When your dog’s stomach swells or hardens, there may be a serious cause for concern, or it may just be a case of your dog overheating. It’s important to know the difference between something that can take care of itself versus something that can cause your dog serious harm.
The four main reasons why your dog’s stomach may be hard are Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV), Peritonitis, Cushing’s Syndrome, and Ascites. Of course, there may be a few other reasons, but these are the most likely ones. By knowing the symptoms of stomach problems in dogs, you will know what to do in the event of something more serious happening.
Take note that when a dog has stomach swelling or hardness, your pooch may be in critical condition. Swelling in dogs can be fatal if the situation is not remedied promptly. Take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as you notice stomach swelling. A veterinarian is the best person to diagnose your dog because you do not want to misinterpret their symptoms and cause them more harm.
1. Gastric Dilation Volvulus
Gastric Dilation Volvulus, GDV for short, is very dangerous dog bloat. It's often called “the mother of all emergencies” because if left untreated, your dog could die within hours. A dog’s stomach may stretch or bloat because of food digestion or gas.
GDV occurs if the bloated stomach rotates. The rotating of the stomach will trap the gas in the stomach and cause the blood supply to the stomach to become blocked. Your dog will be in extreme pain if GDV happens.
Some of the potential symptoms of GDV or bloating include:
- Hard abdomen
- Distended abdomen
- Bloated abdomen
- Vomiting without apparent cause
- Restlessness and pacing
- Excessive salivation
- Heavy, fast, or difficulty breathing
- Standing with neck extended and elbows outward
- Rapid pulse
- Rapid heartbeat
- Pale mucus membranes (including in the mouth)
To treat GDV, get your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible. This condition requires the stomach to be decompressed. Once the gas has been released from the dog’s stomach, and their heart is stable, surgery is typically the next step to correct the problem.
Unfortunately, there is no hard evidence on why GDV occurs, but there are things that will increase your dog’s risk of getting GDV. When a dog eats fast, only has one larger meal per day, or uses a lifted food or water bowl, the risk of GDV increases. Other factors for GDV include the dog’s breed, the dog’s weight, the dog’s age, and the dog’s family history.
Dog breeds with deep chests or dogs who weigh over 100 pounds have a twenty percent higher risk of bloat. Older dogs, between seven and twelve years of age, are at an increased risk. Finally, if a dog has a family history of bloat or GDV, they are at greater risk, too.
To help prevent canine bloat in your dog, ensure that they are eating two small meals each day instead of one large one, do not use dog food that causes your dog to have excessive gas and allow them time to digest their food after eating before they play or exercise.
Peritonitis is a serious infection that a rupture or puncture has caused to your dog’s stomach. The rupture or puncture is usually a result of ulcers, tumors, or splinters from a bone they ate, among other reasons. Symptoms include severe pain, listlessness, vomiting, and a swollen or hard abdomen. Because of the severity of Peritonitis, the dog may be unwilling to move or go into shock.
Treatment for Peritonitis includes surgery to repair the rupture and removal of the infection, IV fluids and medication. To help prevent the potential for stomach rupture or puncture, do not feed your dog's bones, such as chicken bones, that may splinter when being digested.
3. Cushing’s Syndrome
Cushing’s syndrome, or hyperadrenocorticism, is caused by the excessive production of cortisol, a hormone. In addition to a hardened stomach or pot-belly look, your dog may exhibit other symptoms, including excessive eating, increased drinking, the need to urinate more, abnormal panting, and loss of hair. The cortisol hormone may be overproduced in the pituitary gland, which is the most common cause of Cushing’s syndrome, or there may be an adrenal gland tumor, which is less common.
Treating Cushing’s syndrome is usually taken care of by a new form of medication. The new medication can help to treat both types of Cushing’s syndrome. If the dog has the second, less likely form of Cushing’s, surgery may also be an option to remove the adrenal gland tumor.
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. Fluid can be the result of many different things, including but not limited to: intestinal disease, liver disease, kidney disease, or heart failure.
Because there is such a wide range of conditions that cause Ascites, there is an equally wide variety of treatments. Treatments will depend on the specific diagnosis given by the veterinarian.
Other causes of stomach swelling or hardness in dogs include excessive gas from the dog eating all of its food too quickly, an injury that results in internal bleeding, a blockage in the stomach or intestines, or tumors. In young dogs, roundworm infections can also cause the abdomen to swell. Treatments for each of these vary based on the severity of the issue.
What to Do
If your dog’s stomach becomes hard, swollen, or distended, and it is not because they ate their food too quickly, they should be taken to a veterinarian for an examination and treatment immediately. Veterinarians will diagnose the problem by completing a physical exam, running blood tests, completing a urinalysis, or viewing x-rays.
By supporting your dog’s overall health, you can help prevent some stomach problems. The best way to support their health is to take them in for annual checkups so that your vet can ensure their vital organs are in good health.
Gastric Dilation Volvulus, Peritonitis, Cushing’s Syndrome, and Ascites are the four main reasons that your dog’s stomach may become hard or swollen. There are a few things that you can do to help prevent bloat, including feeding your dog smaller meals, requiring rest instead of exercise or play after mealtime, and use gastric-friendly dog food. If your dog’s stomach becomes hard or swollen, you need to act fast. Quick diagnosis and treatment can be lifesaving measures for your dog.
Signs of Other Stomach Issues in Dogs
To recognize when your dog’s stomach is hard, you have to be familiar with what it normally feels like. A healthy stomach should not have any masses, bumps, or lumps when you gently press your hands on it.
Your healthy dog should not show signs of discomfort when you touch his stomach or palpitate it. The belly should not be distended.
Be on the lookout for the following warning signs:
- Lumps, masses, or bumps
- Touching the stomach leads to breathing problems, pain, or groaning
- The stomach is hard
Questions and Answers to Summarize
The following questions and answers summarize the above information about situations when a dog’s stomach is hard.
Why Does My Dog’s Belly Feel Hard?
The most common reasons that your dog’s belly feels hard are gastric dilation volvulus, peritonitis, Cushing’s syndrome, and ascites. Eating too fast may also cause bloating.
What Do You 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 right away. 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. It would help if you took your dog to a vet to confirm the cause and get treatment.
What Causes Bloated Stomach in Dogs?
Just like with 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 need to know the signs to look out for. Indications include gurgling sounds from the stomach, flatulence, loss of appetite, salivation, diarrhea, vomiting, licking the floor, and eating grass.