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.
Dog Stomach Swelling: Common Causes and Treatments
Because stomach swelling in dogs can be dangerous, never try to 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
- Using elevated food/water bowls.
- A family history of bloat/GDV
- 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 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
- Make sure your dog rests after a full meal; no strenuous exercise on a full stomach
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.
Extremely painful, a dog with peritonitis may be listless, reluctant to move, have a swollen abdomen, or vomit. Shock is likely, so emergency treatment is crucial.
Treatment for peritonitis may include intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and pain relief. Surgery will also be necessary to repair the puncture, remove the infected fluids, and flush the abdomen.
A dog with a pot-bellied look may have hyperadrenocorticism, or Cushing's syndrome, a condition caused by the overproduction of the hormone cortisol. More common in dogs 6 years or older, other signs of Cushing's syndrome include eating, drinking, and urinating more, as well as hair loss and increased panting.
Cushing's syndrome is usually caused by the pituitary gland over producing a hormone; less commonly, it is due to a tumor on one of the adrenal glands. There is a newer medication that treats both forms of Cushing’s syndrome. However, surgery can be done to remove the tumor associated with the adrenal form of Cushing’s syndrome.
Ascites is the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, often leading to swelling. Ascites can be caused by a wide range of problems, including heart failure, liver disease, kidney problems, or severe intestinal disease. Treatment for ascites varies depending on the condition causing it.
Other Causes of Dog Stomach Swelling
Stomach swelling in dogs can also result from the dog eating too much all at once, internal bleeding due to trauma or a ruptured mass, intestinal obstruction, or tumors. Severe roundworm infection in puppies can also cause a swollen abdomen.
Tips to Prevent Stomach Problems in Your Dog
A quick exam of your dog's abdomen can also help you recognize some of the signs of stomach trouble. To examine your dog's stomach, feel for tenderness to touch, heat, stickiness, lumps, and of course, swelling. Take your dog to the vet right away if you notice any problems.