How Can I Help My Dogs Stomach Distended?

What causes a distended stomach in dogs?

There are several potential causes of a distended or swollen stomach in dogs:

Eating too much or too fast can cause the stomach to expand beyond its normal size. Dogs that gobble down food quickly can swallow excess air which leads to distension.

Intestinal blockages can obstruct the normal passage of food and gas through the gastrointestinal tract. This causes contents to back up and the abdomen to swell. Common blockages include bones, toys, plants, and other foreign objects (Source 1).

Tumors in the gastrointestinal tract or other abdominal organs can take up space and cause abdominal distension. Tumors may be malignant or benign but still result in swelling.

Bloat is a life threatening condition where the stomach fills with air, fluid, and/or foam. The stomach puts pressure on other organs and blood flow is restricted. Bloat causes obvious swelling and requires immediate veterinary care (Source 2).

Symptoms of a distended stomach

There are several signs to watch out for if your dog has a distended or swollen stomach:

  • Bloated or swollen abdomen – This is the most obvious symptom. Your dog’s belly will appear abnormally large.

  • Difficulty breathing – Pressure from a swollen stomach can make it hard for your dog to breathe properly. They may breathe rapidly or heavily.

  • Pacing and restlessness – Your dog may seem uncomfortable or agitated, pacing around without being able to get comfortable.

  • Excessive drooling – Unproductive retching or gagging motions may cause excess drool to accumulate.

  • Retching or gagging – Your dog may repeatedly gag or attempt to vomit without anything coming up.

  • Lethargy – Lack of energy or extreme fatigue can be a sign of illness causing the distended stomach.

According to this source, difficulty breathing, restlessness, and lethargy are particularly concerning symptoms with a distended abdomen and may indicate a need for emergency veterinary care.

When to see the vet

A distended stomach in dogs can be a sign of a serious, even life-threatening condition, so it’s important to get veterinary care right away if you notice symptoms. Some key signs that warrant an urgent vet visit include:

  • Abdominal swelling – This is one of the most obvious symptoms of a distended stomach. If your dog’s belly looks swollen or bloated, get them checked by a vet immediately.
  • Difficulty breathing – Dogs with stomach distension may struggle to breathe normally. Their breaths may be fast and shallow.
  • Repeated vomiting – Throwing up repeatedly, especially if producing just foam or mucus, can indicate an obstruction in the stomach.
  • Signs of pain – Whining, restlessness, anxiety, stretching, and unwillingness to lie down can all be signs your dog is in pain from their distended stomach.
  • Lethargy – A distended stomach can cause weakness and extreme fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite – Dogs with a distended stomach often lose interest in food and water.

According to veterinarians, a distended stomach is an emergency that requires immediate evaluation and treatment. Don’t delay – if your dog shows these signs, get them to the vet right away for prompt care. Waiting too long can be fatal with conditions like bloat.

Diagnosing the cause

If your dog has a distended abdomen, the vet will perform a full physical exam and palpate the abdomen to feel for any abnormalities. They may be able to feel fluid, gas, or an enlarged organ or mass. Bloodwork such as a complete blood count and chemistry panel can look for indicators of infection, cancer, kidney issues, and other problems. A urinalysis can check for signs of a urinary tract infection or other abnormalities.

Imaging tests are important for visualizing the cause of a distended abdomen. X-rays allow the vet to see the size and shape of the organs and spot masses or foreign objects. Ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the organs and allows for evaluation of the liver, kidneys, spleen, and more. Ultrasound can help identify tumors, cysts, infections, and more. These imaging tests along with the physical exam and lab work help the vet narrow down the root cause of a dog’s distended abdomen.


Treating intestinal blockages

If your dog has an intestinal blockage, the first step is usually to withhold all food and water. This rests the gastrointestinal tract and prevents further irritation. Your vet will start administering IV fluids to prevent dehydration and correct electrolyte imbalances. Surgery is often necessary to remove the obstruction if it does not pass on its own. According to Atlantic Coast Vet, bowel obstruction surgery is a major procedure for dogs that requires anesthesia. Factors that determine if surgery is needed include the location of the obstruction, what it is obstructed with, the dog’s overall health status, and how long it has been present.

