie’s stomach is bloated and hard, and tenses up when touched. Has a lot of twitching within her belly and I can hear gurgling at times. Any ideas of what this sounds like? This started 2 days ago

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
There are many conditions which may cause bloating and gurgling in the abdomen which may include infections, parasites, food intolerance, ate something she shouldn’t, poisoning, gulping air among other causes. You could wait to see if it passes, but you should visit your Veterinarian if it doesn’t improve as they may decompress the stomach and examine Sophie to look for other symptoms. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Oscar
Doberman Pinscher
6 Weeks
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

over eating

distended puppy abdomen- I picked up the larges size of Doberman Litter, brought home,
noticed his abomen looks large, especially compared to his siblings. Owner said he has dewormed the puppies and had the first vet exam cleared and even showed me the letter from the vet.
None of the other puppies from the litter had this large abdomen.
Puppy is eating well, his stool is soft though.
Seller said, she dewormed the puppies.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
Worms are a common cause of an enlarged abdomen in puppies; you can try giving another anthelmintic after two weeks in case of worms. Other causes may be due to infections, foreign bodies, diet, gas among other conditions; I would keep an eye on Oscar for the time being and if the abdomen is still enlarged in a day or so you should get him checked out by your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Sophia
Miniature Pinscher
13 Weeks
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

My puppy seems fine she is running fine playing fine none of her everyday behavior has changed. But her belly seems really large tonite and it's a bit concerning to me cause it seems to of happens in a few hrs

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
There are a few different causes for a distended abdomen which may include parasites, gas, intestinal obstruction among other causes; ensure that Sophia is up to date on her worming medication. Keep an eye on her, but if there is no improvement take her to her Veterinarian on Monday morning. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Egypt
pitbull
7 years
Mild condition
1 found helpful
Mild condition

I came home and my pitbull has a distended abdomen. No pain to palpation. Activity is normal She seems to have normal Bowel sounds. No diarrhea or vomiting that I have seen.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
A distended abdomen by be caused by gas, fluid, fat or organ enlargement; if Egypt is otherwise in good spirits, keep an eye on her for now but if there is no change in the abdomen or you notice other symptoms you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

It resolved itself after a BM. Over the years I have dealt with bloat. I came home to a dead dog Tragic. Another with a ruptured splenic tumor. Another on xray revealed wide spread cancer. Another was a breakin on a large bag of dog food.
All except the dog food were in extreme pain. I think last night my girl may have eaten most everyone's food. Usually not a problem here they are all good eaters. Thanks for the advice

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Babies
shi-toy poodle
12 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Drinking alot, eating less, bloated

My 12 yr old shizuh toy poodle started peeing in the house, just little spots. She is drinking alot of water, but not eating to much. Weak and sleeps all the time. Losing weight, but her belly is distended and tight. I am afraid she is dying.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
There are a few possible causes and the distended abdomen may be due to fluid (ascites) accumulating in the abdomen; causes include liver disease, low blood protein, heart failure, kidney issues among other causes. You should take Babies into your Veterinarian for an examination and a blood test to see the underlying cause and to offer any possible treatment or management options. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Molly
Malti-Poo
9
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Hi,
I have a 9 year old Maltipoo named Molly and she has had a distended abdomen for several years now but x-ray and blood work were negative. Around September, she started to lose her appetite and didn't want to eat and seemed depressed. She did seem to consume more water. The vet at that time did blood work and it showed that she had kidney disease. The vet started her on a renal diet, Azodyl and Epakitin at that time and retested her blood work a week ago (1 month period) and the results were even worse then before. Repeat abdominal x-ray was done and this time it showed an enlarged spleen, so an ultrasound was done and the vet said the spleen as a little big but not anything that would hurt Molly. However, her kidneys were shrunken and the vet said she is at stage 3-4 kidney disease and has 6 months - 1 year to live. When they did the blood work and they also did a UA, which showed Molly had a UTI so she was started on antibiotics. The vet also recommended that Molly get IV fluids daily, which I am giving to her. I still don't have an answer as to why Molly's abdomen is distended. She seems to be perkier with the IV fluids and she is still eating as long as I put some boiled chicken or fish in her food. I am planning to take her to another vet for a second opinion... your thoughts and advise is greatly appreciated.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
At this point, it is a case of reducing the workload of the kidneys as well as providing symptomatic and supportive care; depending on the size of Molly’s spleen, this may account for the distended abdomen if it is pushing other abdominal organs out of the way. A consultation with another Veterinarian is always a good idea, but the shrunken kidneys are also a concern; the ultrasound would have shown any structural issues with the kidneys which there seems to be none (apart from being shrunken). Regular blood testing is important to gauge how well management is going. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Asia
Chihuahua
11 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Swollen Abdomen

Our dog Asia is 11 yrs old and she’s a small dog, her belly is swollen and more so on the right side. She’s not eating much but still drinking but sometimes when she’s sleeping we think she’s having seizures in her sleep because she suddenly wakes up and her head goes back n her front legs get stiff n she whines. We have never experienced anything like this, what’s going on?! Please help!

