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

Hopefully, this never happens to you.

It can be scary.

One minute, your dog is fine. The next, they're not acting normal.

And then you notice that their poor belly seems hard and tight as a drum.

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

And if they seem to be showing normal behavior, then they should be fine.

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

Important: When your dog's belly has swelling or hardness, 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.

Now, I'll identify the 4 common conditions that could explain why your dog’s stomach is hard:

By knowing the symptoms of stomach problems in your dogs, you'll have an idea of what to do when similar cases occur, which we'll discuss in the next sections below.

Dogs Stomach is Hard

1. Gastric Dilation Volvulus

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.

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 in the dog

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.

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.

Dogs Stomach is Hard

Other Causes of Ascites

Just like GDV, your dog can get Ascites from eating their food too quickly.

This causes a buildup of excessive gas.

It could also be an injury that results in internal bleeding, or a blockage in the stomach and intestines.

Sadly, your young puppy can also get Ascites from a roundworm infestation.

Note: Treatments for each of these vary based on the severity of the issue.

Dog's Stomach is Hard: What to Do

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.

Dogs Stomach is Hard

Signs of Other Stomach Issues in Dogs

To recognize when your dog’s stomach is hard, be familiar with what it normally feels like.

A healthy stomach 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 palpitate it.

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

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.

Before You Go: Why You Should Trust Top Dog Tips

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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.