4 Reasons Why Your Dog’s Stomach is Hard and What to Do

When your dog’s stomach is hard, hopefully, they just ate too much or drank water too fast.

But you don't want to wait to find out, right?

When your dog's belly has swelling and seems as hard and tight as a drum, it may be nothing, or it may be in critical condition.

Call the vet immediately to assess their symptoms properly.

But how will I know if my dog's hardened stomach is dangerous?

In severe cases, you'll notice the following symptoms:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Your dog's stomach seems sensitive to touch
  • Retching while trying to vomit, but nothing is happening
  • Pacing around panting, looking restless, wanting to lay down

It’s important to know the difference between something that can take care of itself versus something that can cause your dog serious harm.

In this article, we'll discuss 7 of the most common conditions that could explain why your dog's stomach is hard.

Dr. Myles Rowley, DVM, one of our resident veterinarians, also helped explain in this blog post.

For your reference, the reason why your dog's stomach is hard could be one of the following:

  • Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV)
  • Peritonitis
  • Cushing’s Syndrome
  • Ascites
  • Blockage
  • Internal Bleeding
  • Infection

Here's everything you need to know:

Possible reasons why a dog's stomach is hard

7 Possible Reasons Why Your Dog's Stomach is Hard

 

1. Gastric Dilation Volvulus

Gastric Dilation Volvulus, GDV for short, is a dangerous dog bloat.

It's often called the mother of all emergencies because if left untreated, your dog could die within hours.

What causes GDV?

Your dog’s stomach may stretch or bloat because of food digestion or gas.

Gastric Dilation Volvulus might result to a hard stomach in dogs
GDV in a dog as seen on X-ray scan

GDV occurs if the bloated stomach rotates.

While the stomach rotates, it traps the gas inside and blocks the blood supply. When this happens, your dog will be in extreme pain.

And what's even more alarming?

The risk of GDV increases when a dog eats fast.

Besides that, there are other factors that cause GDV in your dogs, which are the following:

  • Age
  • Breed
  • Weight
  • Family history

Also, dog breeds with deep chests or weighing over 100 pounds have a 20% higher risk of bloat.

Older dogs, between 7-12 years old, are at an increased risk, too. 

So, if your dog's stomach is hard and you suspect that it might be suffering from GDV, watch out for the following symptoms: 

  • Vomiting
  • Collapsing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Excessive salivation
  • Restlessness and pacing
  • Hard or bloated abdomen
  • Heavy, fast, or difficulty in breathing
  • Pale mucus membranes (including in the mouth)
  • Standing with neck extended and elbows outward

To treat GDV, your dog's stomach needs to be decompressed.

Once the gas is released from the dog’s stomach, surgery typically follows.

To help prevent dog bloat, you can follow these suggestions at home:

  • 2 small meals per day
  • Choose quality dog food
  • Avoid strenuous activities after eating

For giant breed dogs and other high risk breeds, it is a good idea to consider performing a procedure called a Gastropexy.

This procedure involves tacking the stomach to the body wall, and it can be incorporated into the same procedure when your dog is being spayed or neutered.

After this procedure is performed, the stomach still has the ability to bloat with gas which can be uncomfortable, but it will not rotate and result in a fatal event. – Dr. Myles Rowley DVM

2. Peritonitis

Peritonitis is a serious infection resulting from a rupture or puncture in your dog’s stomach.

Ruptures are usually a result of ulcers, tumors, or splinters from a bone your dog ate, among other reasons.

When this happens, watch out for other symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Severe pain
  • Listlessness
  • Swollen or hard abdomen

Because of the severity of Peritonitis, your dog may be unwilling to move or might go into shock.

Treatment for Peritonitis includes surgery, IV fluids, and other medications.

To help prevent the potential for stomach rupture or puncture, avoid feeding bones to your dogs, as this may splinter when being digested.

3. Cushing’s Syndrome

Cushing’s Syndrome, or hyperadrenocorticism, is a common illness that's found more in dogs than in cats.

This condition is triggered by 3 types of causes, namely:

  • Pituitary gland tumor
  • Adrenal gland tumor
  • Excessive cortisol from the use of steroids

In addition to a hardened stomach or pot-belly look, your dog may exhibit other symptoms, including:

Treating Cushing’s syndrome depends on the type of causes.

So, it's vital to have your dog assessed by a vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.

For adrenal gland tumors, surgery is a common option as part of the medication.

4. Ascites

Ascites happen when there is a buildup of fluid in the dog’s abdomen.

This buildup leads to swelling in the dog’s abdominal region.

Ascites in the dog also causes stomach hardness
Ascites—water buildup in a dog's stomach as seen on X-ray scan

And this fluid can be the result of many different things, including but not limited to:

Because such a wide range of conditions cause Ascites, there's an equally wide variety of treatments.

Treatments will depend on the specific diagnosis given by the veterinarian.

5. Blockages

Our dogs are naturally curious animals. When they're bored and not properly trained, they will get their paws and maws on things they shouldn't eat and swallow.

And one sign to look out for is a hard stomach.

