When dogs suddenly get a big belly, this can indicate a life-threatening stomach torsion or Cushing’s syndrome. But parasites, pregnancy, abdominal dropsy, or cancer can also be behind it.
In some cases, it may even be a veterinary emergency that requires immediate treatment. You will learn how to recognize this below.
Here we go through the 9 most common causes and their typical symptoms. You will also receive initial tips on what to do in the specific situation.
1. Stomach Torsion
In a stomach torsion, the stomach rotates around its own longitudinal axis for reasons that are not yet clear. Known risk factors include:
- Eating too fast
- Chronic stress
- High age
- Raised food bowls
- Regular overeating
- Activity after eating
- Large dog breed
Doctors also speak of the “mother of all emergencies” here, since if left untreated it can become life-threatening within a few hours due to the blocked blood supply.
It can usually be recognized by the fact that the dog’s stomach is getting bigger, he is breathing heavily, and appears restless. Other typical signs of this are:
- Shortness of breath
- Strong pain
- The stomach gets harder and harder
- Restless walking around
- Dog chokes without vomiting
- Sudden collapse
- Increased heart rate
- Dog drools heavily
In case of suspicion, the veterinary emergency service should be contacted immediately. The only effective method here is surgery to put the stomach back in place.
Unfortunately, this cannot really be prevented. Male Great Danes and other large breeds have a 5- to 8-fold increased risk here.
When dogs experience a torsion in the stomach, this is usually recognizable by restless behavior and a swollen belly. Affected four-legged friends usually start to choke and have breathing problems.
2. Stomach and Intestinal Parasites
Almost every dog has to deal with stomach and intestinal parasites at least once in its life. It is not for nothing that doctors recommend regular deworming.
In healthy dogs, an infestation is more or less harmless. They can only be dangerous for young or sick four-legged friends. The most common types of worms include:
These are the 4 most common types of roundworms in dogs. In total, there are more than 20,000 species. Sometimes they can also be up to 23 cm long.
In the case of a severe infestation, the dog’s stomach usually becomes increasingly thicker, and severe digestive problems occur. Typical symptoms here are:
- Constant diarrhea
- Frequent vomiting
- Dog loses weight
- Rapid exhaustion
- Declining fur quality
- Worms in feces
A simple wormer cure is sufficient for treatment. For this purpose, special drops or sometimes tablets are mixed into the feed for several days.
If dogs are attacked by stomach and intestinal parasites, then without regular deworming, digestive problems usually occur after a certain period of time. It is typical here that dogs get diarrhea, their stomachs get bigger and they have worms in their stools.
3. Cushing’s Syndrome
When dogs are afraid or experience stress, their bodies automatically release stress hormones. Cortisol is the best-known of these.
However, due to Cushing’s syndrome, stress hormones are constantly released, regardless of the emotions felt. The 2 most common triggers are:
- In 4 out of 5 cases a tumor in the pituitary gland
- In 1 out of 5 cases tumors in the adrenal glands
This disease ensures that dogs are always on alert. Over a longer period of time, however, it also makes itself feel physical.
It is typical here that dogs get big bellies and drink a lot. Fur is also often lost in places. Other signs of this are:
- Constant urge to urinate
- The dog is always hungry
- Constant panting
- The dog has a hard stomach
- Thin and fragile skin
- Frequent skin inflammation
- Severe fatigue
The treatment depends on the type and severity of the tumor. Sometimes it is treated with medication, but in some cases an operation is necessary.
Dogs with Cushing’s syndrome usually get a round and swollen belly. Due to the high level of cortisol, many dogs also get hair loss and constant skin inflammation. In addition, affected four-legged friends often drink and eat an unusually large amount.
When too much gas builds up and accumulates in the dog’s intestines, it is called “bloating”. This is most common in brachycephalic breeds.
Because of their short muzzle, these dogs usually swallow a lot of air when eating and drinking. The most common causes here include:
- Too hasty eating
- A sudden change in food
- Food allergies
- Food leftovers from people
- Too much fiber
- Existing intolerances
- Heavily seasoned
- Unhealthy Fillers
In addition to the above causes, numerous stomach and intestinal diseases can also cause flatulence. What is typical here is that it is a constant problem.
Flatulence can usually be recognized by a swollen stomach, loud intestinal noises, listless behavior, and also by the fact that the dog often gives off gas.
If the symptoms become chronic, I advise you to change the food and bowl first. An anti-sling bowl like this was developed for just that.
If the cause is the food, then I recommend doing such a free food check. There you will get great recommendations as well as many free food samples.
When dogs are struggling with flatulence, the build-up of gas causes their stomach to become progressively larger. In most cases, unsuitable dog food is responsible for this. Sometimes it is also due to hasty eating habits.
The peritoneum does not mean the hair on the abdomen, but a membrane inside that envelops the entire abdominal cavity from the inside.
