Bloating (Abdominal Distension) in Dogs

Published on
Last updated on
3 min read

Key takeaways

Abdominal distension is a symptom where a dog’s abdomen has increased in size. It may be focal, affecting only one small area, or generalized across the entire abdomen. 

  • Abdominal distension can be caused by fluid or blood accumulating in the abdomen, excess fat, tumors, swelling of an organ, weakness in the muscular wall of the abdomen, and free air in the abdominal cavity
  • Associated conditions range and include congestive heart failure, cancer, infections, injuries, hernias, and bowel perforation
  • Diagnostics include medical imaging, abdominocentesis, blood/urine analysis, and biopsies
  • Treatment depends on the underlying cause but can include surgery, antibiotics, other medication, symptomatic care, and fluid drainage
  • Prognosis is varied depending on the underlying cause but all causes require immediate veterinary intervention to increase the chances of a positive prognosis
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A closer look: Bloating (Abdominal Distension) in Dogs

Abdominal distension is a common symptom as it is often associated with a large number of conditions. Many causes of abdominal distension are life-threatening and require immediate intervention. In these cases, other symptoms are usually present alongside the distension including pain, blood in excretions, seizures, and lameness.

It is best to seek rapid care to determine the underlying cause.

Possible causes

There is a large range of conditions associated with abdominal distension. The accumulation of blood, other fluids, or air in the abdominal space may produce abdominal distension. The characterization of the bloating suggests the underlying disease process.

In addition to fluid and air accumulating in the peritoneal space, abdominal distension may be due to physiological changes or enlargement of organs.

Finally, some forms of hernias also cause abdominal distension. These are caused by weakness, perforation, or congenital defects in the abdominal wall muscles.

Risk factors

Abdominal distension can vary in severity based on a wide range of factors, including the extent of distension, whether it is acute or chronic, intermittent or persistent, localized or generalized, and progressive or stable. Regardless, with the exception of confirmed obesity or pregnancy, it is a serious and concerning symptom that requires immediate attention.

Testing and diagnosis

After a physical examination and medical history, a number of tests can be done to determine the underlying cause of the distension:

  • Medical imaging (X-rays, ultrasounds)
  • Abdominocentesis
  • Bloodwork
  • Urinalysis
  • Biopsies

Treatment varies depending on the condition causing the distension but can include:

  • Drainage of the fluid
  • Surgery
  • Medication (diuretics)
  • Antimicrobials
  • Symptom management

Similar symptoms

Increased fat accumulation around the midsection due to weight gain is similar to abdominal distension. Weight gain may or may not have a medical root cause, as many cases are related to overfeeding relative to activity levels.

Associated symptoms

Other symptoms that appear in conjunction with abdominal distension are dependent on the underlying condition.


Hannah Hollinger - Writing for Wag!
Luis H. Tello, MV, MS, DVM, COS - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Dr. Leah Cohn - Writing for PetPlace
Krista Williams, BSc, DVM, CCRP; Kristiina Ruotsalo, DVM, DVSc, Dip ACVP; Margo S. Tant BSc, DVM, DVSc - Writing for VCA Animal Hospitals
WebMD Editorial Contributors - Writing for WebMD
Katie Grzyb, DVM - Writing for PetMD

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