What’s Underneath Your Dog’s Ribs? The Surprising Answer

Anatomy of a Dog’s Stomach

A dog’s stomach is located in the abdominal cavity under the ribs. It has an elongated “J” shape and sits between the esophagus and small intestine. The stomach is a muscular organ that plays an important role in digestion.

In terms of location, a dog’s stomach sits just under the ribs on the left side of the abdomen. The size and exact position varies based on the dog’s size and breed. Small dogs tend to have smaller stomachs located higher in the abdomen, while larger breeds have bigger stomachs that extend further down.

The stomach connects to the esophagus at the gastroesophageal junction near the diaphragm. Food enters from the esophagus through the cardiac opening. The stomach connects to the small intestine at the pyloric sphincter, which regulates the passage of partially digested food into the small intestine.

The stomach has a capacity ranging from 1 pint up to 4 quarts depending on the dog’s size. It acts as a temporary holding chamber where food is mixed with acids and enzymes to begin the digestion process. The stomach churns and breaks down food both mechanically and chemically to prepare it for further processing in the small intestine.

Some key parts of a dog’s stomach anatomy include:

  • Cardiac region – Upper area near the esophagus
  • Fundus – Dome-shaped top portion of the stomach
  • Body – Main middle section
  • Pyloric region – Lower area near the small intestine
  • Rugae – Folding inner lining that allows expansion

Understanding the basic anatomy helps provide context on a dog’s gastrointestinal function and common health issues.

Function of a Dog’s Stomach

dog getting abdomen palpated by vet

A dog’s stomach has several important functions in digestion and maintaining the dog’s health. The key roles of the stomach include:

Digesting Food – The stomach is responsible for beginning the process of digestion. Food is delivered to the stomach after being initially chewed and swallowed. In the stomach, hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes break down the food into a liquid mass called chyme. The stomach muscles churn and mix the chyme to facilitate digestion.

Acid and Enzyme Secretion – The stomach lining contains specialized cells called oxyntic cells that secrete hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes like pepsin. The hydrochloric acid creates an acidic environment in the stomach, with a pH between 1.5-2.5. This acidity helps kill bacteria, parasites and viruses while also unraveling food proteins. The enzymes like pepsin break down proteins into smaller chains of amino acids. The acid and enzymes work together to chemically and mechanically digest the food.

The stomach’s secretion of acids and enzymes is vital for preparing food for further digestion and nutrient absorption in the small intestine. Disorders affecting the stomach’s acidity or enzyme levels can impair this important digestive function.

Common Stomach Problems in Dogs

Some of the most common stomach issues that affect dogs include:


Bloat, also known as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), occurs when the stomach becomes overstretched and twisted, trapping air, food, and water inside. This causes the stomach to swell up like a balloon. Bloat can progress quickly and becomes life-threatening if untreated, as it cuts off blood flow and prevents the stomach from emptying properly. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, deep-chested dog breeds like Great Danes, German Shepherds, and Dobermans are at higher risk for bloat [1].

Foreign Objects

Dogs are prone to eating items that can cause blockages or obstructions in their digestive tract. Common foreign objects that dogs swallow include rocks, socks, corn cobs, toys, and even string or dental floss. These items can get lodged in the stomach, causing vomiting, appetite loss, and abdominal pain. Prompt surgical removal is often needed [2].


Stomach ulcers can develop from the use of certain medications like NSAIDs, excessive stress, or the bacteria Helicobacter. Symptoms include vomiting, dark stools, weight loss, and abdominal discomfort. Ulcers are diagnosed via endoscopy and treated with medications that suppress stomach acid production [3].

Signs of Stomach Issues

There are several common signs of stomach problems in dogs to look out for. These include:

dog vomiting on floor


Frequent vomiting or throwing up undigested food is one of the most common signs of a stomach issue in dogs. This could indicate inflammation, irritation, or obstruction in the stomach. Persistent vomiting should not be ignored as it can lead to dehydration.


Loose stools or diarrhea can signify an issue with nutrient absorption in the stomach. This is because the stomach plays an important role in breaking down food. Diarrhea along with vomiting can lead to dehydration.

Loss of Appetite

A dog that is usually excited about mealtime but loses interest in food may have a stomach problem. Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort can cause inappetence. This can result in weight loss.

Abdominal Pain

Excessive whining, stretching, or tension in the abdominal area could indicate stomach pain in dogs. This may be accompanied by loss of appetite, vomiting, and behavioral changes in some cases.

If your dog shows any of these signs, it’s important to monitor them closely and contact your veterinarian if the symptoms persist or worsen. Catching stomach issues early can help prevent complications.

Diagnosing Stomach Problems

If a dog is showing signs of a potential stomach issue, the veterinarian will run a series of tests to try to determine the underlying cause.

The first step is a complete physical exam. The vet will feel the dog’s abdomen by gently applying pressure with their hands – this is called abdominal palpation. Areas of tenderness or abnormal masses may indicate problems like inflammation, ulcers, or tumors. The physical exam also checks for a fever, dehydration, or any other concerning symptoms.

Blood tests may be run to look for signs of infection, pancreatitis, kidney issues, cancer, or other systemic diseases that could be causing stomach problems. Bloodwork provides key insights into overall health.

Imaging tests like X-rays or an abdominal ultrasound allow the vet to visualize the stomach and look for masses, foreign objects, abnormal gas patterns, or other issues. These images can identify if there are any structural problems. According to Merck Veterinary Manual, ultrasounds are often the preferred imaging technique for evaluating the stomach.

vet performing ultrasound on dog's abdomen

Finally, an endoscopy involves passing a small camera into the dog’s stomach to directly examine the lining. This helps identify ulcers, tumors, inflammation, or other problems that may not show up on X-rays or ultrasound. Though invasive, it provides the clearest view of the stomach.

