How Firm Should A Dog’S Stomach Be?

A dog’s stomach can provide important health indicators for pet owners. Checking your dog’s stomach firmness regularly is a simple way to monitor their wellbeing. This article will cover the anatomy of a dog’s stomach, what normal firmness feels like, how to check it, causes of softness or hardness, other signs of stomach trouble, when to see a vet, treatments, and prevention.

Anatomy of a Dog’s Stomach

A dog’s stomach is composed of several layers of tissue ( From the outside in, these layers include:

  • Serosa – the outer protective lining
  • Muscularis – muscles that contract to digest and move food
  • Submucosa – dense connective tissue
  • Mucosa – the inner lining containing glands that secrete stomach acids and enzymes

The mucosa has folds called rugae which allow the stomach to expand. The upper portion of the stomach is known as the fundus and the lower portion is the pylorus which connects to the small intestine (

The stomach is an important organ that starts the digestion of food and helps to move food into the small intestine. The muscular contractions churn food with enzymes and acids to begin breaking it down into nutrients.

Normal Stomach Firmness

The normal firmness of a healthy dog’s stomach can vary slightly depending on whether the dog just ate or is hungry. However, in general, a normal and healthy dog’s stomach should feel soft but not hard or distended.

After eating, it is normal for a dog’s stomach to expand and feel fuller and firmer due to the food inside. However, it should not feel hard as a rock or be severely bloated or distended. The stomach may retain some soft pliability after eating.

In between meals when the stomach is empty, a healthy dog’s stomach tends to feel softer and less firm. You should be able to gently press on the stomach area without feeling any major hardness or experiencing resistance or tensing from the dog.

According to veterinarians, the ideal firmness is when the stomach has a certain amount of “give” when pressed gently. You should be able to indent the stomach slightly with mild palpation. An empty but healthy stomach will feel soft but not hard or tense.

As long as your dog’s stomach does not feel rigid, swollen, or painful, the normal firmness varies from dog to dog. The key is observing any changes or unusual hardness in your individual dog’s stomach region.

Checking Your Dog’s Stomach

You can check your dog’s stomach firmness at home through a simple physical exam. Start by gently placing your hands on each side of your dog’s abdomen, just behind the ribs. Slowly apply light pressure as you move your hands down towards the hind legs, feeling for any abnormalities in firmness. A normal, healthy stomach should feel soft but not hard or distended. There should be no tender spots or pain when gently pressing the abdomen.

Try to relax your dog and keep them calm during the exam. Restless movement can make it more difficult to assess the stomach. You may find it easier to check the stomach when your dog is laying on their side. Ensure you check both sides thoroughly.

Focus on any noticeable firmness or hardness, which could indicate bloating, constipation, tumors, or obstructions. Also note if the stomach feels very soft, which may signal gas buildup or a loss of muscle tone. Pay attention to any asymmetry, with one side feeling markedly different than the other.

While an at-home stomach exam is useful, always consult your vet if you notice any unusual firmness or changes in your dog’s stomach. They can perform a more thorough abdominal palpation and determine if testing or treatment is needed (Source: Catching changes early maximizes the chances of successful management.

Soft Stomach Causes

There are several potential causes for a dog’s stomach to feel soft and distended:

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) or Bloat – This is a life-threatening condition where the stomach fills with air, fluid or food, and then twists on itself. It causes the stomach to expand and feel tight like a drum. Without urgent veterinary treatment, bloat can lead to shock and death in just hours (

Infection or Inflammation – Gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease, or pancreatitis can all lead to inflammation and fluid buildup in the peritoneal cavity, causing a swollen, soft abdomen. This requires veterinary diagnosis and treatment.

Parasites – Roundworms, tapeworms, and other intestinal parasites can cause a pot-bellied appearance. The abdomen may feel soft and squishy.

Cancer – Abdominal tumors or masses can press on organs and lead to fluid accumulation. Cancer should be ruled out in older dogs with unexplained stomach distension.

Obesity – Carrying excess fat can make a dog’s stomach hang low and feel soft. However, the dog should not have other signs of illness.

Any soft swelling of a dog’s abdomen warrants an urgent vet visit to diagnose the cause and decide on proper treatment. A dog with bloat especially needs immediate attention to prevent life-threatening complications.

Firm Stomach Causes

There are several potential causes for a firm stomach in dogs:

Constipation – Constipation, or difficulty passing stools, can cause a hard feeling in the stomach as stools back up in the colon. This may occur if the dog eats something indigestible, has inadequate hydration, lacks exercise, or has a health condition affecting the colon. Treatment involves increasing fiber, water intake, and exercise [1].

Tumors – Both malignant cancerous tumors and benign noncancerous masses can develop in a dog’s abdomen, causing firmness. Tumors may originate from organs like the spleen, liver, kidneys or intestines. Diagnostic tests like ultrasounds, x-rays, or biopsies are needed to identify tumors [2].

Enlarged organs – Organs like the liver or spleen can become abnormally enlarged due to infections, cancers, or other diseases. The swollen organs take up more space in the abdomen leading to firmness [1].

Bloat – With bloat, the stomach twists and fills with gas. This causes the belly to rapidly expand and feel tight like a drum. Bloat requires immediate veterinary treatment [2].

Peritonitis – Infection and inflammation of the abdominal lining, called peritonitis, can result in a rigid stomach. This is a serious condition requiring prompt veterinary care [1].

Other Signs of Stomach Issues

In addition to changes in stomach firmness, there are other common signs of potential stomach problems in dogs. These include:

  • Vomiting – Frequent vomiting or regurgitation can indicate an issue like acid reflux, infection, obstruction, or inflammation in the stomach.
  • Diarrhea – Loose stools or diarrhea may accompany stomach troubles, resulting from irritation to the intestines or infections.
  • Loss of appetite – Dogs with stomach issues often experience decreased appetite or complete loss of appetite.
  • Weight loss – Vomiting, diarrhea and poor appetite can lead to rapid weight loss.
  • Abdominal pain – Some stomach problems cause dogs to act restless, whine, or excessively lick their abdomen.

If you notice any persistent changes in your dog’s stomach firmness along with other signs like vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite, it’s important to make an appointment with your vet. These accompanying symptoms can provide clues to the underlying cause of the stomach changes.

When to See the Vet

Changes in your dog’s stomach firmness can signal an underlying health issue that requires veterinary attention. You should schedule an appointment with your vet if you notice any of the following:

  • Your dog’s stomach is very hard and distended
  • The stomach feels too soft or flabby
  • There are lumps or masses in the stomach area
  • Your dog shows signs of pain when you touch their stomach
  • There are other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, lethargy, etc.
  • The stomach firmness change doesn’t improve after a day or two of home monitoring

Puppies with stomach issues should always see a vet promptly since conditions like parvovirus can quickly become life-threatening. For adult dogs, it’s a good idea to have your vet examine any stomach firmness changes that persist or are accompanied by other symptoms. Diagnostic tests like blood work, imaging, and endoscopy may be needed to check for issues like gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease, infections, blockages, tumors, or organ problems. Early treatment can help prevent complications and relieve your dog’s discomfort.

As per Texas A&M’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, urgent veterinary care should be sought if your dog shows symptoms like repeated vomiting, severe diarrhea, very dark or black stool, bloody stool, weakness, high fever, rapid breathing or heart rate, belly swelling, dry gums, lethargy, or collapse.


The treatment for a dog’s stomach issues depends on the underlying cause. Here is an overview of common veterinary treatments for soft and firm stomach causes:

For a soft stomach caused by gastroenteritis or inflammatory bowel disease, vets may prescribe anti-nausea medication, antibiotics, probiotics, anti-diarrheal medication, or steroids. They may also recommend a bland diet like boiled chicken and rice or a prescription gastrointestinal diet. Severe cases may require hospitalization for IV fluids and supportive care.

For bloat or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), immediate veterinary surgery is required to untwist the stomach and tack it in place to prevent recurrence. Supportive care like IV fluids and pain medication are also given.

For foreign object obstructions, endoscopic retrieval or surgical removal is required. Pain medication and antibiotics may also be prescribed.

For stomach cancer, treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and medications to control nausea and pain. The prognosis depends on the type and stage of cancer.

In general, vets recommend treating any underlying condition and feeding a bland, low-fat diet until the stomach firms up. Preventative care like parasite control and stress reduction may also help.


There are several things you can do to help prevent stomach issues and keep your dog’s stomach healthy and firm:

  • Feed your dog high-quality food designed for their age, size, and activity level. Avoid foods with fillers, by-products, and artificial ingredients [1].
  • Divide your dog’s meals into 2-3 smaller meals throughout the day rather than one large meal to reduce risk of bloat [2].
  • Prevent your dog from vigorous exercise, especially jumping, running, and playing, for at least 1 hour before and after meals.
  • Avoid feeding from an elevated bowl, as this can increase swallowing air and risk of bloat.
  • Discourage rapid eating by placing large rocks or balls in your dog’s bowl to slow them down.
  • Have your vet perform a preventive gastropexy surgery if your dog is a high-risk breed for bloat like Great Danes or German Shepherds [3].

Monitor your dog’s stomach firmness regularly by gently pressing on their belly. Contact your vet if you notice any unusual softness, hardness, or distension.

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