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
There is no ‘at home help’ for these symptoms you are describing; it sounds like there may be something going on with Asia’s liver and you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination and some blood tests. Without an examination it would be irresponsible to recommend anything with the swelling of the abdomen and neurological symptoms. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Sissie
Chihuahua
14 years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Swollen Abdomen

Medication Used

Antibiotics? N a shot and cough syrup

Sissie was diganoised with a heart murmur, she has fainting spells gagging type cough, breathing heavy at times, the vet said the heart murmur would eventually take her life, tonight her belly is firm n swollen, breathing looks uncomfortably, however she eats,drinks n potties,this diagnosed was about a month ago, she was given cough syrup n andibotics,actually that is when she started her fainting spells, the vet said she was to old for any treatmens such as surgery, do I plan for the worst or getto a vet is there anything I can do for her until morning, she doesn't appear in in pain, just uncomfortably, her gums a pink in color, what do you think?

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
Try to keep Sissie calm and relaxed, in the morning take her to her Veterinarian as it sounds like fluid may be accumulating in the abdomen (and possibly the lungs) which would be consistent with heart failure; there is little else I can advise at this time without examining her. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Luna
German Shepherd
5 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

My dog stomach started to grow, we think she is preganant as it is getting bigger. We never noticed when she went into heat and don't know about how long she's been pregnant. I'm currently pregnant so haven't had a chance to really watch her, she mostly lives outside, today I went to look at her and her belly has really grown and she seems week. I looked at her nipples but they don't seem to be carrying milk, they don't looked like they're filling up. Is it normal for pregnant dogs to not show breast growth.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
Not all pregnant dogs will show nipple swelling during pregnancy, sometimes mammary development doesn’t occur until the week or so before whelping; gestation in dogs is around 63 days, but if you don’t know that she was in heat it isn’t possible to know if she is pregnant or not. Other causes for abdominal distension may be due to gas or ascites which would be indicative of a serious medical condition; since Luna is feeling lethargic, it may be worth having your Veterinarian give her a once over to be on the safe side. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

You don't know when/if your dog is in heat because she lives outside. Why would you even subject her to getting pregnant with all the unwanted dogs in this world. Get her spayed!

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Grace
Boston Terrier
11 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

My 11 year old Boston Terrier has an distended abdomen, swelling in her back legs from the knee down to her feet. She is drinking not eating. She is urinating and has diarrhea. She has rapid breathing at times.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
Fluid accumulation in the abdomen and limbs can be indicative of a few possible causes, these may include issues with the heart or liver so it is important for your Veterinarian to examine Grace to determine what the underlying cause is. Distension of the abdomen may also be caused by gas which can be just as serious; without examining Grace I cannot start to advise on a possible course of action. I would advise you visit your Veterinarian as soon as possible so an underlying cause can be determined and treatment can be directed. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Kong
Pekingese
8
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Decrease in activity
Bloated
Heavy Breathing

My dog has had a bloated stomach for about three days. He still eats, poops, pees and can lay down. No sign of pain just uncomfortable. This is reoccurring, last time was a few months ago. His gums are white and black now.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
Bloated stomach may be caused by gas or fluid, the white gums is also concerning and may indicate anaemia which may also explain the breathing difficulty (less red blood cells carrying oxygen leads to an increase in respiration). I would strongly suggest visiting your Veterinarian and having a blood test to help determine the primary cause of the symptoms. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

TAKE YOUR DOG TO THE VET! Your dog has white and black gums and your online getting advice? Just put the dog in the car and GO!!!

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Molly
Manchester Terrier
6 Years
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Bloated stomach
Reduced appetite
Vomiting

Medication Used

Gastrointestinal feed
Omeprazole

Hi, my dog has had a swollen belly for the last three weeks. Ben to vets three times, been given meds for gastroenteritis and worms but neither has had an effect. Her appetite is poor - she is fussy with what she eats, and when she does will only eat a bit. She has been sick a handful of times. But yet she's is bright, and still lives to go out walking. Due to go back to the vets Weds morning. Please what can you suggest for her?

