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Dog Stomach Swelling: Causes and Treatment

Stomach swelling in dogs can be a life-threatening emergency, or it can be as simple as your dog eating too much. 

To keep your canine companion in good health, it helps to know the signs of dog stomach problems and what you can do when they happen.

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Dog Stomach Swelling: Common Causes and Treatments

Because stomach swelling in dogs can be dangerous, never try and diagnose the cause of your dog's stomach trouble yourself. If your dog's abdomen looks bloated or unusual, get your pet to a veterinary hospital or emergency veterinarian immediately, as timing can be critical. 

Some causes of stomach swelling in dogs include: 

Bloat / Gastric Dilation Volvulus 

Called "the mother of all emergencies," untreated gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) can be fatal to a dog within hours. Bloat happens when gas or food stretch a dog's stomach. GDV happens when the distended stomach rotates, trapping the gas inside, and blocking off the stomach's blood supply.

Extremely painful, there doesn't seem to be one cause for GDV, though swallowing air plays a part; heavy exercise after a meal can be a trigger, too. The exact cause of GDV is still debated. A few of the many proposed things that can increase a dog's GDV risk include:

  • Being deep-chested. Breeds like the Great Dane, St. Bernard, and Weimaraner are at the greatest risk for bloat; as a matter of fact, dogs weighing over 99 pounds have a 20% bloat risk. Though rare, small dogs can also suffer from the condition.
  • Feeding your dog only one meal a day
  • A family history of bloat/GDV
  • Feeding your dog a dry food with a high cereal content
  • Eating too quickly
  • Being older; dogs between 7-12 years old are at highest risk

Treating bloat requires immediate emergency care and may include decompressing the stomach (releasing excess gas from the stomach), managing shock, and stabilizing the heart, often followed by surgery once stable. If your dog's abdomen looks swollen or distended, or if your dog seems uncomfortable, don't wait; rush your pet to a veterinarian or a veterinary hospital immediately.

Preventing bloat is hard because so many things may play a part in causing it, but a few things you can do that may reduce your dog's risk include:

  • Feed your dog two or more meals daily
  • Include canned food and table scraps in your dog's diet (remember that table scraps can cause other problems, though, like diarrhea, pancreatitis, obesity, etc)
  • Make sure your dog rests after a full meal; no strenuous exercise on a full stomach

Peritonitis 

Another possible cause of stomach swelling in dogs, this serious infection is usually caused by puncture or rupture of your dog's stomach or intestine, due to splinters from a bone, ulcers, tumors, or other causes. Peritonitis can also occur if the gallbladder or urinary bladder ruptures.

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