An enlarged, swollen, or sagging belly in dogs is often a cause of concern. Depending on the dog’s age, size, gender, and breed, there could be several reasons behind the dog’s stomach sagging on one side.
There could be many causes why your dog’s stomach could sag. It could be as straightforward as your dog gulping down its food too fast, eating too much, or something serious like Cushing syndrome or cancer.
The article will look at different reasons behind your dog’s stomach sagging, its symptoms, causes, and treatment options offered.
Dog’s Stomach Sagging on One Side: Symptoms, Causes & Remedies
If you notice abnormal sagging or swelling of the stomach, it would be best to contact the vet. Some causes can be treated with the medications, while others may require hospitalization and immediate treatment.
Here are different reasons why your dog’s stomach could sag.
This is a common health condition among dogs. But in the absence of treatment, bloating can be harmful to your dog. It could even be fatal.
When the dog’s abdomen fills with gas, food, or fluid, it will start expanding. This expansion can be dangerous as it puts pressure on nearby organs. Such a condition is called gastric dilation volvulus (GDV).
In severe cases of bloating, the pet’s stomach can twist. According to AKC, GDV should be treated as a health emergency. Some dogs become so weak in pain that they must be carried to the hospital.
This type of bloating can be fatal for 30% of dogs even after aggressive treatment. The buildup in the stomach can cause the blood to stop from returning to the heart from the hind legs and stomach.
Moreover, when the stomach twists, the spleen and pancreas can get caught in between. As a result, the pancreas can produce toxic hormones that can possibly stop the dog’s heart.
A dog with bloating can show the below symptoms:
- Sagging or swollen stomach
- Go around in circles
- Pain when you press the belly
In severe cases, the dog will feel lethargic, have difficulty breathing, or have increased heartbeats.
There is no one definite cause that points to bloating. Vets are aware that the stomach can fill up with air and twist but are unsure what leads to this condition.
Some risk factors that can lead to bloating in dogs are having a single large meal in a day, running around right after eating, shoving down the food quickly, or drinking excessive water.
Deep-chested dog breeds are at an increased risk of developing bloat. These dog breeds include Greyhounds, Great Danes, Poodles, Saint Bernards, and Basset Hounds.
First, the vet will focus on relieving the pressure building up inside the stomach. The vet will do so by passing a tube through the pet’s throat to the stomach. In the case of a twisted stomach, a hollow needle may be inserted to relieve the pressure.
The dog is stabilized with fluids and antibiotics. If the stomach is twisted, the dog will be taken into surgery to put the organ back in its original place. In case of a damaged stomach wall, the affected part is removed.
The stomach can be tacked to the abdominal wall to ensure the issue does not repeat.
As multiple factors contribute to bloating, avoiding the condition entirely can be difficult. However, methods such as feeding multiple small meals a day, using slow feeder bowls, and getting proper treatment for anxiety and stress can help lower the risk of bloating.
2. Internal Worms
Your dog’s internal organs can become hosts to parasites. For example, you might see the dog’s stomach sagging to one side or having a pot-bellied appearance if there are many worms in its intestine.
There are typically five types of worms that affect dogs. They are:
All dogs are at risk of having worms. The worms may not be visible to the naked eye. But the worms or their eggs will be visible when the vet checks the dog’s stools under the microscope.
Apart from a sagging or distended stomach, a dog with intestinal worms can show symptoms like:
The causes will differ depending on the type of worm. For example, dogs can get infected with roundworms from their environment. The eggs of these worms can mix and stay in the soil for a long time as they are covered in hard shells. So if the dog ingests such contaminated soil, the eggs travel from the lungs to the intestine and grow.
Dogs can get hookworms when they come into contact with soil that is contaminated with the stool of an infected dog. This is because the dog’s skin can absorb the worm’s larvae. In addition, puppies can get the worms from their infected mother through nursing.
If the dog eats raw meat or roadside kill, it can ingest worms that will multiply in its body. Some parasites are transmitted by other insects like fleas and mosquitoes.
The vet will perform a stool test to identify the type of worm affecting your dog. Treatment will follow depending on the worm.
In the case of roundworms, the vet will give the dog monthly dewormers. Please note that these dewormers work on grown roundworms. So, the puppies can still get the worm larvae through the placenta. In this case, the puppies also need to be given monthly dewormers past the age of 6 to 8 weeks.
The same goes for hookworms; a dewormer works best. A treatment plan will be formed for whipworms depending on the clinical symptoms the dog shows. These treatments can last for up to 3 months.
In the case of tapeworms, specific drugs will be administered through oral or injection means. You will also have to ensure the dog’s environment is kept clean and there are no flea infestations.
Treating heartworms is the most difficult. It involves confining the dog, limiting its exercise, and having serious side effects. A series of injections will be used to kill heartworms.
3. Cushing Disease
A dog’s stomach sagging on one side is one of the prominent signs of Cushing’s disease. This is because the muscle around the dog’s belly could be losing definition.
Cortisol is a natural steroid hormone controlled by the adrenal cortex and released by adrenal glands. The hormone is necessary for the dog as it helps perceive danger responses and regulates stress, blood pressure, sugar levels, and immune responses. In this condition, the body produces excessive cortisol.
Though found in many dogs, the condition can be difficult to diagnose. If you notice any of these signs, please take the pet to the vet immediately:
- Increased water intake
- Excessive urination
- Muscle weakness
- Hair loss
- Skin lesions
- Lack of energy
The condition often affects older dogs, so the symptoms could often be confused with aging. So it would be best to voice your concerns to the vet and get appropriate tests done.
In most cases of Cushing’s, the cause is a tumor in the pituitary glands present at the base of the brain. Because of the tumor, the gland releases excessive ACTH, which tells the adrenal glands to release excessive cortisol.