If your dog seems to be in pain when you touch his stomach, is straining to poop, is restless, has obvious bloating, and is near a suspiciously looking piece of plastic or junk, then that's most likely a sign of intestinal blockage.

6. Internal Bleeding

If your dog has experienced trauma or an accident, that could cause internal bleeding.

If it happened in his stomach area, the internal bleeding might cause his tummy to harden.

This is a serious case and must be addressed by your vet as soon as possible.

Other signs of internal bleeding in dogs include:

7. Parasites

Sounds gross, but our dog's stomachs can be home to many benign and harmful parasites, too.

While some can be prevented by having our dogs vaccinated, others can still make their way into our dog's stomachs because of unclean environments and interactions with infected animals, among others.

Apart from an unnaturally hard stomach, other signs of intestinal parasites in dogs are:

  • loose stool or diarrhea
  • blood in the stool
  • weight loss
  • an inability to gain weight
  • a dull, coarse coat
  • visible worms in the feces

Roundworm infestation is one common reason why your dog has a hard stomach.

Other signs to look out for if dog's stomach is hard

How to Examine Your Dog's Stomach for Hardness or Any Abnormalities

Regularly examining our dog's stomach can help us detect any abnormalities early and ensure that they receive prompt veterinary care.

To check for any hardness or abnormalities in your Fido's tummy area, it's important to be gentle and calm and not cause your dog any discomfort or stress.

Here's what you should do:

1. Choose a quiet, comfortable area: Choose a quiet and comfortable area where your dog can relax and feel at ease.

2. Position your dog: Position your dog on their side or back and gently hold them in place.

3. Observe your dog's stomach: Observe your dog's stomach for any signs of abnormalities, such as swelling, discoloration, or lumps.

4. Gently palpate your dog's stomach: Using your fingertips, gently palpate or touch your dog's stomach, starting at the ribcage and working down towards the pelvis. Pay attention to any areas that feel hard, lumpy, or sensitive.

5. Watch for signs of discomfort: Watch for any signs of discomfort or pain, such as whining, growling, or pulling away if you touched a particularly sensitive area.

A healthy stomach should be soft to the touch.

It shouldn't have any masses, bumps, or lumps when you gently press your hands on it. 

A healthy dog shouldn't show signs of discomfort when you touch his stomach or palpate it.

And lastly, there should be no swelling or enlargement in the belly. 

What to do if your dogs stomach hard

What to Do if Your Dog's Stomach is Hard

If your dog’s stomach is hard, and it's not because they ate their food quickly, take them to a veterinarian for an examination and treatment immediately.

Veterinarians will diagnose the problem by completing the following:

  • X-rays
  • Urinalysis
  • Blood tests
  • Physical exams

By supporting your dog’s overall health, you can help prevent problems that may lead to abdominal swelling and enlargement.

The best way to support their health is to take them in for annual checkups so your vet can ensure their vital organs are in good shape.

You can also take action at home to prevent bloat, including:

  • Using gastric-friendly dog food
  • Feeding your dog smaller meals
  • Requiring rest instead of exercise or play after mealtime

If your dog’s stomach is hard or swollen, you must act fast.

Important: Quick diagnosis and treatment can be lifesaving measures for your dog.

Questions and Answers to Summarize 

The following questions and answers summarize the above information about situations when a dog’s stomach is hard.  

What Do You Do When Your Dog’s Stomach Is Hard? 

If your dog’s stomach is hard and you don’t think it’s from eating too quickly, take your pooch to the vet immediately.

This can be a severe case of GDV, which can be fatal if not treated immediately. 

Why Is My Dog’s Belly So Tight? 

Your dog’s belly may feel tight from ascites, Cushing’s syndrome, peritonitis, gastric dilation volvulus, internal bleeding, liver dysfunction, heart failure, pregnancy, uterine infection, or another cause.

Take your dog to a vet to confirm the cause and get treatment.

What Causes Bloated Stomach in Dogs? 

Like humans, bloating can happen in dogs when gas gets trapped in their stomachs. It can also happen from swallowing too much air, eating a huge meal, or exercising right after eating a big meal. 

How Do I Know If My Dog’s Stomach Hurts?

Since your dog can’t tell you if his stomach hurts, you must know the signs to look out for.

Indications include gurgling sounds from the stomach, gas, loss of appetite, salivation, diarrhea, vomiting, licking the floor, and eating grass.

Dog's stomach is hard - a gloved hand examining a brown, small dog's tummy

Before You Go: Why You Should Trust Top Dog Tips

Well, as dog owners, we also want to know as much as we possibly can and find the truth out there in dog ownership.

We want to clear the fog surrounding topics like nutrition, dog care, dog health, and more.

So we went ahead and brought aboard not only long-time dog owners but veterinarians onto our website.

You can also check out our veterinary review board.

For each article we publish, we want to make sure the information is accurate and has been vetted by real veterinarians and people who have actually owned dogs.

Share with us your thoughts about this article in the comments section!

You can also read about other stomach-related issues our dogs often experience by clicking the links below!

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Shelly lives in Iowa with her husband and Australian Shepherd named Tex. She's been an animal lover since she was a child. Currently, she enjoys reading and writing about dogs, and spending time with her family and getting involved in all things pets.