Through these diagnostic steps, vets can pinpoint the cause and determine the appropriate treatment plan.

Treating Stomach Problems

There are several approaches vets may take to treating stomach problems in dogs, depending on the underlying cause. Some of the most common treatments include:

Dietary Changes

Vets often recommend a bland diet such as boiled chicken and rice to treat stomach upset. This type of bland food is easy to digest and helps settle the stomach by removing irritating substances from the dog’s diet [1]. Some dogs may need a prescription gastrointestinal diet recommended by their vet. These diets are formulated to be highly digestible and address specific issues like inflammation or food sensitivities.


If diet changes alone don’t resolve the problem, vets may prescribe medications to help treat stomach issues. Some examples include:

– Anti-nausea medications to control vomiting
– Antacids and stomach protectants to reduce acidity and coat the stomach

– Probiotics or prebiotics to support healthy digestion
– Anti-diarrheal medications or stool firmers
– Antibiotics for bacterial infections


In severe cases where diet and medication don’t work, surgical intervention may be required. Examples include removing foreign objects, repairing obstructions or ulcers, or resecting damaged bowel tissue. However surgery is only used as a last resort when other options have failed [2].

Preventing Stomach Issues

There are some steps dog owners can take to help prevent stomach issues in their canine companions:

Proper Diet – Feeding your dog a high-quality diet designed for their age, size, and activity level can help prevent gastrointestinal problems. Avoid sudden changes in diet and foods that are difficult to digest like fatty or spicy human foods.

Avoid Foreign Objects – Dogs are notorious for eating things they shouldn’t. Keep household items, plants, and other potential toxins out of your dog’s reach. Supervise outdoor time to prevent ingestion of sticks, rocks, or other objects.

Regular Vet Checkups – Annual vet exams allow early detection of conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. Preventative care like heartworm medication and vaccines help avoid illnesses that could impact digestion.

Additional steps like scheduling feedings, preventing vigorous exercise around mealtimes, and including probiotics or pumpkin in the diet may also promote good stomach health. Monitoring for signs of digestive upset and addressing any concerns promptly can help prevent more severe issues.

Caring for a Dog with Stomach Problems

If your dog is suffering from stomach issues, there are several things you can do at home to help care for them and ease their discomfort:

Feed small, frequent meals – Feeding smaller portions more often helps prevent your dog’s stomach from becoming too full and irritated. Stick to a schedule and avoid feeding treats in between meals.

Keep your dog on a low-fat diet – Fatty foods are harder to digest, so feeding a low-fat, easily digestible diet will be gentler on your dog’s stomach. Your vet may recommend a prescription gastrointestinal diet.

Make sure your dog stays hydrated – Dehydration can make stomach issues worse. Make sure fresh water is always available and encourage your dog to drink.

Limit exercise and excitement after meals – High activity right after eating can disrupt digestion. Take gentle walks and limit playtime after meals.

Talk to your vet about appropriate medications – Medications like antacids, anti-nausea drugs, probiotics and more can provide relief. Only give medication prescribed for your dog.

Keep an eye on symptoms – Note any changes to know if the stomach issues are getting worse. Call your vet if symptoms don’t improve or if new ones arise.

With some TLC and care at home, many minor stomach upsets will resolve on their own. But if problems persist or seem severe, veterinary attention is required. Follow your vet’s treatment plan to help get your dog’s stomach feeling better.

Outlook and Prognosis

The outlook and prognosis for a dog with stomach problems depends heavily on the underlying cause. Many stomach issues can be managed or resolved if caught and treated early on. However, the prognosis may be more guarded for conditions like stomach cancer or advanced gastritis.

For simple cases of upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea, the prognosis is often excellent with prompt veterinary treatment. These cases usually resolve within a few days with medications, diet changes, and home care. Full recovery is expected as long as there are no complications.

Chronic vomiting or diarrhea related to inflammatory bowel disease may have a good long-term prognosis when treated, though relapses are fairly common. These dogs generally respond well to special diets, steroids, or immunosuppressants long-term.

For more serious conditions like gastric dilatation volvulus (bloat), the prognosis depends on how quickly it is addressed. Mortality rates are high if not treated urgently. With prompt veterinary care, many dogs recover well. However, bloat may recur in some dogs.

Stomach cancer typically has a poor prognosis, as it is often diagnosed late when the cancer has metastasized. Without treatment, survival time is usually weeks to months. With aggressive treatment, dogs may live 6 months or longer. But cancer remission is uncommon.

Overall, frequent veterinary checkups and early intervention greatly improve the outlook for most stomach problems in dogs. Catching conditions quickly maximizes treatment options and chances for a full recovery.

When to See a Veterinarian

It’s always concerning when a dog has stomach issues, but there are certain signs that indicate you should make an appointment with your veterinarian right away:

person taking sick dog to vet appointment

  • Repeated vomiting or diarrhea that lasts more than 24-48 hours (https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/dogs-stomach-ache/)
  • Loss of appetite or not eating for more than 12-24 hours (https://www.webmd.com/pets/dogs/what-to-do-if-your-dog-has-an-upset-stomach)
  • Signs of abdominal pain or bloating, which could indicate a gastrointestinal blockage or infection (https://bondvet.com/b/digestive-issues-in-dogs-causes-prevention-and-treatment)
  • Difficulty defecating or blood in the stool

Bring your dog into the veterinarian promptly if you notice any of the above symptoms. The vet will likely do a physical exam, ask about your dog’s history, and potentially order diagnostic tests like bloodwork, fecal analysis, or imaging to determine the underlying cause. Early treatment improves the prognosis and prevents serious complications. It’s always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your dog’s stomach and get veterinary advice.

Scroll to Top