The condition could be because of a tumor in the adrenal glands present above the kidneys.
Prolonged exposure to drugs like prednisone, dexamethasone, ear drops, or other medications high in steroids can also be a cause.
Some breeds like Poodle, Beagle, and Dachshund carry a higher risk for Cushing’s disease.
The treatment course is determined depending on the tumor growth.
The tumor on the pituitary gland is often benign and small in size. Surgery, though, is not the preferred course of action. Instead, oral medications are provided to selectively damage the adrenal cortex and keep the cortisol level in check.
The dog needs to be carefully monitored as you do not want the cortex to be destroyed.
In the case of tumors in adrenal glands, surgery might be performed. But the treatment may not be curative.
The peritoneum is a membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and lubricates the abdominal organs. Peritonitis is a serious condition in which this membrane can get inflamed. The inflammation could result from an injury or infection.
If left alone, the condition can be fatal for the dog. The mortality rate for peritonitis is between 50% and 70%. The condition is diagnosed with physical examination, blood work, and x-rays. A sample of the abdominal fluid will be tested for confirmation.
Dogs with peritonitis often show symptoms like:
- Abdominal swelling and pain
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced poop
As the condition can be life-threatening, please get in touch with the vet immediately if you see the above signs.
A dog can develop peritonitis when it suffers from an injury or trauma. For example, it could be in an accident suffering a major blow to the abdomen, a foreign object damaging the abdominal cavity, or a previous abdomen injury opening.
Your dog could swallow a foreign object which could lead to intestinal blockages.
Apart from external sources, peritonitis could also result from internal issues such as ruptured bladder, ulcers in stomach linings, liver inflammation, and bloating, among others.
The condition is not hereditary, but some dog breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Spaniels, and Collies are more prone to swallowing foreign objects and intestinal blockages.
If the dog is diagnosed with peritonitis, hospitalization is necessary. Priority will be given to stabilizing the pet. The dog will be given antibiotics, IV fluids, electrolytes, plasma, or other medications to manage symptoms.
In case of an injury or intestinal blockage, the dog will be taken to surgery. The vet will thoroughly rinse the abdominal cavity to ensure there are no irritating substances in the path.
5. Hormonal Changes in Female Dogs
A female dog’s stomach could sag because of hormonal changes such as heat cycle, false pregnancy, or even pregnancy.
If your female dog is unspayed, it will go into heat two to three times a year. When the dog is in heat, symptoms such as vaginal discharge, abdominal swelling, and excessive urination are normal.
Unspayed female dogs can also have false pregnancies. The hormones produced during the heat cycle can trick the dog’s body into thinking that it is pregnant. The dog can show symptoms like:
- Reduced activity level
- Mothering activity
In case of pregnancy, the dog will start to show a belly around 40 days of its cycle.
Unspayed female dogs going into heat is a natural process. However, it would be best if you were careful during the cycle. The female dog will release hormones that indicate it is receptive to mating and ready to conceive.
At the end of the estrus stage of the heat cycle, the dog’s ovaries will start producing hormones to receive the fetus and maintain pregnancy. If the dog becomes pregnant, the hormone production will continue. In case of no pregnancy, the hormone production will decline.
If you do not want your dog to go into heat or be at the risk of getting pregnant, consider getting it splayed. The ovaries and uterus can be surgically removed. Unspayed dogs have a high risk for conditions like diabetes, pyometra, and breast cancer.
In case of false pregnancy, no specific treatment is usually required. This is because the symptoms will subside as the hormone production stops. However, if required, the vet will provide treatment depending on the dog’s clinical signs.
In case of an unwanted pregnancy or a pregnancy that affects the dog’s health, please discuss with the vet the safest methods of medical abortion.
When your dog’s abdominal cavity fills with fluid, the condition is known as ascites. Also known as abdominal effusion, the condition is typically secondary. However, the primary reason could be a disease or failure of another organ.
Unless the root issue is not fixed, the fluid will continue to accumulate in the dog’s stomach.
A dog with ascites can show symptoms like:
- Sagging stomach
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
- Breathing difficulty
- Excessive panting
The condition is diagnosed with physical exams, CT scans, blood tests, MRIs, and EKGs, among others.
Leading nephritic syndrome wherein the dog has high protein levels in its urine and cholesterol in its blood. It could be because of congestive heart failure, liver disease, abdominal inflammation or cancer, ruptured bladder, or kidney failure.
Other causes such as internal worms and peritonitis could have ascites as a secondary reaction.
Bonus Read About: When to Euthanize a Dog With Liver Failure?
The treatment plan for ascites depends on the primary condition leading to fluid buildup. So the treatment can include medications, antibiotics, beta-blockers, or surgery.
The vet might recommend a limited sodium diet if the symptoms are mild. In addition, diuretics may be given to eliminating sodium from the body.
If the symptoms are severe, the fluid will be removed from the dog’s stomach to make it comfortable.
Apart from the causes mentioned above, tumors could be why the dog’s stomach may sag. For example, dogs can develop tumors in the large, small intestine, or anywhere on the intestinal tract. These tumors, even if benign, require the vet’s attention.
Is your dog’s stomach sagging on one side? If yes, there could be several reasons that can lead to this condition.
Your dog’s stomach could be bloated, or its stomach may be filled with worms. In addition, the dog could have developed Cushing’s disease, peritonitis, ascites, or tumors.
In female dogs, a sagging stomach could result from hormonal changes like heat cycles and false pregnancy.
If you notice additional symptoms like vomiting, nausea, lethargy, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, or reduced activity level, don’t delay taking it to a vet.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.