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations

There are a few different possible causes for the symptoms you’re describing including infections, foreign objects, food intolerance, unappetising food, parasites among other causes; without examining Molly I cannot recommend treatment in this case, try to encourage her to eat by offering a different meal like some wet food or boiled chicken and rice. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Little Anne
Beagle
13 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Abdominal distention, frequently drinks, urinates

My 13 year old beagle has never been over weight but suddenly appeared "fat" (distention). She also began drinking enormous amounts of water and urinating very frequently. Her appetite is perfectly normal and stools normal.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations
There are various causes of abdominal distension and is usually attributable to gas or fluid (you can normally tell by palpation and a dog’s weight); an increase in thirst and urination may be indicative of a few different causes including hormonal conditions (Cushing’s Disease - also causes a ‘pot bellied’ appearance), liver issues, kidney issues, urinary tract infections among other causes. I would visit your Veterinarian for an examination and to check urine and blood as required. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://wagwalking.com/condition/cushings-disease

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Drake
Labrador Retriever
8 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Coughing
Wheezing for air
Gagging
Heart Murmur
Loose stools
Bloated Abdomen
Ribs showing

I'm caring for my brother's 8yr old lab. He took him to the vet last week, and was told that his dog had enlarged internal organs & enlarged lymph nodes. The vet said his dog would need an ultrasound to determine cause & treatment. His dog also coughs quite frequently, sounds like he might throw up, but doesn't. He sounds like he is wheezing at times as well. He seems to have a good appetite, and likes to walk every day. But I am very concerned because his ribs are showing, very bloated stomach, and the wheezing seems to get worse as the day goes on. Oh, he also has rather loose stools.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations

There are numerous causes for a distended or enlarged abdomen, your Veterinarian would normally be able to palpate organs to determine if there is any enlargement (feels different to fluid etc…). An ultrasound would be the next step in the process to see which organs are enlarged and to determine if there are any tumours or other anomalies which would help in the diagnostic process; also your Veterinarian may choose to take an ultrasound guided biopsy for histopathology. Wheezing and respiratory issues may be due to the diaphragm being unable to assist with breathing due to abdominal distension. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Harry
West Highland White Terrier
12 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Distended belly, coughing

My dog is coughing. His belly looks distended and when I touch it, he starts to cough. He is eating well and takes walks. I have an appointment with his vet but the earliest is in 4 days

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations

Coughing and distended abdomen may be due to heart failure (fluid accumulates in the abdomen), Cushing’s Disease, liver problems, cancer and other causes; without examining Harry I cannot give you many details but your Veterinarian may want to take some blood tests and an x-ray to assist with the diagnosis. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Delilah
miniature poodle
8 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

distended belly
Somehwat lethargic

My mother's miniature poodle has long looked like a potato with legs. She doesn't seem overweight or obese - there isn't much fat on her elsewhere - but her belly seems very distended (and has for some time). She doesn't seem to be in a lot of pain or discomfort generally, and she loves to go for walks/exercise. She's a bit older, maybe 7-8. Other than that, she seems in fairly good health, maybe sometimes acts as if she doesn't see very well (especially at night), and has pretty chronic allergies and gets shots for them regularly (I believe).

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations

A distended abdomen may or may not be something to be concerned about, it may be just fat; however, there are some conditions like Cushing’s Disease, other hormonal conditions, tumours, heart failure and other causes which may be causing this distention. Ideally, you should visit Delilah’s Veterinarian for a check over to see if there is anything to be concerned about. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Abi
Ridgeback
1 Year
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

hard lymph node in groin

Noticed changes in her activity level three weeks ago, culminating this week with lethargy, increased heart rate accompanied by rapid breathing which begins in the late afternoon/early evening and continues until the morning hours, distended stomach, weakness in back legs, may be pregnant; lymph nodes hard for last 3 or 4 weeks

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations

There are various different causes for the symptoms described and may be attributable to a few different conditions like infections, hormonal disorders, cancer, liver disease etc… Since Abi is having problems with rapid heart rate and breathing changes it would be best to have her Veterinarian take a look at her and possibly take a blood test to check blood count levels as well as liver and kidney function. Treatment would be based on your Veterinarian’s findings. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Hey Lesley, how is Abi doing? My Rhodesian Ridgeback Tommy is suffering from similar symptoms, he's 10 so we are all fearing sinister causes. He's seeing the vet again tomorrow, hoping for good news though prepared for the worst. All the best to you and Abi! Marco

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Baby
Labrador Retriever
5 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Panting drinking water and pacing
Anxious
, painful

My baby has a bloated stomach and spine compressed by the gas in the stomach confirmed by X-ray just now, can't eat and drink well, painful lifting his legs when urinate, and walking upstairs, vomited saliva

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1711 Recommendations

A bloated stomach can be a life threatening condition and may result in a torsion of the stomach (or twisted gut) which is uncommon in labradors but still may occur. Decompression of the stomach is usually the first step to relieve the pressure and make the dog more comfortable, this can be performed by passing a tube to the stomach; if a tube wouldn’t pass or the stomach on the x-ray had a characteristic “Smurf Hat” appearance the stomach may have twisted. Passing of a tube to relieve the pressure and a lavage of the stomach are the first aid steps required. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
www.acvs.org/small-animal/gastric-dilatation-volvulus

 

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