Some obstructions like bones or rocks may be able to pass through the GI tract with supportive care like IV fluids. However, obstructions that don’t resolve in 12-24 hours usually require surgery. Intussusception, where one part of the intestine telescopes into another, also requires immediate surgery. Non-surgical treatment is only pursued if the dog is already septic or has advanced cancer. According to New Hope Animal Hospital, surgical removal of the obstruction is the only way to fully resolve a blockage and avoid life-threatening complications.

Treating bloat

The most critical factor in treating bloat is stabilizing the dog and reducing gas pressure buildup in the stomach. This is done by inserting a tube down the throat into the stomach to relieve pressure.

According to, IV fluids will be administered immediately to restore blood pressure and improve circulation.

Once the dog is stable, surgery is required to untwist the stomach and tack it in place to prevent it from twisting again. Per, surgery is the only way to permanently fix bloat.

The earlier bloat is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances are for recovery. Left untreated, bloat can quickly become fatal.

Treating tumors

Tumors in a dog’s stomach often require surgery as treatment. According to, surgery can help alleviate the signs of stomach cancer if possible. Removing tumors through surgery gives dogs the best chance at recovery.

In addition to surgery, chemotherapy is commonly used to treat cancerous stomach tumors in dogs, even if the tumors have already been removed through surgery. As noted by, chemotherapy can help eliminate any remaining cancer cells.

Radiation therapy is another treatment option that is sometimes used along with surgery and chemotherapy. Radiation can help target and destroy cancer cells in the stomach area.

Dietary changes to relieve a distended stomach

Making some adjustments to your dog’s diet can help prevent and relieve a distended stomach.

Feeding smaller, more frequent meals rather than one large daily meal can help reduce the risk of bloat. This prevents the stomach from expanding too much at one time. Aim to break daily food into 3-4 smaller meals (Dog’s Naturally Magazine).

Using a slow feed bowl can also help dogs eat slower and prevent them from gulping air while eating too fast, which can lead to bloat. These bowls have ridges or mazes that force dogs to eat more slowly (Happy Dog Food).

Avoiding gas-producing foods like soy, peas, beans, milk products, and even very fatty meats can help minimize gas and potential stomach distention and discomfort. Sticking to a simple balanced diet tailored to your dog’s needs is best (Dog’s Naturally Magazine).

Lifestyle changes

Making some lifestyle adjustments can help reduce the risk of your dog developing a distended stomach. Here are some tips:

Prevent vigorous exercise before and after meals. Take your dog for a short, leisurely walk instead. Avoid intense play or running around for at least an hour after eating. Letting your dog rest and digest their food reduces the risk of stomach twisting or bloat.

Use a harness instead of a neck collar. Pressure on the neck when on a leash can increase intra-abdominal pressure and raise the risk of bloat. Switch to a comfortable harness for walks.

Avoid stressful situations. Stress and anxiety can increase gas production and abdominal discomfort. Prevent stressful events like visits to the vet, being boarded, or introductions to new dogs. Use calming aids like pheromones if needed.

Change eating position. Elevated feeders and eating too quickly can increase air swallowing. Switch to floor-level bowls and consider a puzzle feeder to slow down eating.

Add probiotics and digestive enzymes to food. This can help improve digestion and reduce gas production. Consult your vet for supplement recommendations.

When to seek emergency care

There are certain symptoms that indicate your dog’s distended stomach requires immediate emergency veterinary care. These emergency symptoms include:

  • Unproductive vomiting (
  • Abdomen extremely hard to touch (
  • Rapid breathing (
  • Weakness/collapse (
  • Pale gums (

If your dog is exhibiting any of these emergency symptoms, do not wait – seek emergency veterinary care immediately. Bloat and GDV are life-threatening conditions that require swift treatment. Waiting or “seeing if it passes” can be fatal. At the first signs of these emergency symptoms, get your dog to the vet or emergency animal hospital right away.

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