Spread out, it is several square meters in size. However, if it becomes inflamed, doctors also speak of “peritonitis”. Typical causes of this are:
- Bacterial infection
- Tumor disease
- Inflamed pancreas
- Previous abdominal surgery
- Reaction to certain medications
- Stomach ulcers
- Viral infections
What is striking here is that the stomach suddenly becomes fat and the dog appears very ill within a few hours. In addition, many affected dogs take the prayer position.
They put their forepaws on the ground and stretch their buttocks in the air to reduce existing pain. Other typical signs of this are:
- Loss of appetite
- Induration of the abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dog breathes fast
- Increased heart rate
- Touch sensitivity
- Dark-colored chair
While antibiotics are often sufficient for most other inflammations, surgery is usually necessary for peritonitis.
If the dog’s peritoneum becomes inflamed, severe symptoms usually occur very suddenly. It is typical here that dogs get a big belly, become sensitive to touch, and refuse their food. Vomiting is also more common.
In unneutered bitches, the swelling can also be a first indication of an existing pregnancy. This occurs around 30 days after fertilization.
In contrast to humans, however, a pregnancy in dogs only lasts around 63 days in total. So it’s much faster than with us. Typical symptoms here are:
- A strong feeling of hunger
- Unusual irritation
- My belly is getting bigger
- Swollen teats
- The dog is less active
- Strong weight gain
- The dog is very trusting
In the case of neutered bitches, pregnancy is completely impossible. Castration literally removes the entire birthing apparatus.
A blood sample is usually taken for diagnosis in the early stages. This allows pregnancy to be confirmed after around 25-30 days.
However, the puppies are usually only recognizable by ultrasound examination after 30-35 days. It is important here that you provide her with enough quality food.
Typically, pregnant dogs eat up to 50% more per day than usual. You should also refrain from excessive training during this time and rather take it easy.
If unneutered bitches suddenly get a big belly, this can be an indication of upcoming offspring. A pregnancy can usually be recognized by the fact that the teats also swell, the dog eats a lot, and is generally less active.
If large amounts of fluid accumulate in the dog’s abdomen, then there is talk of ascites. Doctors also speak of “ascites” here.
Dropsy is usually just a symptom of another underlying condition. Typical causes of this are:
- Liver problems
- Tear in the urinary bladder
- Heart failure
- Worm infestation
- Kidney problems
- Internal injuries
Due to the accumulation of water, the abdomen becomes thicker and bulging. It is also typical that affected dogs lie differently than usual. Other typical signs are:
- Dog refuses food
- Decreased activity
- Increasing breathing problems
- Dog’s belly gurgles
- Groaning when lying down
- Dog gaining weight
- Abdominal pain
Therapy is based on the underlying cause. The focus of the veterinarian is therefore initially on a detailed diagnosis.
In simple cases, medication can already be sufficient for treatment. In severe cases, however, an operation may be necessary.
When dogs are struggling with ascites, the fat belly is caused by a build-up of fluid in the abdominal cavity. What is striking here is that affected dogs usually breathe heavily, change their lying position and their stomachs start bubbling.
The thyroid is a small gland located on the left and right of the dog’s neck. Their primary job is to produce thyroid hormones.
We speak of hypothyroidism when too few of these hormones are produced. It is mostly due to the following causes:
- 95% immune disease due to chronic inflammation
- 5% tumor disease due to uncontrolled cell growth
Due to the lack of thyroid hormones, the dog’s entire metabolism is slowed down and the stomach becomes fatter. Other signs are:
- Slow pulse
- Constant skin inflammation
- Unexplained weight gain
- Loud stomach sounds
- Thinning skin
- The dog is tired and sleeps a lot
- Coordination problems
A blood test is often used to diagnose this to check hormone levels. In most cases, an underactive thyroid can be treated, but not cured.
However, by taking medication for life, affected dogs can still lead relatively normal lives. This is where you need to seek professional help.
When dogs suffer from hypothyroidism, the dog’s entire organism slows down. It can usually be recognized by the fact that he is breathing more slowly and is constantly tired. In the later course, the stomach can also become fatter.
9. Tumor Disease
If a tumor develops in the abdomen, it can be benign or malignant. Most of the time it is stomach cancer. But other types are also possible:
- Colon cancer
- Lymph gland cancer
- Spleen tumor
The cause of these cancers is still unclear. According to studies, however, stomach cancer primarily affects old male dogs, as well as beagles, collies, and Staffordshire terriers.
What is striking is that the symptoms usually start insidiously and worsen over time. The most common signs here include:
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting after eating
- Bloated and fat belly
- Strong weight loss
- Blood in the stool
- Pale gums
- Lower activity level
- Chronic diarrhea
The earlier the diagnosis takes place here, the better the chances of treatment and recovery. As a rule, an attempt is made to surgically remove the tumor.
However, if cancer has already spread, then radiation and chemotherapy may also be needed. If you suspect this, you should seek medical help immediately.
If dogs get a tumor in the abdomen, the abdomen will also become thicker over time, depending on the type and severity. Typically, the symptoms appear here rather insidiously. These include chronic vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss.